In the movie “Patch Adams,” released 20 years ago, there’s a scene of two people floating in a swimming pool filled with spaghetti noodles.
Here’s the challenge posed to Sacramento’s top math students: With only a photo of that scene, not knowing the pool’s dimensions, can you calculate the number of noodles used?
Heron School’s Greg Moore and Malia Murray have billions of reasons to be happy today after capturing first place among 8th-graders with their calculation of 6,468,181,894 spaghetti noodles – roughly 6.5 billion, rounded off.
Arriving at an answer was partly detective work, partly online research, and partly just, well, using their noodle.
Along the way, Greg and Malia boiled spaghetti noodles to measure them, calculated the toe-to-waist height of an average person, and considered the space consumed in the Patch Adams pool by the two floating actors, including star Robin Williams.
Greg and Malia were honored Saturday (March 3) at Sacramento State College, where they presented their findings and answered math teachers’ questions in the annual contest sponsored by the Sacramento Area Mathematics Educators, the Sacramento State Mathematics Project, and the California Mathematics Council.
Winners were chosen on the basis of their reasoning, solution method, the correctness of their answer, and their explanation of process used. About 25 entries were received in the K-12 contest, which allowed contestants to choose from two or three math problems and pitted entrants against individuals or two-person teams in the same grade.
Heron Principal Amy Whitten couldn’t be prouder of Greg and Malia, students in Lea Myhre’s mathematics class at the K-8 school known for its focus on STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics.
As part of the project, Greg and Malia created a written report summarizing their analytical thinking, mathematics computations, and problem-solving, including what information they had to calculate from sleuthing because it was not apparent from the Patch Adams photo, such as:
· The size of the people standing next to the pool
· The height and depth of the pool
· How far the noodles are from the top of the pool
· The diameter or radius of the base of the pool
· Whether there’s water. as well as noodles, at the bottom of the pool
“The height of the pool and the diameter is key to finding the volume of the pool,” they wrote in laying their foundation for research.
Now to fill in the gaps …
Because the Patch Adams photo suggested the pool was basically waist-high to adults standing beside it, Greg and Malia measured some adults they knew to get an average height from toe to waist – approximately 3 feet.
To estimate the pool’s diameter, they estimated how much space exists between two people standing on opposites sides of the pool. By estimating the average height of adults in the photo at 5-feet-5, they could calculate the pool’s diameter – roughly 8 feet.
On and on it went, with Greg and Malia working together for more than six hours on the complex project, which also required them to calculate the radius of the pool, the area of the pool’s base, the volume of the pool, and the volume of a spaghetti noodle, among other factors.
“This really tested me and my partner’s thinking,” Malia wrote later. “But the good thing is that Greg and I always work well together in class. Even though we argue over who has the right answer or not, we still make a great team.”
Greg applauded Malia as a teammate, too, and wrote that “the hardest part of this project was finding the volume of the noodles because the decimals were hard to work with and they had a lot of small numbers, which are fun to work with but just not easy to do.”
Both Heron 8th-graders plan to attend college – Malia plans to enroll at New York University and major in Math or Science. She hasn’t yet chosen a career, but enjoys dance and hopes to pursue it for years to come. Greg hopes to attend a California college, perhaps Stanford, and major in Math. He’d love a career as a professional soccer player or Math teacher.