Kwik Brain 106
April 8, 2019     |   666 VIEWS
Activating Wonder & Fascination in Learning with Danica McKellar

"If you believe something wasn’t meant for you, instead of seeming like temporary obstacles, stumbling blocks will feel like evidence of what you’ve known all along: that you don’t belong."
Danica McKellar

In addition to her lifelong acting career, Danica McKellar is an internationally recognized mathematician and advocate for math education. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA with a degree in Mathematics, Danica has been honored in Britain’s esteemed Journal of Physics and the New York Times for her work in mathematics, most notably for her role as co-author of a ground-breaking mathematical physics theorem which bears her name (The Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem).

This week’s questions for the Kwik Brain community is: how can you add more wonder and fascination to your learning and your life?

You might know Danica from her role as Winnie Cooper in Wonder Years, but what you might not know is that in addition to her lifelong acting career, Danica is an internationally-recognized mathematician, New York Times best-selling author and advocate for math education.

All learning is state-dependent, meaning that the information you learn becomes associated with the emotional state you were in while learning it. Unless we have a deep interest in the topic or have a positive association to it, chances are we won’t learn the information well—and this is especially true for learning math, which many of us learned to dislike in school!

In this conversation, we delve into why maths becomes a disliked topic for so many of us, and how our own preconceptions can get in the way of our success. We’ll explain some ways you can bring fun into your learning (and your child’s learning), and why this will help you to retain the information better in the long-term! If you’ve had some bad experiences with math as a child, we’ll also give you some suggestions to get back to math and enjoy it.

Show Notes


  • You can check out Danica’s math books at
  • All learning is state dependent: the information gets associated with the emotional state you were in while learning
  • Unless you have a deep interest in a topic or a positive association with it, you won’t engage in it and learn it very well
  • If you don’t have this positive association it can become an active negative association with the subject which will prevent you from learning
  • Math has a bad rap: too hard, scary, difficult
  • Many people confessing to Danica: could never do the math, or, could do it for a while until the one point in their life where they couldn’t do math anymore
  • The preconception of the subject: if you tell yourself you’re not going to be good at something, while you’re doing fine at it you’re actually waiting for a piece of evidence to demonstrate that it’s true and put the nail in the coffin you had set up for yourself
  • If you’re optimistic about math or anything difficult, when you hit a temporary stumbling block you will tend to see it as just that: a temporary stumbling block
  • If you believe it wasn’t meant for you, instead of seeming like temporary obstacles, stumbling blocks will feel like evidence of what you’ve known all along: that you don’t belong in math
  • The reputation our society has created for math: just for nerds, boys, people that don’t have a social life—but there are benefits to learning math, and anybody can be good at math!



  • In seventh grade Danica had a math class she didn’t understand and thought it was her—then she got a teacher that made it fun: taught functions with stories and associations
  • As the student you never assume or imagine that it’s the teacher’s fault, especially since they’re an authority figure at that point in life—you assume that you just don’t get it
  • Wrote McKellar Math book to shake off stigma and make math fun—the way it is presented will tell your brain how to view it and how well you’re going to absorb it
  • Danica’s book mentioned: Do Not Open This Math Book
  • Math in classrooms has been changed recently to ‘common core’: changing terms and vocabulary
  • As a parent, you want to be your child’s superhero: to have the answers and help them get to the next place
  • Can use Danica’s books to rediscover math as an adult if you’ve had bad experiences
  • Book mentioned: Math Doesn’t Suck



  • Remember hope isn’t a strategy: important to avoid talking about having things (I have motivation, I have creativity), but doing things
  • You don’t have wonder, you can do wonder: by adding games, stories
  • When learning is fun you’re more motivated to do it and will learn concepts better
  • Even if the classroom environment isn’t ideal, students can use their imagination and creativity to change up their learning and make it more fun
  • There are plenty of tips and stories in Danica’s books to make learning math fun
  • One of the fastest ways to learn something is to teach it to other people



  • Don’t forget to take a screenshot of this episode, tag us both on social media (@danicamckellar & @jimkwik) and share your greatest “aha!” moment from this episode with us!


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