This week’s brainiac bombshell: Danica McKellar. You may remember her as Kevin Arnold’s long-standing crush, Winnie Cooper, on the classic television show The Wonder Years. More recently, you might have caught her in her role as Elsie Snuffin on The West Wing or Trudy on How I Met Your Mother. Or perhaps you’ve perused a physics journal and stumbled across the Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem she co-authored before graduating summa cum laude in mathematics from UCLA.
Danica took a break from acting to pursue her studies in math and then took her education a step further by sharing it with anyone who would listen. She published a book in 2007 called Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. (www.mathdoesntsuck.com)
The book offers personal accounts about Danica’s discovery of math and real-world experiences as an actress in Hollywood, as well as practice problems, math personality quizzes and even horoscopes. If it sounds a little like your favorite glossy mag, that’s no mistake. It’s meant to engage girls in mathematics in a fresh and interesting way – even the cover design is evocative of the front page of Elle Girl or Teen Vogue.
Asked what informed her approach to writing the book, she responds, “In reaching the ‘middle school girls’ audience, I wanted to keep in mind, what are girls thinking about at that age? What was I thinking about in middle school? Boys, makeup, jewelry, fashion… ‘who am I?’ I thought, ‘Let me do it in that context. Why not teach math in the context of being a girl?’”
When interviewed for a segment featuring her as the ABC World News “Person of the Week,” she explained, “That perception of math not being for girls who see themselves as socially well-adjusted has got to change.”
“The smarter you are,” she continued, “the better prepared you are to make decisions in your life, the more likely you are to lead a satisfying life and be glamorous and fun and anything you want to be. You have more power that way.”
So, what’s she been up to since her book was released last year? Aside from acting and indulging in her love of ballroom dancing and yoga, she’s written a second book with a similar goal. It’s entitled Kiss My Math.
Not surprisingly, Danica has her fair share of fans in high places. One of the testimonials on her web site for Math Doesn’t Suck glows: “This groundbreaking book is just what this country needs.” Not too shabby, considering the quote was courtesy of Dr. Sally Ride… you know, the first American woman in space.