Setting Goals and Letting Miller’s Law Eat Humble Pi

Everyone probably knows that yesterday was Pi day.  This blurb from the ‘official’ Pi website:

“Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.

Pi has been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point. As an irrational and transcendental number, it will continue infinitely without repetition or pattern. While only a handful of digits are needed for typical calculations, Pi’s infinite nature makes it a fun challenge to memorize, and to computationally calculate more and more digits.”

Let them eat Pi

At my youngest daughter’s school, they were celebrating Pi day by having a contest to see who in her grade could recite the most digits of Pi.  The winner(s) would get…wait for it…yes, a pie.  Clever, I know.  Ok, so my daughter loves pie.  She was all in the minute it was announced.  That’s not to say she was studying like crazy, but she did put in a little work here and there.  Of course I know this because I was enlisted by her to ‘help’ her study.  Not much I can do on this one other than to sit there and validate the results.

The days leading up to the competition she would spend a few minutes here and there and was really quite impressive in the amount of numbers she was retaining.  I felt pretty good about her chances of winning.  After all, according to some smart guy named George Miller, mere humans could only remember 7 things plus or minus 2.  Why do you think our phone numbers are 7 digits, or our SSNs are 9, etc?  We may have opposable thumbs but at the end of the day, we just aren’t THAT special.

Her teacher let her know that he already knew of one person that was over a hundred!  I scoffed at the notion and let my daughter know, “he’s playing mind games with you.  He’s trying to get in your head, rattle you, let doubt creep in, and put you off your game.  Stay focused mannn!”  Probably a day out from the big day, she handed me the paper and commenced to rattle off an impressive string of numbers.  She had a little rhythm to it and I could tell she developed a method to the madness.  As an analytical mind myself, I liked this.  She reiterated the fact that there was pie involved and she HAD to have this.  She had set a goal for herself and was doing all she could in order to accomplish that goal.  She did however propose an option that if, in the off chance, she did NOT win, that I should still buy her pie.  Somehow I think there is a parenting lesson here but I’m going to skip that for now.  We wrapped up the study session and I sent her to bed so she could at least get a fair amount of sleep to be ready in the morning.

The day of the competition, I go to work, she goes to school.  Of course it crosses my mind during the day, hoping everything goes well and that she doesn’t have a brain fart in the midst of it.  I told her to focus and envision the number in her head.  Don’t look at any of her clown classmates picking their noses because it would disrupt her Beast Mode.  I get home from work and anxiously await the results.  She has dance class until late so I have even longer to hear the news.  I did see my wife, but chose not to broach the subject with her since I didn’t want it spoiled by not hearing from the actual competitor.  Plus, I know my daughter wanted to be the one to tell me.

She gets home, throws her bag down, and I immediately hit her with it.  “So, how did it go?”  I then get to hear all the details about the competition.  She danced around the plot, worked the story like magic, and had me wrapped.  She prefaced everything with the fact there were pies for the top 3.  Surely she’d land in the top 3, right?  She quickly told me that she didn’t get first.  There was some non-humanoid life form from a planet in a third dimension that rattled off 164 digits.  Are you F’n kidding me?  First, the teacher was not bluffing (note to self, don’t accuse teachers of lying).  He knew a ringer!  Second, let’s just take a minute to look at Pi in 164 glorious digits:

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209

749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679821480865132

823066470938446095505822317253594081284811174502841

Um, ok.  That’s crazy.  Take a minute just to read that aloud and imagine it just streaming out of your mouth off the top of your dome.  (insert blank stare)

So, the battle for 2nd was on!  She proceeds to tell me that she ended up getting second in her class.  Key words being ‘in her class’.  There were two classes involved in the battle so she wasn’t sure at that point whether she had placed in the top three.  She ended up posting 38 digits!

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841

That is tremendous!  Maybe not as impressive as Spock and their 164 HGH-induced digits, but absolutely stunning on its own.  I would never, and probably never could, remember and recite 38 digits from memory.  I was so proud.  She said third place in her class got 12 so there was quite a drop off.  Some mailed it in totally by just standing up, saying 3.14 and taking a seat…done.  She then went on to say she had to wait until the end of the day to hear whether some other number freak existed in the other class.  Turns out one other girl in the other class pulled a 41 and barely beat her for second place.  But, she did maintain third place!  Bring on the PIE, baby!

Lesson here is to embrace goals your kids decide to pursue, even the silly ones.  As I’ve pointed out before, the little things can mean so much to them and achieving a goal, at any age, can be so rewarding.  It teaches them to identify personal goals, define strategies, determine methods for approaching the task at hand, and to ultimately implement techniques for execution, all in order to achieve that goal.

I think I’m going to ask for a piece of that pie when it gets home.  I did ‘help’ after all.