It was the 80’s and many of my friends either had a crush on Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years or wanted to be Winnie Cooper. Today there’s a much wider variety of TV shows. TV is just better and certainly more plentiful than when we were kids. But our children will likely never know what it’s like to collectively, as a nation, fall in love with a TV character. Maybe it wasn’t Winnie but Battlestar Galactica’s Apollo and Starbuck, or Michael from Knight Rider but there were a lot of kids humming along with the Joe Cocker version of “With a Little Help from My Friends” at the beginning of the show.
I wasn’t really into the show myself. Sure, the theme song was pretty cool. But that’s about it. Now that I see the dates of the show, I was likely a bit too old to really catch the bug. The main character, Kevin, starts off at 13 years old and to someone who was 16 at the time, he would have seemed like a little kid. That’s one aspect of adolescence I think we can all relate to: sometimes you feel too old and sometimes you feel too young.
Kevin narrates the show, reminiscing about his teenage years, retelling the story of his life. One of the things he recalls vividly is that he was in love with Winnie Cooper, his neighbor. (The girl with the bangs.) Their first kiss was a milestone on the show and in TV history.
So, what does this have anything to do with a mathematics blog?
Winnie Cooper is the connection. On the show, Winnie goes abroad to study art history. In real life, Winnie is actress Danica McKellar, and she is a real-life mathematician and author. She graduated from UCLA and wrote a book called Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail. And she has more books with similar titles: Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss, Girls Get Curves: Geometry Takes Shape.
It just so happens that the girl who had a thing for Kevin is now trying to get adolescents to like math. She wants to change math’s reputation of being too hard and boring. Her website is called Math Doesn’t Suck –and she shares many ways to make math more relatable, for everyone. For example, you can take a test to see if girls play dumb to impress boys. She makes YouTube videos where she explains math formulas with a hint of humor.
Don’t underestimate the power of a famous actress who talks about how math is cool, how guys like math and about possible careers in math. All of this goes for girls as well. Girls, too, should know that hours can fly by when solving math problems while hanging out with your friends at the kitchen table.
I’m sorry to say I was never at that table. I also missed out on the collective joy of The Wonder Years. The only thing I’m left with is a pang of regret for having given up on math at some point in my life; it was probably when I was in elementary school. If only I had had Smartick…