How Did Hallmark Channel’s Danica McKellar Become Such a Math Whiz?
Graduating with a summa cum laude degree in mathematics, her proficiency in this area has made her a star in more ways than one.
An episode of ‘The Wonder Years’ foretold McKellar’s math aptitude
The actress reminisced with Today in 2018 about one particular episode of the coming-of-age series that seemingly prophesied her incredible success in the area of mathematics.
McKellar has written math books for kids of all ages, including Math Doesn’t Suck, The Times Machine, Kiss My Math, and Girls Get Curves designed to give readers a boost in confidence in this area of study that can provoke so much anxiety.
“One of my favorite storylines was that Winnie Cooper scored higher on her math SATs than Kevin Arnold did, which ended up being kind of foreshadowing for me and all my mathematics,” McKellar told the morning show.
“That was just kind of a cool storyline because this story was set back in the 1960s, and at that point, it wasn’t really socially acceptable for girls to do better at math than boys. So what can I say, Winnie Cooper was ahead of her time.”
McKellar’s collaboration on a UCLA theorem
The mother of one discussed with NPR in 2006 how, as much as she loves acting, she doesn’t love it more than math. And vice versa. She considers both art forms and has deep appreciation in her practice for each one.
“I love acting,” she said. “Acting is a true love of mine, acting and math. Although they are both creative, they use very different sides of your brain. And I love both. Acting is my first love, and that’s my main career, it really is. After I did the paper, I really did go back to acting. So it’s not hard to go back to it. I absolutely love it. And it has its own dignity and intelligence and everything else.”
She explained to the outlet how it came to pass that she participated in a two-dimensional mathematical model of magnetic material and presented a theorem about it.
“[T]he theorem is Percolation and Gibbs States Multiplicity for Ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller Models on Two Dimensions, or Z2. That’s the name of the paper. But nobody calls it that because it’s hard to say. And when these journalists in People magazine and Star magazine and whatever the magazine is that decided to do an article about me and this math research, they just would rather call it the Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem.”
“It’s called the Ashkin-Teller Model. And it’s a pretend two-dimensional lattice grid representation of this material, and it has properties based on temperature.”
McKellar is spreading math positivity
Through her website, on which she really does answer questions from kids and adults about math, and through her books on the subject, the 45-year-old is hoping to change math’s bad reputation as a frightening giant of a subject.
“I want to make math less scary and for kids to see math is relevant in their life. It’s not a separate, random tangent. But if we, as adults, don’t help kids make connections in their everyday world, it remains a foreign, scary language they’ll avoid and dread,” she told USA Today in 2018.
McKellar’s passion in her mission is contagious and she’s determined to hopefully inspire young women to see the beauty and the fun in math.
“I want girls to realize they’re not an afterthought when it comes to math. Math is for them … for everyone,” she said. “Today’s young women need to realize they don’t have to choose between being smart or the one who takes great selfies. They can absolutely be both!”