Additional Math Pages & Resources

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Ides of March & National Pi Day

Tomorrow is also known as the ides of March. March 15 was just another day on the calendar until Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 BC. In Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, the soothsayer warns Caesar to "beware the ides of March." So whenever March 15 rolls around, I'm reminded of Shakespeare, theater, Caesar, and phrases such as "the ides of March" that we rarely use.

In Excel Math, we teach students math concepts they will use in everyday life. Students learn the days of week, the months of year, and how to calculate dates in the future. We also teach them how to recognize a leap year.  2012 is a leap year (February had 29 days). Let's see how we can determine if a certain year is a leap year. Take a look at this lesson sheet from Fourth Grade Excel Math:
Student Lesson Sheet 124 from Fourth Grade Excel Math
From the instructions on the Lesson Sheet, can you tell which of the years shown for #2-#4 are leap years? Simply divide the year by 4. If the remainder is 0, then it is a leap year. (The exception is the year that marks the end of a century, which we're not tackling here.) The answer appears at the end of  this post.*

We don't seem to remember the Kalends of January or the Nones of May, but Shakespeare has helped us immortalize the ides of March. Ides = the 15th day of March, May, July, or October on the ancient Roman calendar and the 13th day of the other months. This was based on the phases of the moon. The ides was supposed to fall on the day of the full moon. Broadly speaking, the ides can refer to this day plus the seven days preceding it.

The Ides of March marked the beginning of the consular year from 200 BC to 153 B.C. Each year, the two consuls who were elected, began their term of office on the Ides of March.

Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, gave the ides of March a sense of foreboding and doom. Here's the excerpt from that play where the soothsayer warns Caesar to "beware the ides of March."
Caesar:   Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue shriller than all the music cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March. 
Caesar:   What man is that?
Brutus:   A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
On that fateful day, Caesar was assassinated, and the ides of March has been a tainted date ever since. The Ides of March was the title of a 2011 movie directed by George Clooney, who played the governor of Pennsylvania. The movie took place during the frantic last days before a heavily contested Ohio presidential primary (sound familiar?), when an idealistic staffer for a new presidential candidate got a crash course on dirty politics during his stint on the campaign trail (this is where the similarity ends). Judging by the Google searches for ides following the release of this movie, quite a few people are (or were) unfamiliar with Shakespeare's famous quote.

A more common  household phrase this time of year is "march madness." In fact, the NCAA® March Madness Tournament began Tuesday night and continues tonight with the First Four. The second round starts tomorrow with Syracuse vs. University of North Carolina Asheville and the University of Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky University, among others. For an interactive bracket, visit the NCAA website. Who would you like to see win?

The madness continues throughout the month, leading up to the national semifinals, which take place on March 31. You can download an app or two, print up-to-the minute tournament brackets, stream the games live, and tweet your picks. You can even take a behind-the-scenes virtual tour, view the championship history since 1957, and play the online Bracket Challenge. How did the Romans survive without all this technology?
After 153 B.C., the Roman consuls began to take office on the Kalends of January instead of the ides of March. The kalends is the first day of the month in the Roman calendar. The word calendar comes from the Latin term kalends. Kalends, the Roman new year festival, began on January 1 and lasted until January 5.

The Romans celebrated Kalends by decorating their homes and temples with lights and greenery, exchanging gifts, fortune telling, and masquerades. Certain superstitions attached themselves to this holiday. The Romans believed bad luck would follow anyone who lent fire or iron to a neighbor during this time. Kalend’s Eve celebrations resembled our own New Year’s Eve festivities.

Speaking of festivities, today is National Pi Day! On March 14 (3.14159...) we celebrate this never-ending number with pie and ice cream, logic problems, and lots of brain teasers, such as the leap year challenge we gave you at the beginning of this post. 


Pi Day is a holiday celebrating the mathematical constant, π.


This year marks the twenty-fourth annual Pi Day. On March 12, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution recognizing March 14, 2009, as National Pi Day. Some people also celebrate July 22 as Pi Approximation Day. Instead of the decimal equivalent to Pi, they use the fraction that represents it: 22/7. Twenty two divided by seven gives you the approximate value of Pi, hence the name of the holiday.

LaVern Christianson, a teacher  in Minnesota, even wrote some Pi Day songs for his students. One of my personal favorites is "Happy Pi Day to You." You might want to plan a Pi Day celebration for your students to help them remember this special number. They could write their own songs and poems, see how much of the number Pi they can fit in a three-inch square on a piece of paper, draw pictures of what comes to mind when they hear the word infinity, solve a brainteaser, and enjoy some Pi-related snacks.


So enjoy a piece of pie (or pi) and celebrate the day.

*The answer to Lesson Sheet 124: only #3 is evenly divisible by 4 and therefore a leap year.