Debra Hansen is on a mission to make math fun for kids.
The international software company CFO-turned-creative math whiz has brought her passion for math to libraries around Jeffco this summer, making a stop at the Evergreen Library on Aug. 5.
Using songs and games, she helped groups of 5- to 8-year-olds and 8- to 12-year-olds spend an hour being inquisitive and working out problems, but the kids didn’t really know they were working on math because they were having so much fun.
The key, she says, is turning what usually is rote, routine math instruction into something fun and engaging.
Wearing a lab coat and a fish hat — because sometimes the kids fish for math facts — she introduced herself to the children as Dr. Fun, and she brought her assistants, Professor Exponent and Fractionately Yours, with her.
Hansen is the founder of Teacher’s Professional Resource, which has created games and other items to help parents and teachers make math fun for children.
“There’s no fun in flash cards and worksheets,” Hansen said. “We can use games to have kids doing math, and then we can show them they are successful at math.”
She said parents have learned the importance of reading with their children and know how to do that in creative, fun ways.
Not so much with math, she says, and that needs to change.
“A lot of parents don’t understand their role regarding how to talk about math,” Hansen said. “Studies show that children who don’t have regular conversations at home about math can be as much as two years behind in math in school.”
Then the students think they’re not good in math, and the downward spiral begins.
At the Evergreen Library on Aug. 5, the older group of children spent more than 30 minutes trying to figure out how many plastic balls were in a bin. First, they guessed; then, they estimated. They brainstormed strategies to get an accurate number, such as counting the number of balls in one row in the bin or counting the number of balls by color.
All the while, Hansen listened to the children’s ideas and helped them test their theories. Eventually, they decided there were 94 balls in the bin.
For parents, the fun was seeing their children interested and engaged in solving the math problem.
“This is neat,” said Indian Hills parent Wendy McCord, who brought Max, 12, Luke, 8, and Amelia, 5, to the program. “This is making math a lot of fun. It’s neat that she engages the kids.”
McCord said she brought her children to the program to help get them in the proper mind-set to start school.
According to Hansen, “Success is where it’s at. Anyone can be successful at math.”
She said the United States is known for its creative thinkers in science, math and engineering. When children aren’t successful at math, those fields lose creative thinkers down the road.
“We need people who are educated in math and become creative with it,” she said. “We need to not snuff out that creativity.”