Today is "Pi Day." Get it? March 14? 3/14? 3.14?
Yeah… that's what happens when people who are clever at math try to be clever with words. Stop it, guys. But at least it gives me, someone who is clever with words, a chance to try to be clever at math.
(The irony is not lost on me.)
The way pi was taught in my school was all backwards. I mean that literally: they started at the end of the story. I, like many people, learned that pi was a random but nonetheless useful value. "C = πd" was drilled into our heads; we were told it was the key to answering homework problems like these: This circle has a circumference of 8 cm. What is its diameter? Or when the textbook was trying to make it seem practical, If the radius of a dinner plate is 4 inches, how big around is the plate?
Really compelling stuff, right?
I wish my teachers had instead demonstrated with examples how pi was discovered. This would have been simple enough: give us 5 circles of various sizes, a ruler, and a piece of yarn, and tell us to measure each circle's circumference and diameter; then have us note the ratio between the two values. I wasn't a math lover, but I can still almost feel the light coming on in my brain after I calculated the second or third ratio—had I been given the chance. It wasn't until years later, when I saw a visualization of pi on the Internet that I grasped this legitimately fascinating reality.
It strikes me that there are plenty of people in all walks of life who are incurious about the whys of the world, people who would much rather be given a formula like C = πd and told where and how to use it than be helped into figuring out where the formula came from. And that's really okay; I'm sure they're happy.
I just don't know what would possess any of them to become teachers.