Review & Interview by

October 31, 2013: published a review of NumbersAlive! Books for Young Travelers: Washington, D.C., along with an interview with the author, Dr. Rebecca Klemm. Read the full text below, or click to view the original post.

Amy’s Interview With Dr. Klemm, The Numbers Lady

We’ve done a lot of sight-seeing around the area, but we’ve never looked at Washington D.C. through the eyes the Numbers Lady before. In her creative new book, NumbersAlive! Books for Young Travelers Washington D.C., Dr. Rebecca Klemm (a.k.a. The Numbers Lady) takes children on a journey through our capital city with an adorable cast of of numbers known as “Team Ten”. From page to page, each cuddly number shares a favorite local spot such as the Washington Monument, Air & Space Museum, the National Mall and beyond.
175019426During their travels, the Team Ten numbers share quirky facts that make learning about numbers and our capital area fun. For example, did you know that the Pentagon has 13 stairways, 19 escalators and 17.5 miles of hallways? Have you ever noticed how many roofs are on the Friendship Arch in Chinatown? (7) Or know how many years are in the Gettysburg Address reference to “four score and seven years?” (87) With such an innovative mix of math and history, it’s no wonder that the book was awarded the Book of the Year Award by Creative Child Magazine.When it comes to making math fun, the Numbers Lady really knows her stuff, so after our family enjoyed the book, my math-phobic self was grateful to have the opportunity to interview her. Hopefully, her insights and advice will help me develop a more positive relationship between my children and numbers!
1) What is your earliest memory of numbers and how did you grow up to love numbers so much?
I was interested in patterns and puzzles from a very young age. I remember taking over the dining room table to make a 99 by 99 magic square when I was in the 6th grade. I was known as “Becky with the Braids” on the School Match Study Group televised classroom. Later, I received a PhD in Statistics and founded my own research firm. I have been working with numbers all of my life!
(2) Why do you think so many students are anxious about math?
Most children are taught to manipulate numbers as abstract flat characters. Few teachers discuss where numbers came from and how math developed as a human endeavor. When numbers are discussed as part of human development to communicate both within and between cultures, numbers/math becomes more useful and interesting, which can break the barrier of a subject that seems very dry to many folks. Many elementary school teachers are more interested or comfortable teaching reading than math, which comes across to students. I believe the terminology of math as “problems” and the size of math books with “problems” and “answers” avoids conceptualizing what math is about and its use to students in daily living. The most important thing is to conceptualize a question, think through how to approach it and then work through the steps both as a team of students and alone.
(3) Why is an early introduction to numbers so important?
Recent NIH studies show early numerical literacy is predictive of later math competency. Engaging, non-stressful activities build a foundation from which mathematics becomes part of everyday life, avoiding the “math anxiety” that many experience later in life. Basically, it’s essential that children become familiar with numbers and comfortable with them before they become fearful of math or believe they are not good at math.
(4) What are a few suggestions for parents to incorporate numbers into daily routines at home?
Parents can show numbers as relevant to the child’s environment by leading “number scavenger hunts” at home, school, or in the neighborhood. Parents can help children find numerical applications in shape, quantity, name, position/rank, time, etc. If the parent and child take photos (or drawings) of the observed numerical applications, they can make a book of the visualizations.Parents can pose numerical questions to their children at home that relate to the child’s interests. For example, if a child is interested in:
  • Sports: discuss scoring, examine angles of balls, draw parabolas of how balls move, examine patterns and shapes in design of soccer balls, etc.
  • Music: ask about chords, intervals, harmonics, etc.
  • Dance: create dance steps and count the beats and discuss numerical patterns in the tune, etc.
  • Art or design: discuss shapes and use of shapes in structures, etc.
  • Nature: observe patterns in leaves, spots on animals, shapes/design and quantity of babies, “legs,” colors, etc.
  • Baking: measure ingredients, discuss impact of measuring ingredients if multiple recipes are required, discuss division of finished products (i.e., batch of cookies), etc.

(5) What inspired you to start Numbers Alive?
As a lifelong educator, I have been perplexed by why so many children grow up hating math or thinking that it’s scary. In 2010, I produced a musical called “Cookin’ Up Numbers” in the Capital Fringe Festival. After the show, parents came to me and asked: “What can you do to make my kids love math?” I said I would make numbers “fun and friendly.”

(6) What adventures are Team 10 headed for next (new cities, new books)?
We are developing a range of products and educational content. The central product is soft plush number characters with bright colors and friendly faces. The same number characters appear in our books, apps, games, posters and activities.

Ready for the 2013 holidays:

  • Hello Numbers book with decoding activities using the Zero-guide decoder and stickers. The associated free tablet app will be available in early 2014.
  • A set of small 4.5-inch plush numbers with magnets so children can create numbers. The plush will have embroidered dots on the back so children can learn visually and spatially. The numbers set will come in a dual backpack/carrying case.
  • World of Numbers— poster showing how languages of the world (including embossed braille, American Sign Language, and maritime pennants).


Coming in 2014 & beyond:
  • Team Ten want to visit many major world cities and locations (Beijing, Paris, Hong Kong, London, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, etc.) as well as smaller cities and UNESCO sites. We accept suggestions from the public! When we select a suggested topic, the person first suggesting the location will be invited to work with us on the book/game.
  • A biography book of each number character of Team Ten.
  • Other future books and games will cover topics about literature and history. For example we have already outlined a book about Shakespeare, which will be led by 2 and 5 speaking in iambic pentameter rhyme. Team Ten will salute Shakespeare by creating some new words. We accept suggested topics from the public. When we select a suggested topic, the person first suggesting the idea will be invited to work with us on the book/game.
  • In the tablet app “Numbers Help the World Go ‘Round,” Team Ten will wander the world looking at old and new maps and find numeric relations related to world discovery, as well as cultural and topological numeric applications.
  • STEM Squad will join Team Ten beginning in early 2014. Led by Pi, who will be available before Pi Day (3/14), we will introduce intriguing math and science constants/curiosities. We have already developed plush versions of infinity, pi, e, c and i.

(7) Are there any upcoming events where children can meet the Numbers Lady?

  • Chicago Toy and Game Fair – November 23 to 24
  • Tucson Math Science and Technology Funfest – November 7-8
  • AAAS Family Science Day (Chicago) – February 15-16, 2014
  • Tucson Festival of Books – March 15-16, 2014
  • USA Science and Engineering Festival (Washington, DC) – April 26-27, 2014

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