Easy as pi: Girl wows Raleigh class with memory feat

schandler@newsobserver.comJune 16, 2013 

Playing piano is one of many activities to which Jacqueline Kirk can apply her good memory. She recently won a class contest at the Montessori School of Raleigh by reciting 73 digits of pi from memory.

COURTESY OF LESLEY KIRK

  • The winning numbers

    Here are the 73 digits of pi that Jacqueline recited to win her class contest:
    3.141592653589793238462643383279502
    8841971693993751058209749445923078
    164062

When her class decided to hold a contest to memorize as many digits of pi as possible in two days, Jacqueline Kirk had a hunch she was up for the challenge.

But she ended up surprising even herself when she won the contest by reciting 73 digits correctly.

“I didn’t think that I’d be able to get that far,” said Jacqueline, who just finished sixth grade at the Montessori School of Raleigh. “I know that I do have a pretty good memory. I’ve tried to memorize pi that far before, but that was the first time I’d done so many (digits) in a couple of days.”

Her good memory certainly was an asset, but the task of memorizing such a long string of numbers required some hard work, too.

“I have kind of a photographic memory, and it works best with numbers, so that’s one of the reasons I could memorize so many digits,” she explained. “And also I’m pretty good at finding patterns in numbers.”

She broke the numbers into smaller chunks, maybe four or five digits at a time, and looked for something that tied those numbers together.

For example, in the chunk that goes 846264, Jacqueline saw 846 as “minus four plus two,” and 264 as “plus four minus two” – and just like that, those numbers were sealed in her memory.

Jacqueline has had a good memory for, well, as long as she can remember.

“I think I have always had a good memory,” she said. “I realized it a couple years ago when I started doing well in school. I realized that it works best on numbers, but I can also use it to help me remember how to spell words. I’m a pretty good speller, too. I read a lot, so when I read books it’s pretty easy for me to remember the spellings of words.”

Jacqueline’s mother, Lesley Kirk, said she started noticing her daughter’s gift when she was a toddler.

“She started reading when she was about three,” Lesley Kirk said. “… It was because she could memorize all of the sounds that all of the letters made.”

These days, Jacqueline’s memory comes in handy for far more than winning classroom contests.

“We use her memory all the time,” her mom said with a laugh. “We’ll ask her to memorize numbers, addresses, just things in general – I’ll say ‘Jacqueline, what was the name of that thing again?’ or, ‘Where did we go …?’ And she always knows.”

Jacqueline said her ability is a real help in her tap dancing classes when new choreography is introduced. She observes a new routine, notices the number of sounds her steps should make throughout the sequences, and then replays the choreography in her head in the days between dance classes so that she doesn’t forget it.

“That’s what helps me with dance,” she said, “thinking of the combinations.”

In school, Jacqueline has applied her memory skills toward staying organized in the job of classroom president, which requires her to run weekly meetings and help find solutions to problems raised by fellow students. And on a class trip to New York City, Jacqueline said, she was able to help keep the group from getting lost on the big-city streets.

“The streets of New York are very confusing, and it helped me memorize the grid and streets of Manhattan,” she said. “When I memorized if you had to turn right or left and which avenue or street you should go down to, it really helped.”

Jacqueline thinks her memory will continue to be helpful when it’s time to launch her career as an author. It’s already come in handy for the short stories she’s written for fun.

“It helps me to remember characters and their relations to each other, and it also helps me to remember spelling and grammar,” she said.

Notice a pattern?

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