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Topic: Mathematics, the makeover
Replies: 5   Last Post: Oct 8, 2010 10:12 AM

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Jonathan Groves

Posts: 2,068
From: Kaplan University, Argosy University, Florida Institute of Technology
Registered: 8/18/05
Re: Mathematics, the makeover
Posted: Oct 6, 2010 4:04 AM
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Dear All,

I thank Jerry for sharing this story with us about Danica McKellar.
The paper in the Journal of Physics that she co-authored with
L. Chayes and B. Winn can be found at the link

We definitely do not see many math majors or others who have
worked as mathematicians at least for some time who also lead lives
as actors or actresses.

It is not clear from what I have checked out on the Internet if
she still works in mathematical research or not. It does not
appear so, but I cannot say for sure. Even if she is not
working at mathematical research now, it is definitely not
clear as to whether she will return or whether she will
pursue more advanced degrees in mathematics.

Here is an NPR broadcast with her talking with Scott Simon and
Keith Devlin:

This story is enjoyable, and she is to be commended for trying
to improve math's highly negative image, especially among
young girls. Since I have not seen her books, I cannot say
anything about their quality.

Jonathan Groves

On 10/4/2010 at 6:09 pm, Jerry P. Becker wrote:

> ***************************
> From The Independent UK], Sunday, October 3, 2010.
> . See
> news/mathematics-the-makeover-2096268.html
> - out thanks to Douglas Rogers for bringing this
> article to our
> attention, via David Kirshner.
> ***************************
> Mathematics, the makeover
> Sums, it seems, are hot. Arithmatic rocks. A sexy
> band of number
> crunchers is taking maths away from the geeks and
> frumps
> By Susie Mesure
> It has long vied with physics for the dubious honour
> of having the
> worst image on the curriculum. But that was before
> stars such as the
> former Wonder Years actress Danica McKellar stepped
> in to give maths
> a makeover.
> The actress turned mathematician, who is best known
> for playing
> Winnie Cooper in the hit US television show, has made
> it her mission
> to sex up maths with a series of books aimed at
> convincing girls that
> the subject isn't just for geeks. As the raunchy
> cover of her latest
> how-to guide - Hot X: Algebra Exposed - makes clear,
> being a maths
> whiz doesn't make you a frump.
> Penguin, which has just released McKellar's first
> book, Maths Doesn't
> Suck, in the UK, thinks her approach will
> revolutionise the way girls
> look at the subject. It plans to publish the author's
> two other
> books, which have both made The New York Times's
> bestseller list.
> McKellar said she wanted to "break stereotypes...
> [that have] trained
> girls from a young age to believe that maths is too
> hard, too boring
> and just for boys, and that if they are smart, they
> can't be popular
> or beautiful," while making maths "more fun to
> learn". She said
> teaching maths in a "non-mathsy" context - her books
> are based on
> teen magazines and use examples intended to capture
> girls' interest,
> from crushes on boys to lipstick - attracted the
> "most mathsphobic
> girls and helped them to succeed".
> The actress, who has had a paper published in the
> esteemed Journal of
> Physics which proved a theorem on magnetism, joins a
> host of big
> names who have helped to boost the subject's appeal.
> They include the
> actress Natalie Portman, who has guest-edited the
> teenage maths
> magazine Scholastic Math as well as gracing its
> cover. The
> Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz has also done her bit by
> starring as
> Hypatia, the fourth-century Greek mathematician and
> astronomer, in
> the 2009 film Agora. Simon Singh, who unpicked
> Fermat's last theorem
> to great acclaim in a bestselling book, and Marcus du
> Sautoy, the
> populist Oxford University mathematician, are also
> credited with
> inspiring more students to study maths.
> But Mary Wimbury, director of the UK Mathematics
> Trust, said girls
> still needed encouraging by the likes of McKellar
> because they were
> "easily put off". She added: "We still need to get
> over the attitude
> that women can never do maths. There can be a
> perception that it's
> quite a geeky thing to do. Plus all the big names are
> still male, so
> it's good to have Danica to challenge the
> stereotypes."
> Only 40.6 per cent of students who sat maths A-level
> last summer were
> female, compared with the 59.4 per cent of males who
> took the exam.
> The proportion was worse for further mathematics,
> where 31.9 per cent
> were female and 68.1 per cent male. And the low
> take-up of A-level
> maths feeds through into higher study, where 39 per
> cent of maths
> undergraduates are women.
> Rob Eastaway, who runs Maths Inspiration, which puts
> on lectures in
> the subject for teenagers, said the problem was one
> of
> self-confidence. "Boys tend to think they are better
> than they
> actually are and girls do themselves down. With girls
> it's not innate
> ability that's lacking; it's confidence," he said.
> But he added that the tide was turning in favour of
> the discipline,
> helped by the fact that the media was now "on side"
> with programmes
> such as Radio 4's In Our Time, which with the help of
> Professor du
> Sautoy last month devoted an hour to the subject of
> imaginary numbers
> such as the square route of minus one. "I can't
> remember the last
> time broadcasters would have unashamedly gone into so
> much detail
> about maths," Mr Eastaway added.
> And it isn't just broadcasters who are championing
> maths. McKellar
> made it into the men's magazine Maxim earlier this
> year, posing in
> her underwear in one shot, while accessorising her
> college cardigan
> with nothing but a bra in another. The actress
> claimed the Maxim
> shoot, which some commentators have argued sends
> girls a mixed
> message, showed girls that "smart is sexy". She said
> the
> "juxtaposition of an actress who became a maths
> author makes maths a
> bit more sexy", adding: "I want girls to get the
> message loud and
> clear. You don't have to choose. You can be whoever
> you want to be,
> and studying maths makes you more fabulous."
> Ms Wimbury backed up McKellar's logic, adding that
> her books would
> help to persuade girls that "being smart is cool".
> She said: "I was
> very impressed with Maths Doesn't Suck. She explained
> it in a way to
> appeal to her audience and was mathematically
> rigorous."
> Theatre and comedy have also embraced maths in recent
> years. The
> theatre company Complicite has just finished its
> third run of A
> Disappearing Number, a play that kicks off with a
> maths lecture and
> goes on to explore the unlikely kinship between the
> Brahmin
> mathematics genius Srinivasa Ramanujan, who has been
> called "the most
> romantic figure in the recent history of
> mathematics", and the
> Cambridge don G H Hardy during the First World War.
> Matt Parker, who
> describes himself as a "stand-up mathematician",
> played to a packed
> house at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in August,
> while Sara Santos,
> a fellow in mathematics at the Royal Institution, has
> taken maths to
> the streets with her popular maths busking, which
> sees street
> performers engage passers-by with maths puzzles.
> Ms Wimbury said the UK Mathematics Trust hoped to set
> up a European
> Girls Mathematical Olympiad in 2010, following the
> success that a
> guest team from Britain had at a similar event in
> China this summer.
> ----------------------------
> PHOTO SIDEBAR: Danica McKellar, the former 'Wonder
> Years' star who
> is the new poster girl for the maths-can-be-sexy
> movement ]getty
> images] -- see
> news/mathematics-the-makeover-2096268.html
> ************************************************
> --
> Jerry P. Becker
> Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
> Southern Illinois University
> 625 Wham Drive
> Mail Code 4610
> Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
> Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
> (618) 457-8903 [H]
> Fax: (618) 453-4244
> E-mail:

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