Maybe 'Girly Math' Isn't Such a Bad Idea

Winnie Cooper — I mean Danica McKellar, sorry — has a new book out called Girls Get Curves, a followup to her first girly arithmetic book, Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who's Boss. Girls Get Curves tackles geometry, and, as in Kiss My Math, McKellar gives math a peppy, slightly ditzy makeover by coming up with word problems that include barbies, puppies, and broken nails. For example, this is how she explains why geometry is useful:

Look around- we live in a world of angles and curves. Geometry is responsible for the shape of the house you live in, the cars on the road, the shoes on your feet, and even the book in your hands. Diamond rings wouldn't be nearly so sparkly without the study of angles, and your favorite dress wouldn't fit nearly as well without the science of curves. But geometry does more than help us to master the physical world. Doing geometry- especially proofs- trains the logic center in our brains. And logic helps us stay clear and focused, which is helpful in all parts of life!

Ohh, geometry is like the diamond ring I hope to receive one day from a special someone! Now I'm ready to tackle that proof!

"Math is a language, and it needs translation, and so I translate the math in terms that girls are thinking about, like popularity and boys and just things that are fun to read about," McKellar told the Today show. "I wrote a book that I wish I'd had when I was 12 and 13 years old."

Although almost all of the examples in her excerpt make adult me groan — like the primer on conditional statements that starts with, "Let's say your best friend is planning to ask your latest crush to the dance, and it's making you crazy..." — I think she's 100% right about the language barrier. Math is a language, and, at least in my experience, many math books and study plans are geared towards boys, written in a language that's more difficult for girls to connect with.

When I was younger, my dad used to help me with my geometry homework by rewriting word problems so I could more easily understand them/I'd have more fun. I couldn't remember the exact analogies he used, so I gave him a call. "I would try and come up with really ridiculous scenarios to make you laugh," he said. "Like, there's a crack dealer in the neighborhood that needs to make a profit before his boss breaks his legs. How much crack does he have to sell to the kids at the local elementary school?"

I don't think I would've liked McKellar's style (clearly, I had a darker sense of humor) but if her books resonate with younger girls and help them get interested in math at a younger age, they're more likely to move on to more complicated branches of mathematics — upon which they'll surely ditch the fluffiness — and that seems like a real positive.

[Science Friday]