Cleveland Heights Whiz Kid of the Week: Callie Levan
- Eighth-grader at
- Can recite pi to 225 decimal places
- Used a song to help her memorize the numbers
Callie Levan stumbled somewhere around the 180th digit. She paused, looking at the ceiling, thinking of her answer. Ten seconds went by when her eyes lit up. Something clicked. She remembered the rest, and it was correct.
Callie,14, had just finished reciting pi, the numerical constant, to 225 decimal places. Used for a variety of applications in math, science and engineering, pi goes to infinity, but most grade school students typically only remember it to the second digit after the decimal: 3.14. High school and college students often use it to five decimal places: 3.14159.
After memorizing nearly 50 times what students almost twice her age remember, it's understandable that Callie paused once. Especially because she hadn’t recited it for six weeks before demonstrating her talent for this article.
“I haven’t really done anything with it since then,” she said. The last time she did it was Pi Day, March 14, a day started by a mathematician in the late 1980s and chosen to commemorate the number because the date’s numeric representation matches the first three digits of pi, 3/14.
Her eighth-grade math teacher was hosting his annual Pi Day celebration for the students in class where students brought in actual pies and other baked goods. The most important portion of the celebration, however, was when the teacher brought each student out into the hall to recite pi. Whoever got the most digits that year got their name on the wall. The highest name on that list before Callie was someone who knew up to 163 digits.
The year before, her seventh-grade math teacher hosted her own competition and Callie landed third place at 20 decimal places. The winner knew 30 numbers.
Over the summer, she began memorizing more numbers on the advice of her older sister, who said she’d receive extra credit in her eighth-grade class for the skill. She said she’s not very good at math, so she’d need all the help she could get.
“Bad grade in math? I can just use pi,” she reasoned.
By January she’d memorized up to 160 places. Then, partly as a joke, she and an acoustic guitar-playing friend decided to put pi to music, with Callie singing the numbers to the tune Granger Danger from A Very Potter Musical, based on the Harry Potter books and movies. By associating pi to the rhythm of a song, she found memorizing the digits came easy.
“On and off I’d go into frenzies and memorize like 20 at a time,” she said. “I know the first 100 or so without singing, but I can’t do it after that without singing.”
After singing the pi song in front of her class, she said her teacher was thoroughly impressed, so much so that he bought her a T-shirt with the pi symbol emblazoned across the front. She said she plans on learning even more digits after her teacher offered to let her try and break her own record.
Do you know a Whiz Kid? Send your nominations to Cleveland Heights Patch editor Michelle Simakis.