Life of pi-comes alive


Life of pi-comes alive

The enigmatic pi used in mathematics need not be made tedious for students. They can decipher it through creative ways, writes M A Siraj.

Numbers are integral to our life. In this age of fast automation, there is no escape from them. Numeracy is part of literacy. With each passing day, more and more numbers would enter our life as digitization gains pace.

Years ago, Doordarshan ran a 42-episode serial titled Chauraha aimed at promoting literacy among the rural womenfolk, slum dwellers, the dhaba workers, artisans and peasants.

It was timed for afternoon when most of them would be having their siesta. It was produced by the Jamia Millia Islamia’s AJK Mass Communication Research Centre.  Teams trying to gauge the impact of the serial went into villages of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh and returned with interesting feedback.

A garment worker said she would stitch 15 maxis every day and was paid Rs. 85. On Saturdays when she worked only for a half a day, she would prepare nine maxis but would not be able to know if she was being paid the right wages. She found the programme helpful in learning such small calculation.

A driver from Punjab pointed out that his illiteracy often led him to drive farther than the point he was supposed to take a diversion, for he was unable to read the milestones and destination boards. He would have to later account for the excess diesel consumed in travelling the unnecessary miles and would suffer pay cuts. He picked the basic literacy and a sense of numbers from the serial Chauraha.

 If not the knotty sums of the homework, a child today may have to figure out which one of the pizza is a better value for the money, one that is priced at Rs 90 for a 10-inch diameter or Rs. 100 for a 12-inch one.

The ever rising beam for the high jump or the widening circles of the relay race rounds call upon the kids to be in sync with numbers. Numbers, figures and mathematical concepts penetrate into everyday urban life in myriad and astounding ways.

Be it the number of crunchy pani puris one would munch or the fairness of the fare meter of an autorickshaw, calculations and measurements are inescapable. Prudent use of resources and preservation of environment are also urging young people to be right with numbers.

But the rigidly conventional way the mathematics is taught in schools has hardly ever brought it closer to the kids. How many teachers would ask the students to measure the slide and find its relationship with its height and base and arrive at the formula. How many kids have been explained the fascinating yet riddlesome ratio between the diameter and the circumference demonstrated by pi (π).

Teachers find it difficult to adapt and engage the pupil and enable them to appreciate the real world concepts.

A Voyage Through Numbers

A Bangalore-based organization, Brainstars has come up with ‘NumberNagar’, a uniquely designed Math Activity Centre for students from 3rd to 7th standard or 8-13 age group. The prototype—in a 15 feet by 15 feet room—is designed to take the children on an imaginative voyage where they experience mathematics.

One enters the NumberNagar through a door at the zero mile signpost. A series of magnetic cards bring to life the history of mathematicians, several among them being Indians. A wall-mounted ‘zero suitcase’ illustrates the most notable contribution of Indian mathematician i.e., zero which enabled the world to crunch numbers that ran unwieldy till then due to use of Roman numerals.

Ratios and the proportions of human body so ably explained by Leonardo da Vinci through his Vitruvian Man enclosed within a square overlapping a circle lets a student explore the wisdom embedded in the diagram made in 1490.

Next comes the piece de resistance: a city map with civic paraphernalia like the lamp posts, jogging tracks, water towers, public taps, a jumble of domes, gopurams, minarets and spires of places of worship, traffic signs, pushcarts, mobile eateries, are etched in visuals. Says Anupama, Prakash, President, communications of the Brainstars, the city map is hoped to inspire students and teachers to the possibilities of mathematics in various concepts in the city.

“The map is not intended to be drawn to scale nor a comprehensive and representative map of urban space. Instead, it distorts distance, size, symbols and scale to facilitate the viewer a deeper, analytical and reflective experience of the city”.

The NumberNagar seeks to enable the students to decipher enigmatic pi (π) through a creative π Pillar with three circular boxes mounted over each other allowing kids to relate the pi to various shapes such as circular cones, hour-glass, globe, domes, tiffin-box, car steering or a tyre. Even the ceiling and floor have not been spared. The canopy of a Pythagorus tree covers the ceiling while laid on the floor are multipurpose cubes which can seat the students as well as allow them to turn them into a cricket field placement table or volleyball court.

A series of clock dials facilitate understanding of angles of geometry and fraction of arithmetic.

 According to R Ravi Shankar, CEO of the Brainstars, “Our vision was to take the native form of mathematics into the city a child lives in and see how it can animate her curiosity for patterns and happenings, shapes and proportions, measurements and calculations – all conceptual mathematical areas that penetrate our daily urban lives in astounding ways.”

The NumberNagar takes the child through the voyage in the most entertaining way either by just moving the magnetic number cards over a calendar to find out the day on a specific date in history or rolling the π pillar to find out the volume of a cone. Wonderful connections with history, arts, sports, design, music and entertainment engross the child and stimulate his curiosity to discover new possible ways of working out the most nettlesome of the sums. 

NumberNagar having been patented by Brainstars, the organisation sees ample opportunities for such prototypes to be built in schools, parks and even within gated communities. 

NumberNagar was launchd on December 22, the 125th birth anniversary of legendary Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujam as the dusk settles over 2012, the year dedicated as the National Year of Mathematics by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. Launch will take place at Freedom Park.

Those desirous of having a look at the NumberNagar prototype can contact Anupama Prakash at 9945002529, or Pavan at 9663090123 or email: or visit its website: .   

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