When girls hit middle school they’re already undergoing incredible physical and mental changes. Parents watch as their sweet little girl becomes a temperamental, acne-obsessing young woman flipping through an Express catalog with a phone glued to her ear*.
Quite often, the start of middle school also signals an end to her interest in math.
Needless to say this is not okay with your average geekdad. Like many parents, we foolishly expect our children to share our interests and aptitudes. Why, we ask ourselves. Why does this perfectly smart girl suddenly lose interest in math? There are a lot of theories on the phenomenon, ranging from loudmouthed boys to society making them into princesses. But what can one geekdad do? To start with, have her read Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail.
Written by a Real TV Star (Danica McKellar a.k.a. Winnie Cooper of The Wonder Years) who also happens to be a UCLA-trained mathematician, the book attempts to teach girls about important mathematical concepts like ratios, fractions and so on by speaking pop culturese that girls have come to expect from materials directed at them. With chapter titles such as “Why Calculators Would Make Terrible Boyfriends (Converting Fractions and Mixed Numbers to Decimals)” McKellar uses a playful and sassy tone in describing very dry and uninteresting concepts. Of course she mixes in the usual pre-teen silliness (“Are you a math-o-phobe? Take this quiz!”) My favorite part of the book are the testimonials from smart (and invariably photogenic) young women describing how math has changed their lives.
So, will Math Doesn’t Suck help girls understand math? Maybe. Preteen girls are complex, contradictory individuals and no one solution will work on even a large chunk of them. Also, the book seems heavily weighted toward the 6th grade end of the spectrum… there is very little algebra presented. But as the book acknowledges, it’s trying to catch ’em young.
All you can do is try.
*I’m stereotyping, but this is true of my 11-year-old!