Many know her as Winnie Cooper, the teenage girl-next-door from the TV show The Wonder Years, but today actress Danica McKellar is a published mathematician. Jean talks with Danica about her book Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail and her goal to make more young girls interested in math.
Danica says she's always had an interest in math, but in middle school she struggled with the subject and almost lost interest. While her love of math prevailed and she ended up graduating from UCLA with a degree in mathematics, Danica says she never forgot her middle school days. "Girls get the image in their head of what a mathematician is and who is good at math—and that it's not pretty young girls," she says. "Girls are raised to believe that their value comes from how they look, not what they're thinking about and what they are doing."
In her book, Danica says she's reaching out to middle school girls and helping them see math as an important part of their lives. "I do all sorts of mnemonic devices to make the math itself easy to learn—to teach in a context that has stories involved—because kids love stories," she says.
By writing her book in the style of a teen magazine, with quizzes and stories, Danica says she is speaking the language of her audience and is making math less scary. "Let's have you overcome something that you think is scary, because not only will you get better at math, but you will become more confident in general knowing that there is something out there you thought you couldn't do and now you can do it," Danica says.