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Hawthorne students 'stretch their brains' for Pi

Published: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 12:42 p.m. CST
Caption
(Mark Busch – mbusch@shawmedia.com)
Fifth-grader Jason Butterfield went all out for Hawthorne Elementary School's Pi Day on March 14, even shaving the symbol into his hair. The students were having a contest to see who could remember the most digits of the number.
Caption
(Mark Busch – mbusch@shawmedia.com)
Fifth-grader Abigail Marianetti recites as many digits of Pi as she can remember while teacher Geri Sorrentino keeps track during Hawthorne Elementary School's Pi Day, March 14.

ELMHURST — Hawthorne Elementary School students competed in an infinite challenge last week — memorizing the digits of Pi.

The contest took place on Pi Day, an annual math holiday of sorts on March 14 in honor of the first three digits of the number, 3.14.

More than 75 students signed up to see how many of the number's infinite, never-repeating decimals they could memorize.

Fifth-grader Mike Povh, 11, came in first place, rattling off 220 digits.

When he arrived at school that morning, he knew 206 digits, he said. But boasting by other students who said they knew more prompted him to tack on an additional 14 just before the competition.

"It's just implanted in my brain," he said.

Several other students did memorize a staggering amount of digits, but none ended up coming too close to the 11-year-old.

Mary Kritikos came in second with 159 digits, and Jacob Jonkman placed third, with 156. Both Mary and Jacob are 11-year-old fifth-graders.

Hawthorne's gifted program teacher Geralyn Sorrentino organized the event, which was available for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, and the top winners received pies baked by the York Community High School cafeteria.

She said students were educated on the basics of the number, which is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, before the event.

The winner of the first year of the contest, last year, memorized 151 digits.

"I like giving kids an opportunity to memorize something," Sorrentino said. "It's just another way for them to stretch their brains — it's all we're always trying to do."

Mike, this year's winner, said he signed up for the contest by accident, initially. It was when his teacher asked him a question and he admitted he wasn't paying attention.

"And a couple people next to me were saying, 'Yes,' 'yes,' 'yes,'" he said. "And I was like 'OK, what's happening?' Because I was scared and I didn't know what to do, I just said 'yes.' And then after that, (my teacher) says those are the people who want to do the contest."

Once he was signed up, he dedicated himself to studying for a solid week.

"I found out that what I think I can do, I can do," he said.

Students were excited to show off what they had learned, filling the basement hallway as each waited their turn to say what they had memorized.

Ten-year-old Jason Butterfield might have been the most enthusiastic about the irrational number — he had the Greek letter for Pi shaved into the side of his hair.

The fifth-grader delivered 81 digits.

"I might not know all the digits," he said. "But I'm obsessed with Pi."

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