Crystal Spring Students Per-fect Pi . . . Throwing

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Teacher Wade Whitehead guides a student in pie throwing.
Teacher Wade Whitehead guides a student in pie throwing.

by Beverly Amsler

How many digits of pi can you name?

If you’re like most people, you probably get lost after 3.14. . . But not Ethan Kinnison, a fifth grader at Crystal Springs Elementary in Roanoke. He can name 170 digits, and his reward for doing so was to throw not one-not two-but three pies at school principal, Kathleen Tate.  One hundred seventy digits is a new school record, breaking last year’s record of 160.

He set out to break the record and practiced for 3 1/2 weeks.  “It seemed just kind of interesting to me so [I did] 170 and got a record . . . I learned 10 digits at a time.”  He’s on a baseball team but says he didn’t practice throwing in order to hit Tate with the pies.

Ethan joined 17 other children who threw “pies” made of a paper plate and whipped cream for learning more than 50 digits of the mathematical number.

They’re students of science teacher Wade Whitehead who said, “I think the greatest thing a teacher can hope for is that their students learn and enjoy their time at school.  So we’re looking for ways to combine subject areas, interests, modes for learning in in fun and productive ways.  So this project to me speaks to that.  It allows kids to have a blast together.  But there’s deep learning going on.  We’re talking about the ancient Greeks; we’re talking about geometry.  There’re a lot of stories behind the exploration of pi.  And the idea that we’re wrestling with an irrational number that can’t quite be quantified, that people have been mystified by for thousands of years is really cool.”

As the throwers took their chalk-marked spot in the parking lot, younger children watched and cheered from the playground.  Whitehead says the children remember the event and when they get into fifth grade, they are already excited and eager to participate.

Donning a shower cap, goggles, flip flops, and wearing a large garbage bag over her clothes, Principal Tate took the excitement all in stride, even at the end when all the kids were done and her secretary smeared a pie in Tate’s face.  Tate’s been the designated receiver since she came on board three years ago.  “It’s really a lot of fun.  I’m grateful to have a nice, sunny day like this to have it happen.  I’ve learned over the years how to dress.  The first year I came out just raw and that was nasty.” “The more they learn, the more pies they get to throw. It is good goal setting for the kids.”

She had a professional development meeting to attend less than an hour after the pie throw and said she brought a wash cloth and towel and a change of clothes.  Tate wasn’t expecting to have to fix her hair but the shower cap came off during the event.  “I will be raunchy by the time I get home.  This (whipped cream) will sour in no time.”

After the pie throw, students surrounded their principal and gave her a big hug, spreading the whipped cream to everyone.

Ethan says his next goal is to learn even more digits of pi.  Could 200 digits be far behind?