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McKellar explores math’s stigma

Actress/author explains the virtues of 'Numbers'

Danica McKellar, known for her role as Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years,” graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from UCLA and has published two books, “Kiss My Math” and “Math Doesn’t Suck.” Here, she talks about “Numbers” and the challenge of making math accessible and appealing.

We’re all familiar with the stigma of mathematics: It’s a nerdy, antisocial activity, particularly appealing to the clinically insane. Well, it’s refreshing to see math highlighted in a primetime television show like “Numbers.” Talking mostly over the audience’s head, “CSI”-style, the show doesn’t exactly make math “accessible,” but it challenges the stigma by taking math out of the classroom and into a sexy setting — solving crimes.

Writing my books, I’ve learned that kids — especially middle-school-age kids — are less concerned with whether math is cool or not than whether they’ll be perceived as cool if they do it. They want to be cool and sexy and well-liked. Who doesn’t? I seem to remember those same issues coming up on “The Wonder Years.” This is stuff that is universal. The truth is, math is simply a tool, and it can be used for everything from becoming a savvier shopper to adjusting cookie recipes.

Most of all, math makes the brain stronger, just like solving crossword puzzles. Doing math is like going to the gym for your brain. It will make you a sharper, wittier person, better able to handle any problems that come up, even social ones … and if you take those extra math classes in college? You could be doing “Numbers”-style crime-solving, too.

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