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January 09, 2001

Odd or Even?

Jean and I have been reading yet another treasure book from Jean's childhood, Tales From Moominvalley, one of a whole series of books about the Moomintrolls and other neighboring races. It's interesting to me that I never heard of any of these books. Well, I'd heard of Harriet, the Spy, but not until I was an adult. I read Star Trek novels, Jules Verne, tons of Golden Age science fiction, Lord of the Rings, but never, it seems, lots of great juvenile and child fiction. So I'm catching up now.

Back to the point. Jean and I take turns reading tales from this book to Kelly at bedtime. I read first, then Jean reads. This is because Kelly tends to want to play with me, and she settles down with Jean. So I was in the middle of a tale where Moominpappa leaves home to learn about the mysterious Hattifatteners, when my time ran out.

I left, and Jean picked up the story. After a little while, Jean called me into Kelly's bedroom, to have Kelly show me something. Apparently, in the story, Moominpappa notices that the Hattifatteners always travel in groups of three, five, seven, in other words always an odd-numbered group, never even. Kelly asked Jean what odd was, so Jean demonstrated that odd means you can take away pairs until there is only one left.

Kelly took great joy in showing me how many fingers were odd, how many fingers and toes were odd, and so on. Jean would name a number (under twenty-one) and Kelly would count off pairs until she had no pairs, leaving nothing or one finger, when she'd announce "Odd!" or "Even!"

So I'm inordinately proud that she's twigged to such an abstract mathematical notion, and I'll have to restrain myself from becoming a 'math pappa'. I personally think that mathematics contains disciplines of intense beauty and reward, and I hope she continues to be interested in these ideas as she grows. I worry about the invisible barriers which discourage girls from pursuing science and math interests, so I've got to be clever and look for opportunities like the Moomintroll books to tweak her interest.

And in the meantime, I'm going to have to fight myself and wait a few years to explain prime numbers to her "qbullet.smiley".

Posted by dpwakefield at January 9, 2001 09:05 AM