Hello, everyone! I hope you’re all finding interesting and fun things to do while practicing social distancing. This week, I’m going to be posting activities for you to do while you’re home. Today’s theme is Sagara’s bedroom, which is decorated with MATH. Here’s an excerpt from An Elf’s Equations:

Sagara turned and ran lightly along a branch as broad as the Path by Millie’s house until she reached her bedroom. Pulling aside a curtain of cultivated ivy, Sagara touched a smooth river stone set in a niche beside the door, and it began to glow with soft, golden light. She entered a room made entirely of living woven branches, much like the classrooms in Master Quercius’s branches at the Enchanted Forest School. This room was much smaller and private, decorated with mathematical constructs: fractal patterns, the Fibonacci spiral, graphs and diagrams. A long strip of paper circled the leafy ceiling with the first two hundred digits of pi. — p. 31

What the heck is all this stuff? Well, here are some brief explanations of what they are and why Sagara thinks they’re cool.

A representation of the number pi

Pi Goes On Forever

Pi is a strange and unusual number. It’s the number we’ve discovered that describes round things: circles, balls, even the orbits of planets (if the orbits were perfect). Draw a circle and put a dot in the exact center of the circle, then draw a line straight through that dot from one side of the circle to the other. We call that line the diameter. Now put a dot anywhere on the circle. The length of the circle if you go all the way around it is called the circumference. So if you have a piece of string, and you make a circle out of it, the length of the string is the circumference. If you measure the circumference and the diameter very carefully, you can find pi.

For example, let’s say you have a string that’s a foot long. If you make a circle out of it and measure its diameter, you’ll find that it’s a little under four inches, about 3.8 inches. Now, divide 12 inches by 3.8 inches. You can use a calculator, it’s okay. You’ll get a number with a lot of digits after it: 3.157847368 is what my calculator says. That’s pretty close to pi, but not exact because we didn’t measure the radius exactly enough. If you measure it really, really carefully, it’s more like 3.14159. Here’s a little video of how that works:


Many, many digits of pi. Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

Now here’s the really cool thing. If you could measure the diameter and the circumference absolutely perfectly, the digits would go on forever. What’s more, they never repeat. Mathematicians call this a transcendental number. They have calculated millions of digits of pi, and they still haven’t found the end. Sagara loves this. She loves thinking about the fact that it goes on and on and on forever. So she glued together pieces of paper and copied out as many digits as she could and put them up all around her room. You can do that, too! How many digits of pi can you write out?

A Mobius Strip has Only One Side

Take a piece of paper. Cut it into three strips and tape or glue them into one long strip. Now give the strip one twist and tape the ends together. Here are some good step-by-step instructions. Now, put a dot in the middle of the strip, anywhere, and start drawing a line down the middle of the strip. Keep going. Eventually, you’ll reach the dot again. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE???

It’s possible because a Mobius strip actually only has one side. That twist you put in the loop means that you connected on side of the paper to the other, making an infinite loop. Sagara thinks this is better than magic, and she has little mobius strips dangling from the branches of her room. When she gets bored, she takes one down, draws that line, and then cuts along the line to see what happens. Try it! I guarantee you’ll be surprised.

Fractals Can Be Infinite

Fractals are repeating patterns that appear in nature. Be warned! Once you start seeing them, you can’t stop.

Here’s a simple example of a fractal. Draw an equilateral triangle – that’s a triangle whose sides are all the same length and whose angles are all the same 60 degrees. Now, draw another, upside down triangle inside that triangle, with each of its points at the middle of the larger triangle’s sides. Suddenly, you have four triangles. Do that again. And again. And again.

via the Boston University Math page on Serpinski Triangles

If you had a big enough triangle, or a good enough magnifying glass, you could keep on doing this forever. The triangle doesn’t even have to be equilateral. Try drawing some triangles of different sizes and see if you can keep dividing them up the same way.

Tangrams: Many Pictures from the Same Shapes

Sagara loves turning things around and seeing them in new and surprising ways. Tangrams are images that you make from a small set of shapes. By courtesy of my friend Rebecca Rapoport, co-author of Math Games Lab for Kids, you can download and print the basic tangrams set and many different tangrams shapes to make (there are some other cool math downloads on that page, too). I recommend coloring the pieces for the tangrams many different colors, then seeing how the colors fit into the shapes. Sagara enjoys trying to create new shapes for herself and has several unique creations posted around her room.

As for Fibonacci spirals, we’ll get to that tomorrow. Happy mathing!