Aug 29, 201208:45 AMDaily News
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Bedtime Math aims to make math fun
Kids across the country are adding a step to their bedtime routines.
After brushing their teeth, getting into pajamas and maybe hearing a story or two, kids are now also counting—and adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.
Bedtime Math is growing exponentially and even garnering national attention as it offers parents a chance to quiz their children with a math problem each night.
Laura Overdeck, founder of Bedtime Math, is surprised but excited by the quick growth of the program since its inception in February.
“My vision was we’d putter along and when my kids went back to school I could really work on it this fall,” Overdeck said. “We always envisioned this as a 5- or 10-year endeavor. I didn’t expect this so early. It shows it’s an idea whose time has come.”
Bedtime Math is a website and daily email with a theme and three math problems on it, one for “wee ones,” one for “little kids” and one for “big kids.” It begins with some facts or description of the theme—ranging from ninjas to the Olympics to escalators—and is followed by a math problem involving the theme.
Overdeck and her husband, who reside in New Jersey, gave their oldest two kids problems nightly, and soon, their youngest wanted problems too.
People suggested she write a book with all the equations, but she didn’t know how to start. She began thinking of ideas last fall and winter of where to take these problems, and in late January she came up with the idea of emailing them out. It started with between 10 to 15 families, and the parents told Overdeck the kids were bugging them for a problem each night.
Bedtime Math officially began in late February with 30 families. Each night, the number seemed to triple as interest spread, and the program is now up to 17,000 followers.
“People have been so positive and encouraging and enthusiastic,” Overdeck said. “It’s unique. It’s a simple idea but it’s revolutionary, because we don’t think to handle math the way we do reading.”
Reading is something kids do in school but also at home casually, whereas math is not. Overdeck wants to change that.
“We’re making it our mission to say ‘Math is a beautiful, wonderful thing,’” Overdeck said. “We want to make it part of the usual routine.”
Overdeck’s teaching experience is limited to tutoring, SAT prep and prep for math and physics AP exams. She holds a BA in astrophysics and an MBA in public policy. After earning her master’s, she built mathematical models to help companies figure out if new ventures would make money.
In the last five years she switched over to helping nonprofits with a math and science slant. She’s also on various math and science boards as she fights for math to become a less-dreaded part of society.
“I’m having a blast because not only do I love math and love making it fun, but I feel like I’m finally found the thing I was born to do. I feel like this can have a big impact.”
So far, her efforts have been met with very positive feedback. Overdeck has gotten notes from mothers who hate math, but are starting to like it for the first time.
“Historically women have been not encouraged in math,” Overdeck said. “We have a lot of moms who hate math because that’s been the historical trend.”
Bedtime Math is simple, mental math, which differs from what kids generally get in school with worksheets and problems from the textbook. Overdeck’s three kids, who are 8, 6 and 4 years old, love doing Bedtime Math because of its simplicity and because it is mental.
Overdeck’s kids have sometimes foregone a bedtime story in favor of math.
“Our culture has a negative view of math,” Overdeck said. “People dislike it and it makes them anxious, and then there’s a real image of it being for geeky people and not cool. The anxiety is the real problem. We have parents who don’t like math. If we can take them and raise kids that do and break that cycle, that’s just huge.”
Bedtime Math is led by Overdeck but also consists of a social media specialist, a communications/marketing specialist, a couple of researchers for the problems and a person whose job is setting up partnerships for the foundation.
Bedtime Math has worked with various organizations to see how the program influences kids. One partnership was with the Boys and Girls Club, with the goal being to study the effect it has on kids over six weeks. It was discovered that 72 perecent of kids did better and 11 percent held steady.
“Math is not a natural part of our lives before school,” Overdeck said. “Laying that groundwork early on, kids will be receptive to math. Math is cumulative, so if you hit a wall early you’re going to have a hard time catching up.”
The foundation has reached national attention with stories being done in the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and on NPR. Overdeck also did a radio interview in Seattle when happened to be there. The radio station heard about Bedtime Math and thought she was local, so they contacted her. Although she isn’t local—she’s based in New Jersey—she happened to be in Seattle recently and was able to do the interview.
The national exposure is key in Overdeck’s overall goal—culture change.
“We literally want to have the phrase ‘bedtime math’ be a part of the vocabulary,” Overdeck said. “We’re doing fun math as some part of your day that ‘everybody knows you’re supposed to do it.’”
Studies show math anxiety begins in kids as young as age 5, and there aren’t many options or programs for kids in the 3-7 age range. Overdeck wants to bridge that gap so “math is their buddy” when they start school.
In the meantime, Overdeck is having a blast writing the problems and coming up with new ones each night. She has a few problems written up ahead of time so she doesn’t fall behind, and she’s excited to continue the foundation’s work and do some research to see how much Bedtime Math helps children.
For Overdeck, Americans’ struggles with math is bigger than just education.
“The problem is bigger than schools,” Overdeck said. “We should be doing math for leisure, not just reading. It shouldn’t sound strange. Math is really fun and beautiful, too. We want to bring that all out. It’s beyond school. We have to tackle this outside the school boundaries.”
Kurt Bopp is assistant editor/web for Central Penn Parent. Math was one of his stronger subjects, but he always struggles with tutoring his sister whenever she needs help.
To sign up for Bedtime Math or just to learn more, check out: http://bedtimemathproblem.org/