Encouraging American Girls to Embrace Math

Danica McKellar

hide captionActress and mathematician Danica McKellar is the author of Math Doesn't Suck. She proved her own theorem in 2006.

Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

Read an Excerpt

In a new book for middle-school girls, actress and mathematician Danica McKellar argues that being good at math can be cool. McKellar's book is called Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail.

Also, a team of U.S. girls recently held their own in the China Girls Mathematical Olympiad. A coach and a competitor on the U.S. girls team discuss the competition.

Maria Klawe, a mathematician and president of Harvey Mudd College, talks about the best ways to boost the number of girls and women who succeed in mathematics.

Guests:

Danica McKellar, mathematician and actress; author of Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail

Jennifer Iglesias, member of the 2007 U.S. Girls Team International Mathematics Olympiad; senior at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

Melanie Matchett Wood, coach of the 2007 U.S. Girls Team, International Mathematics Olympiad; graduate student in mathematics, Princeton University

Maria Klawe, mathematician and president of Harvey Mudd College

Excerpt: 'Math Doesn't Suck'

Math Doesn't Suck Book Cover

Math Used to Totally Suck

I was terrified of math.

I remember sitting in my seventh grade math class, staring at a quiz as if it were written in Chinese — it might as well have been a blank sheet of paper. Total brain freeze.

Nothing made sense, I felt sick to my stomach, and I could feel the blood draining from my face. I had studied so hard, but it didn't seem to make any difference — I barely even recognized the math problems on the page.

When the bell rang and my quiz was still blank, I wanted to disappear into my chair. I just didn't want to exist.

If you had told me that ten years later I would be graduating from college with a degree in mathematics, I would probably have told you to get your head examined.

As it turns out, though, no head examination necessary! I did in fact develop a love of math through the eighth grade and into high school, and made up tons of cool tricks and ways of remembering things along the way — tricks that I'm now going to share with you in this book!

In the pages that follow, you'll hear my adventures as a terrified math student, a confident actress, and everything in between. Best of all, you'll see how sharpening your brain will put you on the fast track to feeling fabulous in all areas of your life.

Oh yeah — I'll help you ace your next math test, too.

But Math Doesn't Suck!

Let's get a few things straight: Acne sucks. Mean people suck. Finding out that your boyfriend kissed another girl? That would totally suck. Too much homework, broken promises, detention, divorce, insecurities: suck, suck, suck, suck, suck.

But math is actually a good thing. Here are a few reasons why: Math builds confidence, keeps you from getting ripped off, makes you better at adjusting cookie recipes, understanding sports scores, budgeting and planning parties and vacations, interpreting how good a sale really is, and spending your allowance. It makes you feel smart when you walk into a room, prepares you for better-paying jobs, and helps you think more logically.

Most of all, working on math sharpens your brain, actually making you smarter in all areas. Intelligence is real, it's lasting, and no one can take it away from you. Ever.

And take it from me, nothing can take the place of the confidence that comes from developing your intelligence — not beauty, or fame, or anything else "superficial."

When I was in middle school, I had insecurities like everybody else. It didn't help that I was on a TV series (The Wonder Years) at the time. Don't get me wrong — I loved acting, but it didn't take long for me to learn that when you are acting in front of millions of people you get a lot of attention that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with who you really are. Every day, walking down the street, people would come up to me, ask for my autograph, and tell me how much they loved the character I was playing. Great, right?

Well, after a few years of this, I started to wonder if people would still like me if I weren't on television. Eventually, whenever someone would tell me how much they liked my character, I would say "thank you," and then feel kind of empty inside. I started to question my self-worth.

I had a friend in high school who had beautiful, long, naturally red hair, and for years, everywhere she went, everyone told her how much they loved her long, red hair. Finally, she showed up to school with her hair cut short — and dyed jet black!

She was tired of people complimenting her hair, and she needed to know what people liked about her. She had that same empty feeling on the inside that I did when people talked to me about being on TV. She wanted to be valued for what was on the inside. Of course, she was smart and funny and interesting — she just needed to figure that out for herself.

The good news is that the things that really matter, like our intelligence and personality — the things that feel good to be valued for — are things we have the ability to improve ourselves. While it's fun to focus on being fashionable and glamorous, it's also important to develop your smart and savvy side.

One of the best ways to sharpen your brain, and develop intelligence, is to study mathematics. It challenges and strengthens your mind in a way that very few other things do. It's like going to the gym — but for your brain!

I even took a break from acting for four years to go to college and major in mathematics, and it was one of the best choices I've ever made. These days, I've returned to acting, but with a new sense of confidence that came from developing my intelligence.

Excerpted from Math Doesn't Suck by Danica McKellar. Excerpted by permission of Hudson Street Press, a division of the Penguin Group.

Books Featured In This Story

Math Doesn't Suck
Math Doesn't Suck

How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail

by Danica Mckellar

Hardcover, 297 pages | purchase

close

Purchase Featured Books

  • Math Doesn't Suck
  • How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail
  • Danica Mckellar

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: