'Winnie Cooper' Shows Girls That Math is Coolon August 22, 2012 @ 5:25 pm (Updated: 8:01 am - 8/23/12 )
By Rachel Belle
You may not recognize the name Danica McKellar, but chances are you know Winnie Cooper, the character she played on The Wonder Years, beloved by Kevin Arnold and young, male TV viewers alike. These days, Danica McKellar may not be the biggest name in Hollywood, but she's made a name for herself teaching girls that math is cool.
"The Wonder Years had just ended and I got into college and I took a math class and was hooked! For me, and a lot of child stars, you start to wonder what your identity would be, what your value would be, if you didn't have the TV show that you grew up on. For me, I found it through math. When I took math I felt smart and confident and strong and all these wonderful things that came from something that I was building. Not something that had anything to do with the the superficiality of Hollywood. So it was a really great self-esteem building tool for me."
Her fourth math book, Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape, has just come out.
"I'm here to break some stereotypes. My books look more like teen magazines than math books because I want to show girls you don't have to choose between being the fun, fabulous girl and being the smart girl! Don't dumb yourself down, it doesn't make you cuter, it makes you dumber. Being smart, and getting good at math, will improve your life in every way you can think of. You'll be smarter, a better decision maker, a better problem solver, you'll choose guys more wisely, you'll have more career options."
Danica focuses on junior high and high school girls, since that's the age when girls start to lose their confidence with math, even if they're good at it. She says boys and girls actually earn about the same grades in middle school math classes.
"The difference is, the girls' confidence in math drops in middle school. They start thinking of themselves as not being as good at math, and that's so damaging because when they do hit a stumbling block, be it a bad teacher or a really hard test, they don't tend to see it as a stumbling block. They tend to see it as evidence they've known all along, which is that they don't belong in math. It's too hard for them."
I myself am a math fearing girl, who always gravitated more towards reading and writing. I quickly skimmed through Danica's book and felt overwhelmed by the equations and isosceles triangles.
"Don't skim this stuff because you won't get it and then you'll be scared, just like what you did. You skimmed it and it looks intimidating. Can you imagine, if you're supposed to read a short story for a class and write a paper about it, but you just kind of didn't really read it, you just read the first word off the top of each page? You would have no idea of what's going on either! First rule is just relax and read it."
Danica says her books explain math in a way that girls can relate to.
"They're fun, there are stories. I make up fun analogies. I tell stories to help memorize formulas, I use analogies to help describe complicated concepts."
Danica studied math at UCLA, where she helped to prove a new theorem. She hopes that her books will inspire other young girls to follow in her mathematical footsteps.
"I get emails all the time from girls saying they finally get math. They're so enthusiastic, they're like, 'OMG! You saved my life! You know, I finally get it, I finally feel confident!' Some of my favorite emails are the girls who say, 'I finally feel good about being a smart girl.'"
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