Category: education

10 Ways to Celebrate Pi Day with Us on March 1…

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com. On March 14, we will join people across the U.S. as they celebrate an icon of nerd culture: the number pi. 

So well known and beloved is pi, also written π or 3.14, that it has a national holiday named in its honor. And it’s not just for mathematicians and rocket scientists. National Pi Day is widely celebrated among students, teachers and science fans, too. Read on to find out what makes pi so special, how it’s used to explore space and how you can join the celebration with resources from our collection.

1—Remind me, what is pi?

Pi, also written π, is the Swiss Army knife of numbers. No matter how big or small a circle – from the size of our universe all the way down to an atom or smaller – the ratio of a circle’s circumference (the distance around it) to its diameter (the distance across it) is always equal to pi. Most commonly, pi is used to answer questions about anything circular or spherical, so it comes in handy especially when you’re dealing with space exploration.

2—How much pi do you need?

For simplicity, pi is often rounded to 3.14, but its digits go on forever and don’t appear to have any repeating patterns. While people have made it a challenge to memorize record-breaking digits of pi or create computer programs to calculate them, you really don’t need that many digits for most calculations – even at NASA. Here’s one of our engineers on how many decimals of pi you need.

3Officially official.

Pi pops up in everything from rocket-science-level math to the stuff you learn in elementary school, so it’s gained a sort of cult following. On March 14 (or 3/14 in U.S. date format) in 1988, a physicist at the San Francisco Exploratorium held what is thought to be the first official Pi Day celebration, which smartly included the consumption of fruit pies. Math teachers quickly realized the potential benefits of teaching students about pi while they ate pie, and it all caught on so much that in 2009, the U.S. Congress officially declared March 14 National Pi Day. Here’s how to turn your celebration into a teachable moment.

4Pi helps us explore space!

Space is full of circular and spherical features, and to explore them, engineers at NASA build spacecraft that make elliptical orbits and guzzle fuel from cylindrical fuel tanks, and measure distances on circular wheels. Beyond measurements and space travel, pi is used to find out what planets are made of and how deep alien oceans are, and to study newly discovered worlds. In other words, pi goes a long way at NASA.

5Not just for rocket scientists.

No Pi Day is complete without a little problem solving. Even the math-averse will find something to love about this illustrated math challenge that features real questions scientists and engineers must answer to explore and study space – like how to determine the size of a distant planet you can’t actually see. Four new problems are added to the challenge each year and answers are released the day after Pi Day.

6—Teachers rejoice.

For teachers, the question is not whether to celebrate Pi Day, but how to celebrate it. (And how much pie is too much? Answer: The limit does not exist.) Luckily, our Education Office has an online catalog for teachers with all 20 of its “Pi in the Sky” math challenge questions for grades 4-12. Each lesson includes a description of the real-world science and engineering behind the problem, an illustrated handout and answer key, and a list of applicable Common Core Math and Next Generation Science Standards.

7—How Do We celebrate?

In a way, we celebrate Pi Day every day by using pi to explore space. But in our free time, we’ve been known to make and eat space-themed pies, too! Share your own nerdy celebrations with us here.

8—A pop-culture icon.

The fascination with pi, as well its popularity and accessibility have made it a go-to math reference in books, movies and television. Ellie, the protagonist in Carl Sagan’s book “Contact,” finds a hidden message from aliens in the digits of pi. In the original “Star Trek” series, Spock commanded an alien entity that had taken over the computer to compute pi to the last digit – an impossible task given that the digits of pi are infinite. And writers of “The Simpsons,” a show known for referencing math, created an episode in which Apu claims to know pi to 40,000 digits and proves it by stating that the 40,000th digit is 1.

9—A numbers game.

Calculating record digits of pi has been a pastime of mathematicians for millennia. Until the 1900s, these calculations were done by hand and reached records in the 500s. Once computers came onto the scene, that number jumped into the thousands, millions and now trillions. Scientist and pi enthusiast Peter Trueb holds the current record – 22,459,157,718,361 digits – which took his homemade computer 105 days of around-the-clock number crunching to achieve. The record for the other favorite pastime of pi enthusiasts, memorizing digits of pi, stands at 70,030.

