Pi Day! (High School Outreach)

Apr 20, 2012   //   by Jenna Pinkham   //   High School Outreach  //  1 Comment

(Back left) Jenna and Emma give a guided tour of hyperbolic space. (Front right) Pauldeep challenges student to a game of Nim.

In a nutshell, Pi Day was a group of Compass students preparing some fun math- and science-flavored hands-on activities to present to a group of high school students. We brought materials to build nifty gliders that look like they shouldn’t be able to fly but do, a worksheet filled with some unusual math problems that require a certain amount of creativity, and awesome demonstrations of spherical and hyperbolic spaces.

What we did as a group was to come together once a week (Wednesday nights, 6-8, you should come to our super-fun meetings in the Compass office because we are still doing stuff) to develop these projects and test them out. We together to brainstorm the projects and pick the ones we found most interesting (and what we assumed the high school students would find most interesting), and once we settled on our three booths we spread out into the three semi-independent subgroups: gliders, weird math problems, and what I like to call the Crazy Awesome Geometry group.

When March 14 we all piled into a car and drove to the Making Waves facility to bring our gifts of math-y wonderfulness to the students.

Personally, some of the most memorable things I’d done in high school were projects like these, where my teachers went beyond the curriculum to engage us as students. It was times like those where you remember that learning is actually fun, and not just a seemingly endless series of homework, homework, test; homework, homework, test. Giving those experiences to other students was really rewarding. But don’t it think was all altruism on my part. I enjoyed our booth (Crazy Awesome Geometry) so much that I’d say my participation was almost selfishly motivated. I mean, there were balloons involved. Nothing says “fun” like balloons.

I originally got involved in the High School Outreach group through last semester’s Shadow Day le prix du viagra au maroc. I pretty much just responded to some emails and showed up where and when I was supposed to, but I had a lot of fun introducing my high school shadow to the Cal campus. So when Ana asked me at the beginning of this semester if I wanted to come to the high school outreach meeting that week I said yes.

When I showed up to my first meeting, the group was brainstorming for the upcoming Pi Day at Making Waves. In the midst of all the ideas being thrown around, Drew suggested we do something on non-Euclidian geometry. My first reaction: “Ew, geometry.” The last time I took a geometry class I was a freshman in high school, and all I remember is that there is a Side-Angle-Side postulate but not an Angle-Side-Side postulate—and even that I had to double-check on Google just now. But then Drew started talking about how weird stuff happens in spaces that aren’t flat, and I was actually interested. Straight lines aren’t actually straight in curved spaces, and you can measure pi to be something other than 3.14.

I was captivated. As I got more involved in the project, I was telling everyone who would sit still long enough all about the cool things I was learning. “Did you know you can make a triangle with two right angles on a balloon?” “Did you know you can measure pi to be 2 on a beach ball?” I didn’t feel like I was “giving up” two hours of my week every Wednesday night. It was more like a scheduled recess every week, and it was something I really looked forward to. I was getting excited about a subject—geometry—that I’d originally written of as “when am I ever going to use this?” It was a completely different look at the subject. Instead of finding areas of circles, and memorizing all those horrible proofs, I was building a model of hyperbolic space out of paper rings.

The whole experience was, for lack of a better adjective, Compass-y.

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