To be honest, I really don't see the practical application of memorizing pi to the 35th decimal, but Joely was excited about learning it the other day during her math lesson.
And so she did — in less than 30 minutes.
After Joely and I memorized pi, I created a chart and set of flashcards that somewhat represents the process of how we memorized it. You are welcome to download the 4-page pdf below for your personal use.
How to memorize things quickly
In reality, the whole process of memorizing pi to 35 decimal places was more an experiment in the process of memorizing than anything else. What seemed an almost impossible task at first turned out to be quite simple after we broke the long number into chunks and used some memory tricks to remember each section.
Contrary to what many children — and even adults — believe, the process of memorization isn't about just staring at the words or numbers and reciting them over and over again until we can recite them.
There are few basic principles that can be applied to make the process much simpler, quicker, and more effective.
1. Limit the number of memorized items to 7, plus or minus 2.
This is the "magic number" that so many researchers have concluded is the limit of an average person's short-term memory. What that means is that if you have a large amount of information to memorize, break it apart into 7 or so separate chunks of related information. That way the brain is processing fewer and smaller pieces of information.
Even if each of those chunks itself contains 7 bits of information, the brain can (amazingly) accommodate it, when it couldn't accommodate all the information as a whole. I've seen this to be true again and again.
In the case of pi, I took the 36 digits and broke them into 9 groups, most of which were only 4 digits long: 3.14159 26 5358 9793 2384 6264 3383 2795 0288
2. Organization and association of information is the key to memorization.
Unrelated information is always more difficult to memorize. Give me a list of 35 animals to memorize and I'll have a hard time doing it. But give me a list of those same 35 animals, but organize those animals into 5 groups instead (mammals, reptiles, birds, fish, and insects), and I'll have a much easier time memorizing and recalling the information.
If you're memorizing information, try to organize it in some way. The relationship between items doesn't even have to be substantial. It can be just the beginning letters that are the same, or the length of the words, or some other abstract relationship. But find some way to organize the information into groups, and you'll find that the process of memorization is simplified substantially.
In the case of pi, I took each number chunk, and grouped them by the beginning digit. That helped us get the "big picture."
Association is another key component of memorization. If you're learning a new piece of information, try to associate it with something you already know. For example, if you're memorizing a date, relate the date to another date or period of history you already know. That way you're associating the information with something already existent in your long-term memory.
If you're trying to remember how to pronounce a difficult word, try to think of a word you already know that sounds similar. For example, the other day my son was trying to remember how to pronounce Eukarya for his biology class, so we decided he could just remember it as You-Korea. Problem solved!
3. Creating mnemonics and recognizing patterns help you remember information permanently.
My children and I remember many things with the help of acronyms and other mnemonic devices, from the names and locations of the Great Lakes (SHO ME) to the order in history of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle (SPA).
It doesn't always have to be acronyms either. Sometimes it's just a matter of noticing patterns. In learning pi, Joely and I noticed that most of the number chunks had repeated numbers, and sometimes the numbers even represented well-known dates to us.
Whatever you can do to create order out of chaos will aid in the process of memorization.
If your children learn pi to 35 decimal places (or more!), I'd love to see them recite it! Take a video and share the link in the comments if you'd like.