10—Time to throw in the tau?

As passionate as people are about pi, there are some who believe things would be a whole lot better if we replaced pi with a number called tau, which is equal to 2π or 6.28. Because many formulas call for 2π, tau-enthusiasts say tau would provide a more elegant and efficient way to express those formulas. Every year on Pi Day, a small debate ensues. While we won’t take sides, we will say that pi is more widely used at NASA because it has applications far beyond geometry, where 2π is found most often. Perhaps most important, though, for pi- and pie-lovers alike is there’s no delicious homonym for tau.

Enjoy the full version of this article HERE

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.

“Many adults are put off when youngsters pose scientific questions. Children ask why the sun is…”

Many adults are put off when youngsters pose scientific questions. Children ask why the sun is yellow, or what a dream is, or how deep you can dig a hole, or when is the world’s birthday, or why we have toes.

Too many teachers and parents answer with irritation or ridicule, or quickly move on to something else. Why adults should pretend to omniscience before a five-year-old, I can’t for the life of me understand. What’s wrong with admitting that you don’t know? Children soon recognize that somehow this kind of question annoys many adults. A few more experiences like this, and another child has been lost to science.

There are many better responses. If we have an idea of the answer, we could try to explain. If we don’t, we could go to the encyclopedia or the library. Or we might say to the child: “I don’t know the answer. Maybe no one knows. Maybe when you grow up, you’ll be the first to find out.

Carl Sagan

Back to School Resources

Need help with your science homework? We’ve got you covered! Here are some out-of-this world (pun intended) resources for your science and space questions.

Let’s take a look…

NASA Space Place

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From questions like “Why does Saturn have rings?” to games that allow you to explore different galaxies, NASA Space Place has a variety of content for elementary-age kids, parents and anyone who likes science and technology topics. 

Visit the NASA Space Place website or follow @NASASpacePlace on Twitter.

SciJinks

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Targeting middle-school students and teachers, this NOAA and NASA partnership has games and useful information about weather and other Earth science subjects. 

Visit the SciJinks website or follow @SciJinks on Twitter. 

NASA Education

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The NASA Education website includes an A-Z list of education opportunities that we offer throughout the year, as well as education programs, events and resources for both students and educators. 

We have a diverse set of resources for multiple age groups:

Visit the NASA Education website or follow @NASAedu on Twitter. 

Want to get NASA Education materials for your classroom? Click HERE

A Year of Education on the International Space Station

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Although on different crews, astronauts Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold – both former teachers – will work aboard the International Space Station. K-12 and higher education students and educators can do NASA STEM activities related to the station and its role in our journey to Mars. Click HERE for more. 

Sally Ride EarthKAM

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Also on the International Space Station, the Sally Ride EarthKAM @ Space Camp allows students to program a digital camera on board the space station to photograph a variety of geographical targets for study in the classroom. 

Registration is now open until Sept. 25 for the Sept. 26-30 mission. Click HERE for more. 

NASA eClips™

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NASA eClips™ are short, relevant educational video segments. These videos inspire and engage students, helping them see real world connections by exploring current applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, topics. The programs are produced for targeted audiences: K-5, 6-8, 9-12 and the general public.

Space Operations Learning Center

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The Space Operations Learning Center teaches school-aged students the basic concepts of space operations using the web to present this educational content in a fun and engaging way for all grade levels. With fourteen modules, there’s lots to explore for all ages.

The Mars Fun Zone

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The Mars Fun Zone is a compilation of Red Planet-related materials that engage the explorer inside every kid through activities, games, and educational moments. 

Fly Away with NASA Aeronautics

Frequent flyer or getting ready to earn your first set of wings? From children’s books for story time to interactive flight games, we’ve got Aeronautics activities for students of all ages that are sure to inspire future scientists, mathematicians and engineers. 

On Pinterest? We have a board that highlights NASA science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) lessons, activities, tools and resources for teachers, educators and parents. 

Check it out here: https://www.pinterest.com/nasa/nasa-for-educators/ 

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com.