Danica McKellar Math Series (Gr. 4-10)

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Anytime a book about math makes the New York Times bestseller list, we sit up and take notice! Of course, it isn't everyday that a young actress (The Wonder Years, West Wing) with a math degree (summa cum laude from UCLA) writes a math book (and co-authors a mathematical physics theorem!). These books are especially for girls particularly math-phobic girls who approach math with trepidation and fear. They are very girl-oriented, putting math concepts into a context non-math-loving girls can identify with. If you liked the movie Legally Blonde, these books are the mathematical rendition. They have eye-catching (and brain-catching) titles for each chapter like "How to Make a Killing on eBay" (Prime Numbers and Factorization), "Why Calculators Would Make Terrible Boyfriends" (Converting Fractions and Mixed Numbers to Decimals), "Can a Guy Be Too Cute?" (Intro to Solving and Graphing Inequalities), and "The Blind Date" (Getting Cozy with Variables). Now, aren't you just a little curious? Each chapter includes an explanation of the concept, step by step problem-solving, examples, and "Doing the Math", a small sampling of problems to do on your own (answers are in the back of the book). Not intended as a math text, the goal is to help girls understand math and enable them to tackle the problems in their "real" math text. As you may have already surmised, though filled with testimonials from girls who have embraced math as a result of her books as well as from notable mathematicians and teachers, the books may be just a little edgy for some homeschoolers. While one of the testimonials is actually from a homeschooler, and another from a homeschooling dad, I would say the Seventeen magazine-like cover and slightly sassy, "hip" conversational text coupled with some stories involving crushes and makeup crises would be a major turn-off for a more conservative family. For those who are still reading, let me tell you why I chose not to "throw the baby out with the bath water".

First, the book reaches out to an audience that needs help understanding math. It meets them where they are, puts things in terms they understand, then encourages them to go beyond (like figuring out your purchase total while you stand in line including tax). Secondly, it keeps their attention through the use of changing format. Little quizzes, diary excerpts, testimonials and stories from readers and women who use math in their careers, differences in shading, illustrations, and the friend-to-friend tone all combine to keep interest levels high. Finally, the books support and encourage girls to overcome their math-phobias and excel at math. I am plumb tired of parents who decide their daughters don't really need to learn higher-level math. One of my most dismaying memories is the time a family came into our exhibit booth, inquiring about a math curriculum for their son. Their daughter was there, too, and she was at a similar grade level. When I asked, "What about your daughter?", "Doesn't she need math, too?" I got the answer that the daughter was going to be housekeeping and cooking, and didn't need higher-level math to do that. When I asked if she wasn't going to be homeschooling her own children someday, I just got a shrug-off from the parents. Now I know this may not be a popular thought, but I believe girls can and should learn math and become fearless at it. Who knows but that your daughter may become a rocket scientist or an engineer, doctor, lawyer, architect or maybe "just" a homeschooling mom like yourself who needs to someday teach higher-level math to her children. I don't feel it's our job as homeschooling parents to limit our daughters' potential. And I think books like this may "rescue" some girls from turning off to math forever. Math can be both "fashionable" and functional for the young woman!

Now, if you're still reading, you may just want to try out these books. You might even discover a new interest in math for yourself.

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