A pie for a pi – West MS math teacher not ‘irrational’ in pledge to take one in the face
Alia Bobo learned about pi, so she got to throw a pie.
Her math teacher at West Middle School, Phil Hutcherson, wound up with a face full of cream in a gym-full of roaring kids, but he couldn't have been more pleased.
After all, it was his idea. Earlier this year he'd issued the challenge: The first of his students to accurately recite the 120 digits to the right of the decimal point in pi “would get to throw a pie in my face in front of the whole school,” he explained.
Several students tried, but Alia, a seventh-grader, was the only one who got even close. She actually recited up to the 125th digit, Hutcherson said.
It was basically memorization on her part. Pi, a mathematical constant that starts with 3.14, is an irrational number, so “it never repeats,” he pointed out.
She performed the feat in front of other math students on March 14 - which is known in math circles as “Pi Day” (because the numerical date is 3-14). As Hutcherson described the scene, Bobo stood with her back to a screen on which each number to the right of pi was successively projected, so everyone could see the next correct digit but her.
For the pie-throw event, anticipation had been building for days. Posters advertised it around the school, and administrators scheduled it as part of a recreational event in the gym during the last period March 23, the day before spring break.
Technically, it wasn't a pie “throw.” A special mechanical device, courtesy of students led by applied technology teacher Mike Wheeler, had been built to hold the pie in its pan and swing it forward upon electronic command.
Resolutely, Hutcherson leaned forward to the prearranged spot, and when Alia flipped the device's remote switch it worked perfectly. The next thing everybody knew, there Hutcherson was, grinning through his creamy visage while students and teachers laughed, yowled and/or clapped with delight.
Alia said she had worked on the memorizing for about six hours in all, spread out over the school year. Asked for her incentive, she mentioned the jolly vision of a pie in her teacher's face, but ironically, she's also getting interested in math, as a result of… yes, that same teacher. “He makes it fun,” she said.
Hutcherson returned the compliment, saying that when Alia came to West as a sixth-grader “she wasn't very good at math, but she's quietly rising. She's improved almost four years in two years time.”
This year Alia is also part of the school team, organized by Hutcherson, which has earned the Gold status three straight years in the national MATHCOUNTS math-achievement program.
Hutcherson gave a brief interview after the event, in between daubing his face with a wet cloth. He said the whole idea was “to keep them excited about math. Alia did something she never dreamed she could do. She'll remember this all her life.”
Alia herself was beaming. Asked how she felt now about all those hours of memorizing, she replied emphatically, “It was worth it.”
Westside Pioneer article