Teaching Materials/Experiment Ideas

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Title Buffon's Needle Experiments
Description These experiments are all variations of Buffon's Needle. Students enjoy performing them because they seem so unrelated to Pi. When 2x hits/misses approximates Pi, it seems magical.
Concept Learn about the relationship of Pi to the probability of random events.
Required Materials Anything long and thin, and which you have LOTS of // frozen hot dogs, pencils, breadsticks, straws, coffee stirrers, toothpicks, etc.

You also need to make a playing field. This field is simply a flat surface marked with a series of evenly-spaced parallel lines. Use the exact length of your objects to measure the distance between the parallel lines. A floor marked off with masking tape, or a table covered with lined paper, or a stretch of ground with chalked or scratched lines are all fine playing fields.

Procedure The objects // whether toothpicks, hot dogs, breadsticks, pencils, or straws, etc., are simply thrown in random fashion onto the playing field. It is best done either blindfolded, or over one's shoulder. The idea is to NOT aim at all. For maximum impact, a sense of crazy fun is ideal. This is a good activity for a field day.

You need a two-column record sheet headed 'HITS' and 'MISSES'. The objects that land on a line are 'hits' and those that do not cross a line are 'misses'. At the end of the experiment, just multiply the number of tosses by 2, and divide this product by the number of hits. Your result should be close to Pi. The more tosses, the closer your result should be.

I heard of a college that used the leftover frozen hot dogs at the end of the school year, and actually marked their parallel lines (temporarily, of course) on the football field. They threw frozen hot dogs over their shoulders, without looking, down onto the lined field from the top of the bleachers.

Other Notes

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