After playing Winnie in “The Wonder Years,” earning a math degree summa cum laude from UCLA, co-authoring a math proof, working as a substitute teacher and doing voice work for video games, Danica McKellar has written a middle-school math book for girls in a teen magazine style. It’s called Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. Wired reports:
Each chapter includes clear explanations that make manipulating numbers sound easy. “A reciprocal of a fraction is found by flipping it upside down. If you want the reciprocal of a mixed number or a whole number, just convert it to an improper fraction, and then flip it!” or “Going back and forth between percents and decimals is very easy. All you need to do is take away the % sign, then move the decimal point two places — that’s it!”
The book includes horoscopes, testimonials, cute doodles and quotes from girls. Word problems are brought to life with descriptions of lipstick, beads, cookies and similarly girly examples that might make the feminist in some women cringe.
McKellar believes girls turn off to math in middle school. If they believe math is a girl thing — and know what to do with fractions — they’re more likely to stick with math in high school and college.
Wired asked McKellar why she included so many references to cookies, clothing and cosmetics.
McKellar: What do you think? If I’m teaching girls that do love to make cookies and do love fashion — that they can use math as a part of that — you think that’s me saying, come on girls you belong in the kitchen, you belong shopping? Or, do you think it’s me showing them how math is part of all their life, even the part they thought it had nothing to do with?
In the introduction and other places in the book, I reinforce the idea it’s OK to be girly. It’s fun to be girly and being smart is part of who you want to be. Picture yourself clicking down Wall Street in your heels with your designer bag, and you’re going to need a really great job to support that shopping habit of yours, aren’t you? Well, yes.
Girls may end up using their math to cut a cookie recipe by three-fourths or manage a Wall Street portfolio, McKellar says. Or both.
As I understand it, the book doesn’t claim that girls’ math is different from unisex math — just that it’s doable by girly girls. It’s sort of a Legally Blonde for fractions.