We had a great experience meeting with Danica McKellar at the Math Museum (MoMath) in Manhattan to tell us all about her new math book, “Do Not Open This Math Book.” This book is all about learning mathematics in a meaningful and colorful way. The math book is for younger students, but it has a part for adults so when their kids have homework, they can help them.
Danica created all different fun ways to help students understand place value by asking kids to think about numbers of 10 in a muffin tin and buns as ones.
In another example, she helps students understand expanded numbers by thinking of a cat stretching out. She uses diagrams that kids can understand to help them fear math less and begin to understand how fun it can be to use math in everyday life. For example, she showed numbers in a staircase. If you go upstairs, the number of steps gets higher. She thought it would be an easier concept. Danica wrote this book because a lot of young kids struggle with math and fear it.
At MoMath, we explored some really cool things on both floors of the museum. We had the opportunity to complete a puzzle with Danica where we had to find a way to make a triangle with four blocks. It was a strategic puzzle and it required a lot of thinking. We also rode a boat that moved over all different-shaped blocks, and we were surprised that the ride was still smooth. We stepped on a cool floor that lit up with a shape and where you stood created the angles. We had to work together to get the circle on the floor in the center of the shape. Finally, we went on bikes that had wheels shaped in all different quadrilaterals. There were puzzles and challenges everywhere around the museum, and they were all centered on math and science. At the gift shop, there were all kinds of educational puzzles and fun math games to buy.
In our interview with Danica, she shared the reason why she became a math expert/actress. She really wants people to think of math as a foreign language and how it needs to be seen that way for people to understand it. She said that building your math mind is just like building your muscles — you just need to practice the skills and get your mind stronger. When we asked her about her acting jobs, she told us about a show she's in, “Project Mc².” It's about never having to choose between being the smart girl and being the cute girl. Why not be the smart and cute girl? When we asked her why kids and adults are terrified of math, she said it's because math is like a foreign language. You won't understand it until someone slowly explains it to you in a way you understand. She thinks that it needs to be introduced when you’re young, like reading “Cuddle with Numbers” at night with your parents all cuddly so you're introduced in a nice way to it.
Our moms always referred to Danica as Winnie Cooper because that was her role in the TV show “The Wonder Years,” which was on from 1988 to 1993. When we asked Danica if she liked “The Wonder Years” or the Hallmark movies better, she said that she likes the Hallmark movies better because that's what she's doing now. But she still loves “The Wonder Years” because that was her childhood show and they are too difficult to compare.
Since she was a child actress on “The Wonder Years,” we asked her how she learned, and she said it was from tutors on the set. When she was on break, she would go in the school trailer for at least three hours a day. She had to learn for no less than 20 minutes at a time. Otherwise, it wouldn’t count toward the three hours.
She is still a famous actress in the Hallmark movies, and if you saw the movie, “Campfire Kiss,” that is her favorite. She loved that her character was a math teacher in that movie.
We asked her if it was easier to learn her lines in shows and movies or do math. She said that it depends on what type of math. If it's addition or subtraction, then math is easier. Learning lines can take weeks and is difficult.
When asked if it is annoying when people ask her about her earlier shows, Danica said she doesn't mind at all because it was a huge part of her childhood and was a great experience for her. It makes her happy that people still enjoy it and become nostalgic of their own childhood through her older shows.