WESTFIELD, NJ – When she was in the fourth grade at Westfield's Wilson Elementary School, Laura Bilodeau Overdeck memorized the perfect squares up to 60 and became fascinated by the patterns she discovered in the answers.
As a child, she delighted in the loops made by her spirograph set, counting the number of teeth on the different wheels and recording what types of pictures they created on charts she still has today. Overdeck and her younger brother spent hours playing with Legos. She helped her mother bake, worked in the garden and played Monopoly with her family.
Through these experiences, Overdeck grew up loving math.
“Math is really beautiful,” she said recently.
Overdeck, 44, has channeled her passion for math into a mission to help families find the fun in a subject that too often intimidates students and their parents. She founded the nonprofit Bedtime Math two years ago to serve up daily math problems online for kids and their parents. The organization now has more than 50,000 subscribers for its daily math problem and is piloting Crazy 8s, a nationwide after school math club.
“Just like we read for pleasure, we should do math for fun,” she said one afternoon at Bedtime Math’s Summit office.
Overdeck’s second book, Bedtime Math 2: This Time It’s Personal, will be released on Tuesday, and 200 bookstores around the country will celebrate with launch parties featuring glow in the dark geometry.
On Wednesday March 12, Overdeck will return to Westfield to speak at the College Woman’s Club of Westfield’s benefit luncheon at 11:30 am at Echo Lake Country Club. The luncheon is open to the public. Tickets to the event are $60, and all proceeds benefit the club’s scholarship program. To RSVP for the luncheon and request a copy of Bedtime Math 2 for signing, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
After graduating from Westfield High School, Overdeck went on to earn a degree in astrophysics from Princeton University and later received an MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Overdeck and her husband, John, who competed on the prestigious U.S. math Olympiad team in high school, live in Short Hills with their three children, ages 10, eight and five.
When their oldest child was two, they started doing simple math problems together at night, such as counting stuffed animals. They continued the tradition with their younger kids and, eventually Overdeck began emailing a daily problem to her friends to use with their kids. Soon her email followers multiplied.
She hopes that families who enjoy the ritual of sharing a book at the end of the day will also take pleasure in doing math together.
Overdeck also aims to change the image of math and the way society talks about the subject.
She believes that if consumers were more math literate, they would make smarter purchasing decisions. The mortgage crisis of 2008 may have been less severe if more homebuyers truly understood the terms of their loans, she noted.
“Math is her passion,” said Sara Thom, chief operating officer and director of research at Bedtime Math and a friend of Overdeck’s. “She’s got incredible energy and drive.”
In April, Overdeck will present an exhibit at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference in New Orleans and will also speak at the National Science Festival in Washington, D.C.
For parents who want to encourage math fun at home, Overdeck recommends simple, kid-friendly activities such as baking, which develops measuring skills, board games like Scrabble and Monopoly, and Legos, which demonstrate ratios and area.
One zany Crazy 8s game she tried out on her children was the toilet paper Olympics, in which kids measured their results in long jump, shot put and relay races using four-inch squares of toilet paper.
On Friday, Bedtime Math’s zip line zoo activity was featured on National Public Radio’s Science Friday website’s education section.
When she is away from work, Overdeck enjoys baking and learning about wine. She likes doing Lego Mindstorms, as well. She has taken race car driving lessons, taken two dog-sledding trips in Canada and gone skydiving.
“I’m kind of an adrenaline junkie,” she admitted.