Danica McKeller graduated summa cum laude
in mathematics from UCLA…
Before she was co-author of the research that proved the Chayes-McKeller-Winn Theorem, and…
Before she wrote five books about math education,...
McKeller played girl-next-door Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years.
Though no longer a teen star, McKeller has continued her acting career while being a non-stop advocate for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education.
A major part of McKeller's mission is to close the gender gap in STEM fields. Some young women think that working in STEM fields is a guys-only vocation, and McKeller is challenging that view. As McKeller said in a recent interview with the Washington Post, “You don’t have to choose between being the fun, fabulous girl and being the smart girl who knows what’s up, you can do both. That’s my big message.”
You can listen to McKeller discuss her latest book “Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape” in an interview she did with NPR in August.
Just to prove you don't need to choose between math and fun, McKeller is still active in Hollywood, most recently starring in the comedy Mancation. You can follow her on twitter @danicamckellar,where she frequently tweets about STEM topics.
Can you think of other role models for girls and young women pursuing STEM-related careers? They don't need to be actresses, but it is okay if they are. Share your thoughts below.
"Why do I need to know this?" Almost every teacher has heard this cringe-worthy statement from a student who isn’t interested in the subject matter. While there are countless benefits to leaning math, it turns out there another reason that students need to master basic skills.
According to a new study by Robert S. Siegler and other researchers, a student’s success in upper level mathematics can be predicted based on their aptitude with fractions and long division in elementary school. The study controlled for I.Q., family income, gender, and a range of other factors. Across all controls groups, a student’s mastery of fractions and long division early-on led to an increased ability to master upper level mathematics in their secondary education. In other words, a student who does well with fractions and long division in elementary school is more likely to do will with calculus in high school, regardless of their background or overall intelligence.
So, next time a student asks you why it is important to learn about fractions or long division, you have a simple answer: today’s basic conceptual understanding will make it easier when the math gets a lot harder!
Why does mastery of fractions and long division equate to success in high school math? Does the application of problem solving techniques, such as finding the least common denominator, help the brain develop a mathematical knack early on? Or maybe frustration at an early age in mathematics turns them off to future interest in the subject. Why does this happen? Share your thoughts and experiences about the relationship between fundamentals and advanced concepts in math education.
Family Math Night is a concept that essentially mixes math practice with family game night. The goal is to practice math in a stress-free environment by bringing the family together to play math games one day a week (or month, or whatever works for your family).
It’s also a great time for family to get together. Just as family game night is about more than winning a board game, Family Math Night is about more than fractions.
By learning while having fun, children may be able to avoid math anxiety. Additionally, since children often spend a lot of time with family during the summer, Family Math Night may help to prevent summer brain drain.
There are a variety of online resources to help develop Family Math Night. Rock Round School District in Texas offers a free site of family games involving math. Scholastic offers a variety of fun activities for parents to play with their children, many of which can be used for Family Math Night.
Teachers can also organize Family Math Nights. This is a great opportunity to introduce families to one another and bridges school and home life. Gardner Pilot School in Massachusetts successfully implemented this approach, working with Harvard’s School of Education.
Have you organized a Family Math Night? Has it helped your students with math? Is it fun? Leave some ideas for fun math games or suggestions for making the night fun for the whole family.
Role models can help students think about possibilities and define goals. Students are willing to try harder and persevere if they can connect to interesting people doing great work. Recently, the media has thrown a spotlight on accomplished figures in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
The “NASA Mohawk Guy” has become a media sensation with his rocker-style in a profession with a straight-laced reputation. His real name is Bobak Ferdowski, and he is a flight director at NASA. His twitter account has grown from under 200 before the Mars Curiosity rover landing on August 5th to over 50,000 followers as of August 20th. As a young, social media-savvy guy with changing hairstyles, not to mention part of the team that sent a rover to Mars, Bobak is one of the coolest scientists around – and potentially a great role model for aspiring young STEM achievers.
There are lots of websites profiling success stories in STEM professions. The Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC) hosts a website called Great Minds in STEM, offering profiles of dozens of Latino/a success stories in STEM industries.
100 Woman Leaders in STEM, offers in depth profiles for success stories that may be useful to motivate girls to excel in STEM studies. Sally Ride’s recent passing reminds us of the important of women’s leadership for young science and math learners.
What have your experiences been with the role of professional examples in education? Have you had any successful role models visit the classroom to provide an incentive for learning?
Share your experiences!
Baseball, perhaps more than any other major sport, is a game of numbers
. The sheer number of games (162 in the major league schedule) leads to a large amount of statistical information. Students who understand baseball better than math may understand many mathematical concepts without realizing it. For these students, harnessing the connection between baseball math and classroom math topics can prove to be an effective teaching strategy.
