Danica McKellar on Teaching Maths to Children

An interview with mathematician and New York Times best selling maths book author Danica McKellar.

Where Math Teaching Started

When did you first get interested in wanting to teach children maths ultimately going on to author three best selling books on the topic so far?

Math (or “maths” as you like to say in Australia) has made a huge difference in my life – getting good at a challenging subject like math gave me a new self confidence I could never get from Hollywood. I have a degree in math from UCLA and I also coauthored a theorem. Not for the faint of heart!

When you tackle something scary and succeed, you teach yourself that you are stronger and smarter than you thought. I knew I could help other kids find that same confidence, and at the same time help to prepare them for better paying jobs, because that’s what math does! With my love of entertainment, writing entertaining math books was natural for me.

Winnie Cooper and Math Books

Many people know Danica McKellar as Winnie Cooper from the TV show “The Wonder Years.” However, beyond her acting career, Danica has made significant contributions as a mathematician and author. Her books, which include “Math Doesn’t Suck,” “Kiss My Math,” and “Girls Get Curves,” have empowered children, especially girls, to embrace math.

These books are not just educational but also engaging. They show Danica’s unique ability to combine her passion for entertainment with expertise in mathematics. Through her work, Danica continues to inspire young minds to see the beauty and utility of math in everyday life.

Learning the 2 Times Table

Here’s a good example of how to teach math. The video uses repetition, as well as teaching multiplication strategies. Even the 2 times table contains lots of patterns and can benefit from clever teaching methods.

Differences Between Boys and Girls

Do you find that boys and girls have different problems approaching learning maths?

Math can be challenging for everyone. Girls have the extra issue that they are inundated from ubiquitous media that reinforces negative stereotypes about girls not being good at math. It makes it that much harder.

What are your thoughts on teaching boys separately from girls? What are the most common problems kids in general seem to have with maths at any given age?

I have heard that single-sex schools are beneficial, but segregated math classrooms in coed schools…that’s a slippery slope in a society that believes boys are better at math than girls.

Math is a challenging subject, and human beings tend to take the path of least resistance, unless they truly believe in the benefit of the hard work in front of them, like lifting weights to get stronger. Well, the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger the more it’s worked out, and doing math is like going to the gym for your brain. It actually sharpens your brain and makes you smarter.

About Teaching Math in Particular

Is there any aspect to maths (vs. teaching another subject) that teachers in general need to be mindful of as they teach?

See above for the gym analogy–no other subject is so effective in exercising that problem-solving center of the brain. Math is a language, a foreign language, and the language we use in all the sciences to describe and understand the world around us.

What do you think of teaching maths with technology like KhanAcademy.org, tablets,and other digital devices vs. the way we learned growing up which was usually textbooks, blackboard, and a teacher?

Whatever works!

How do you address a child who gives you a definitive claim they won’t need maths as an adult, say, that they tell you “I already have decided I will be an (artist, musician, athlete etc.) when I grow up.”?

Math makes your brain stronger and will help you in ways you never could have anticipated. Plus, many jobs you might not have imagined actually do use quite a bit of math – chefs constantly do conversions in recipes (see Kiss My Math for a whole section on these jobs!) And of course anyone wanting to own their own business needs to be comfortable with all sorts of math. Oh, and math is the language of money – credit card statements, mortgages, etc. Those companies are experts at percents… You don’t want to be unwittingly ripped off!

Your Book and Follow Up

Tell us about the book Girls Get Curves.

Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape. It covers high school geometry–including proofs! Like all of my books, it teaches solid math concepts in a very conversational way, and in the context of silly analogies and stories. They also include advice on how to be a teenager in addition to the math lessons. 

Great stuff! How can people follow you on social media?
I am on Twitter all the time at @danicamckellar and love to hear from my followers!

Danica McKellar is a three-time New York Times bestselling author with her groundbreaking books, Math Doesn’t Suck, Kiss My Math, and Hot X: Algebra Exposed. She has authored several mathematics-related books primarily targeting adolescent readers interested in succeeding at the study of mathematics. These include Math Doesn’t Suck (2008), Kiss My Math (2009), and Hot X: Algebra Exposed (2010). Her later works include Girls Get Curves (2012), Ten Magic Butterflies (2018), Do Not Open This Math Book (2018), Bathtime Mathtime (2019), The Times Machine (2020), Double Puppy Trouble (2022), and Goodnight, Numbers (2022).

Her first book, Math Doesn’t Suck, was a New York Times bestseller and was favorably reviewed for making math accessible and relevant, especially for young girls. Danica continues to inspire and educate through her engaging and educational writing.

Danica McKellar Children

Danica McKeller with son Draco on 9 September 2019
Danica McKeller with son Draco on September 9, 2019

Danica McKellar shares a close bond with her son, Draco. Born in September 2010 to Danica and her first husband, Mike Verta, Draco has been homeschooled by Danica. She incorporates her passion for learning into his education.

Homeschooling has been a significant part of their lives, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Danica shared tips with other parents, highlighting the benefits of creative teaching methods. For example, she has Draco teach his stuffed animals to make lessons more engaging. She finds joy in seeing how much Draco absorbs, even when he seems disengaged.

Danica remarried in 2014 to Scott Sveslosky. Scott has a son from a previous relationship. Together, they enjoy raising their blended family. Draco, who has impressed many with his talents, not only excels academically but also enjoys music. He shows a flair for playing the piano.

Math Careers and Education

by Learning Lab

Are you or your child interested in pursuing math as a career? You’ll need to do some research into the best courses of study. As explained in this page on mathematics degrees, pure maths is not really a career option outside of academia.

To become a professional who uses math or statistics intensively, you need to pair the study of mathematics with other disciplines. Excellent career opportunities are available in fields such as data science, information technology, engineering, finance and business analytics.