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Harbor Day School students crazy for pi

Enthusiasm generated by the math challenge filters down even to the lowest grades.

March 14, 2013|By Jeremiah Dobruck
  • Meggen Stockstill, math department chairwoman, keeps track of the numbers recited by Harbor Day School students with her pi digit list.
Meggen Stockstill, math department chairwoman, keeps… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

First-grader Max Razmjoo belted out a string of random digits Thursday, stopping only briefly for breath and to say "um" a few times.

He was reciting pi — hundreds of digits of it.

But then he got stuck. Keeping score, math department Chairwoman Meggen Stockstill shook her head as Max stumbled.

"No wait!" he said. "6-2-6-0."

And from there he was back on track, finishing out a round 500 digits.

Pi is a mathematical constant that is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, about equal to 3.14159. And it continues to elicit record-setting calculations.

To celebrate national pi day on March 14 — 3.14 — Harbor Day School students in Newport Beach memorize as many of the digits as they can.

It's been a tradition since 2002 that permeated all grades at the campus by 2005.

"At recess you'd hear the upper school kids buzzing '3.14159,'" Stockstill said. Their enthusiasm got everyone, all the way down to kindergartners, participating.

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Max was the highest-scoring first-grader by hundreds of places, but he has years to go before catching the school's pi king or queen.

This year, fifth-grader Karina Grover took the top spot with 2,200 digits. But even she is well behind now-graduated three-time champ Benjamin Most who memorized 4,030 digits last year.

Karina used an iPad app specifically developed for her to drill, but Max had a simpler training formula.

His mother read digits to him, and he recited them back. She's the one who decided to stop at 500.

"It's just one of those things that he's picked up," Max's father, Mazi Razmjoo, said. "It's one of the great things about this school. And he loves to do it. He's excited about it."

After his recital, Max was relieved but proud.

"It was so many digits and in front of everybody," he said.

Razmjoo was just as nervous for his son.

"It's quite nerve wracking. I was shaking," he said. "I was trying to video tape him, and the whole time my hand was quite jittery."

He'll likely have many more opportunities to film.

Max has a new aim for pi. He said he wants to recite 10,000 digits.

"That's a good goal," Razmjoo said.

jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeremiahdobruck

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