While the applications among younger grades are straightforward (batting averages equate with fractions, etc.), it is in high school that the real interesting connections can be made. The field of sabermetrics involves advanced statistical interpretations of baseball. As a result of sabermetrics, new baseball statistics have been created, statistics that are far more complex than earned run average (ERA) or batting average. This includes statistics such as WAR (wins above replacement), WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) and the Pythagorean Expectation Statistic (used to predict a team’s performance over a season). The generation of these formulas is an engaging way to teach algebra. The use of sabermetrics in baseball is the foundation behind the best-selling book Moneyball by Michael Lewis, which was also made into a movie starring Brad Pitt.
Baseball can be used to teach statistics. One of the primary applications of sabermetric data is the comparison between players between different eras. Was Barry Bonds a better homerun hitter than Babe Ruth? The answer is that it depends on how you consider the question. Barry Bonds had the most home runs in his career as well as the most home runs in a single season ever. However, his achievement is less than Babe Ruth in terms of his t-score ranking. In other words, the Babe Ruth was more standard deviations above the median home run totals for the era he played in than was Barry Bonds.
There are games online that emulate baseball based on mathematical algorithms. Whatifsports.com is a “historic fantasy sports website” that allows competitive play based on baseball player’s performance history, with statistics “normalized” to average performance. Sabermetrics are utilized extensively in fantasy baseball. In an advanced baseball math lesson, students would be expected to justify their drafting and roster moves in statistical terms. Since this is a fun activity and baseball is primarily a summer game, this is a great method to keep students thinking about math while on break, and could help fight academic summer slide.
An earlier Math Hub blog looked at the connection between math and baseball as focused on elementary education. Could we extend the use of baseball to middle and high school algebra and statistics lessons? Share your thoughts here.
We know that some students think that math “doesn’t matter
.” If math is too conceptual for some students, applied math could make the subject seem more useful. This is easier accomplished on the elementary school level where one teacher teaches all subjects, however collaboration between teachers can incorporate cross-curriculum activities.
There have been peer-reviewed studies, which show the benefits of incorporating teaching mathematics in a cross-curricular context. Applications for math education incorporated in a variety of fields have been discussed in academic literature, including history, art, drama, and physics.
While this blog is mostly concerned with K-12 education, cross-curricular education has been successfully implemented in a college setting. Dartmouth University offered the Mathematics Across the Curriculum (MATC) program, which sought to ensure mathematic competency for all Dartmouth graduates regardless of degree program. The objective of the program is straightforward, and in many ways is the goal of all mathematics education: In the same way that all students should be able to write an essay in any subject they have studied, all students should be able to look at a problem or situation or experiment and ask suitable mathematical questions.
There are multiple cross-curricular guides and lesson plans online. Education World has a great resource for cross-curricular instruction. Scholastic offers a variety of “authentic” math lesson plans. Scholastic also has a special section that offers cross-curricular instruction focused on the nexus of math and sports. The Discovery channel offers educational activities that focus on math, science and social studies.
Does cross-curricular education work in your experience? Does it enhance the experience of students, allowing engagement of a variety of student interests? Or does it water down the material, leaving students distracted or struggling? How can you best incorporate a cross-curricular approach to mathematics?
Could impulsivity lead to better math skills in children? Could this impulsivity be a reason behind the historic gender gap in K-12 STEM education? In the past, boys often scored higher on standardized testing in math than their female peers. The reason for the gender gap in mathematical performance may be based on a tendency towards impulsivity, according to a new study
by Drew H. Bailey, Andrew Littlefield, and David C. Geary. The report, published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
, found that boys were more likely to make errors, more likely to call out answers in class, and more likely to answer from memory. The study found that girls were more deliberate, less likely to answer in class, more likely to count out on their fingers, and less likely to commit answers to memory. As a result, students who were less concerned about making errors and participated more, performed better in math.
The takeaway from this study is not a comment on the nature/nurture debate in education, but an insight into how learning styles affect math achievement. In this blog, Carolyn Kaemmer has already pointed out that the “gender gap” has been mostly erased on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). While the new study found a tendency for female students to be deliberate and male students to be impulsive, individual learning styles will vary across the spectrum. This study shows that students should be encouraged to actively participate in class and not to fear answering a question incorrectly. Consider Dr. David Dockterman’s blog entry about trial-and-error, or “loop learning,” where failure is an engine for success. Of course, taking chances isn’t enough. Managing math anxiety and perseverance are also essential behavior ingredients for learning.
What do you think? Are these different learning styles the reason for the gender gap? Share your thoughts.