One thing is almost certain is that if Danica McKellar, actress and mathematician-turned-math-author, were to write a book on Singapore math, my bet is that it would unlikely be approved by the Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE), although few would deny that her title would probably be a terrific draw among local students, even in conservative or puritan Singapore—it may even end up being the first math book on a Singapore bestseller’s list.
Going by her math titles (Kiss my math; Math doesn’t sulk; and Hot algebra exposed!), which are primarily targeted at an American or liberal audience, should the TV personality be tempted to write a math book for a local audience, it would be a miracle if her manuscript got pass the first round of Singapore’s MOE’s censorship board—not before making most MOE curriculum specialists flush of embarrassment.
Would you buy this math title for your son or daughter?
Indeed, the Taliban and the Ayatollahs wouldn’t approve Danica McKellar’s irreverent titles, not to say, her irreligious style of writing, but what about “moderate” nations like Singapore, which unspokenly or secretly longs to be portrayed as a conservative society with “high moral standards”? McKellar’s math books are anything but boring! In fact, she thinks that math can be easy, relevant, and even glamorous. By adding a little glamour and humor to the teaching of mathematics, it looks like the math advocate has, to a large extent, demonstrated that math can actually be accessible to young girls—and young boys, too!
A Math Role Model for Girls (and Boys)
In math education circles, it’s not surprising that Danica McKellar is regarded by many [open-minded] parents and math educators as a terrific role model [for girls and young women]. She teaches the value of confidence that comes from feeling [math-]smart. Her supporters think that her books should be required reading for every math-anxious school girl! The message seems to be that physical beauty and quantitative literacy need’t be mutually exclusive.
Would you give away this irreverent guide about pre-algebra to your neighbor’s son?
From Boyfriend to Babysitting
A random look at some chapters of Math Doesn’t Sulk needs no explanation why teenage girls wouldn’t want to give math a serious try, or a second chance, especially if they want to appear smart and beautiful, to their boyfriends. Would you put down a math title with these chapter headings?
Chapter 1: How to Make a Killing on eBay (Prime Numbers and Prime Factorization)
Chapter 2: Do You Still Have a Crush on Him? (Finding the Greatest Common Factor)
Chapter 7: Is Your Sister Trying to Cheat You Out of Your Fair Share? (Comparing Fractions)
Chapter 11: Why Calculators Would Make Terrible Boyfriends (Converting Fractions and Mixed Numbers to Decimals)
Chapter 12: How to Entertain Yourself while Babysitting a Devil Child (Converting Decimals to Fractions)
Math Doesn’t Sulk also comes with a math horoscope, math personality quizzes, and real-life testimonials. What else more can one expect from a math book? In fact, Danica herself exemplifies her own life from being a terrified middle-school math student to a confident actress, and more.
X-rated algebra with a dose of irreverence and humor
Girls get curves: Geometry takes shape
I’m currently looking at a copy of McKellar’s latest publication, Girls get curves; personally, I think it’s the most useful of all her publications so far, as it covers a number of middle- and high-school topics, such as congruency, similarity, and proofs, which are relevant to my teaching and writing. My wild guess is that her next title would be one on Calculus and Trigonometry!
Learn some proofs with Danica as your personal tutor and coach!
Don’t judge a book by its irreverent title!
Suspend your judgement for a while, even if McKellar’s irreverent titles make you feel a bit squeamish or uneasy. Who knows? You may end up learning a thing or two about some long-forgotten, or decades-old avoided, math.
Personally, the style of writing of these pop math books is enough to arouse my interest, leave aside the math, which somewhat lacks rigor, as compared to the standard expected of Singapore math students at the same grades. For example, in Singapore, geometric proof and trigonometry are formally covered at grade 9 or 10. However, McKellar’s informal and conversational writing style could help us loosen our often-stiff mathematics writing, which has traditionally plagued most Singapore-published boring textbooks, as they go through the “rigorous” (or tedious?) process of MOE’s standards of quality and morality.
Ho, S. T., Khor, N. H. & Yan, K. C. (2013). Additional Maths 360. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Education.
McKellar, D. (2012). Girls get curves: Geometry takes shape. New York: Hudson Street Press.
McKellar, D. (2011). Hot X: Algebra exposed! New York: Plume.
McKellar, D. (2008). Kiss my math: Showing pre-algebra who’s boss. New York: Hudson Street Press.
McKelkar, D. (2007). Math doesn’t suck: How to survive middle school math without losing your mind or breaking a nail. New York: Plume.
For alignment with state and NCTM math standards, visit www.mathdoesntsuck.com/standards
© Yan Kow Cheong, April 20, 2013.