When a classmate in her freshman math class at UCLA tapped Danica McKellar on the shoulder and asked, "Aren't you the girl who …" she expected him to quiz her about her role as Winnie Cooper on the iconic television show The Wonder Years. Instead he continued, "… got the best score on the exam?" For the first time, McKellar felt recognized as something other than a child actress.Even though the show's producers needed to hire an advanced calculus tutor to keep up with the child star's aptitude, she had never considered becoming a mathematician. Social conditioning, says 32-year-old McKellar, made her believe girls didn't have a place in the math world. "Who did I think math was for, if it wasn't for me?"McKellar headed to college intending to study writing and directing, but ended up putting her numerical skills to use instead, earning a math degree summa cum laude and co-authoring a research paper that solved a statistical mechanics problem involving magnetism in two dimensions-a solution now known as the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem.\n\n\n
|Who did I think math was for, if it wasn't for me?|
To help girls struggling with the complexity that comes with seventh-grade math, McKellar has penned Math Doesn't Suck: How to Survive Middle School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail, which hits shelves this August. The book hones in on middle school's trickiest points-––like fractions, ratios, and percentages-and presents them in a style that's appropriate for the cool kids' lunch table. Figure out your "type" in boys and you'll understand greatest common factors. All of those iced lattes celebrities drink make multiplying fractions tasty. Plus, savvy shopping requires killer decimal skills.As McKellar fields math questions from kids on her personal website she sees how the hard work and persistence required by math can empower girls. The subject has a reputation for being tough, but coming up with the right numbers can give girls an important boost of courage.