Pi Day is celebrated in classrooms and community spaces across the globe each year on March 14, often by learning about the transcendental irrational number, competing to see who can recite the highest number of its digits, and eating “pi foods” like pie and pizza.

John Mohn, a South Lebanon Elementary School gifted education teacher, and Tate Speraw, a fifth-grade student at the school, spoke with LebTown about what their accelerated math class is doing to celebrate.

“Students this age are really fascinated by pi. And we do activities … I have some roundtables, and we do strings, and we measure the circumference and make it a hands-on activity as to what pi really is,” Mohn said. “Because many of them, when they first come in here when they’re young, they think it’s a really huge number. But that’s not the case.”

“So, they just have a real fascination with it, which is kind of fun. And I love their enthusiasm about it,” Mohn said.

The Lebanon County native fosters his students’ fascination all academic year long by displaying a poster of the first 75 digits of pi that requires several walls in his classroom. His classroom celebrates Pi Day each year with different pi-related activities, one of which is a pi-reciting competition.

“I now have little sticky notes all throughout the poster with students’ names on from previous years. And Tate has seen this poster for a couple of years. And he has always, you know, ever since … [he] started coming in here in third grade, he’s like, ‘I’m going to beat that. I’m going to beat that, the farthest one right now.’ So, he is taking this challenge.”

Speraw is one of four fifth-grade students who are learning sixth-grade math in Mohn’s class and credits his father, who teaches math at Lebanon High School, for his math-related abilities.

“If numbers were the language, he would speak in it because he has just a real sense for mathematics,” Mohn echoed that Speraw’s upbringing with a math teacher could have positively impacted his math skills.

“I started because I knew that I could,” Speraw, 11, said of his decision to memorize some of the digits of pi. “I like numbers. And I knew that I could probably memorize like 50. But then, I ended up getting to like 200. So, I thought that I could take it as a challenge to beat the record.”

Speraw said he started to memorize the digits of pi in third grade for one to two weeks and memorized more digits over a similar time frame in fourth grade.

“And last year, his parents got him a book. … I wish I would have been the person who thought of this book,” Mohn said of One Million Digits of Pi, which fits the digits of pi on 314 pages. “It’s just the numbers of pi. It looks like a chapter book. But I always tease Tate that he hasn’t even gotten past the first page because … there’s like 3,000 numbers on the first page.”

About a month ago, Speraw started to devote about 10 to 15 minutes per day to memorization. Mohn said that Speraw has progressed well past the digits on his classroom poster and brings the book to school regularly so other students can check him. As of March 6, Speraw had memorized and recited 253 digits of pi and is on track to memorize even more.

In other South Lebanon Elementary School math news, students were greeted by statues of ancient mathematicians, or students “dressed in, some have like toga-style outfits, others, depending on what era they’re from … have costumes,” said Mohn. The “ancients” used laptops to aid their presentations.

“That also connects to pi because some of those ancients were really fascinated with pi as well,” Mohn said.

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Lexi Gonzalez has worked as a reporter with LebTown since 2020. She is a Lancaster native and became acquainted with Lebanon while she earned her bachelor's degree at Lebanon Valley College.


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