Turning to the 'Big Bad Wolf' to break down barriers to math

September 1, 2010

Who says 'Little Red Riding Hood' has nothing to do with math?

Certainly not George Gadanidis, whose research at The University of Western Ontario reimagines the fairytale classic to make mathematics fun and accessible for both kids and parents alike - while attempting to dismiss the notion math is akin to the ‘Big Bad Wolf.’

The version he and his daughter Molly perform (seen at: brainyday.ca/fairytales/bigbadwolf.html) explores concepts related to shapes and even and odd numbers, while addressing the subtext of parents who scare their children away from math, based on their own prior negative experiences. (For web site, see:

As a professor in Western’s Faculty of , Gadanidis and his colleagues have long worked to “break the negative cycle of math” by using song, dance and theatre to show how the manipulation and understanding of numbers can be fun. In the process, they hope to encourage people to discuss as they would a book or a movie, and to break down math stigmas that have been perpetuated over generations.

“We’ve all heard children come home from school and answer ‘nothing’ when asked what they learned in math that day,” Gadanidis says. “We hope to begin to change that.”

He is also capitalizing on the emergence of new media, including YouTube, to spread positive messages about mathematics, while providing parents with an interactive framework for working through math equations with their children, and for breaking down communication barriers related to their education.

“We’re using JoyofX.com to start building research performances, so we’re publicly performing our research data, which is a unique thing,” Gadanidis says. “This way, scholarly work is accessible to everyone and creates models teachers can use, which bridges the practical and the theoretical.”

At the end of the day, he hopes to get parents, teachers and children talking about what they are learning in mathematics - in a positive manner, and without the generations-old stereotypes - by scripting lyrics that encourage such discussion, including: “I learned that even numbers/They hide in a rectangle…They play hide-and-seek/Take a look or take a peek/Bet you didn’t know that even numbers/Hide in a rectangle.”

These songs are often accompanied by exercises that use materials like linking tubes or chocolate bars that reinforce the concepts of performing math ideas to parents. “Young kids love to perform, especially when it’s something worth performing,” Gadanidis says.

In the process, Gadanidis hopes to begin to change the impression of math from the public end, creating change in the classroom that leads to changes at home. “Province-wide testing creates stress for Grade 3 students, but teachers want the students to do well, so they’re willing to experiment,” Gadanidis says. “This project focuses on big ideas and communication skills.”

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)-funded project is heavily inter- and cross-disciplinary, often integrating partnerships with writers and poets, mathematicians, scientists and other educators across the country and around the world.

Explore further: Understanding Math Day By Day

Related Stories

Understanding Math Day By Day

July 31, 2007

Parents can help their children understand mathematics by talking about the numbers and figuring used in daily life, preparing them for learning skills and concepts in the classroom, says a University of Arkansas math educator.

Hold the Calculators: Let's Talk About Math!

August 3, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Many children, when learning to read, are encouraged by their teachers to retell all they remember about a story in order to build their comprehension skills. But can similar comprehension strategies be applied ...

Playing the Numbers: Music beats math anxiety, studies find

April 2, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A mother walks her fussy baby around the house, singing and patting his back in time to the lullaby. She might not know it, but her rhythmic patting is her baby's first experience of patterning, a mathematical ...

Can't do math? You are not alone

October 27, 2005

Mayo Clinic researchers say they've determined Math Learning Disorder is common among school-age children, especially among boys.

Sharing Now Might Help Kids Learn Advanced Math Later

May 21, 2008

Sharing might help young children become better people, but it might also make them better at math, according to preliminary findings of a study being conducted at North Carolina State University.

Recommended for you

You and some 'cavemen' get a genetic checkup

August 23, 2017

Had an arrow in his back not felled the legendary Iceman some 5,300 years ago, he would have likely dropped dead from a heart attack. Written in the DNA of his remains was a propensity for cardiovascular disease.

Mayweather will beat McGregor, neuroscience predicts

August 23, 2017

In Las Vegas, on August 26, the unbeaten American boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr and the immensely popular Irishman Conor McGregor will face off in a boxing ring, where only striking with hands while standing is allowed. It would ...

Industrial "edge cities" have helped China grow

August 18, 2017

China's massive investment in industrial parks has paid economic dividends while reshaping the urban areas where they are located, according to a newly published study co-authored by an MIT expert on urban economics.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.