If you ask me, Mrs. Holliman is the Picabo Street of math teachers.
Whizzing by the natural obstacles and hazards in her path, she put in a gold medal performance last week in her geometry class at Brighton High School.She actually got my daughter to spend an entire evening on a single problem - and to be enthralled by the challenge. Heidi even skipped her nightly pilgrimage to the TV to watch "The X Files."
How did Mrs. Holliman do it? She devised a project that was practical and entertaining - two things I don't recall ever experiencing in my own adventures in geometry so many years ago.
I couldn't apply the Pythagorean Theorem if my life depended on it, or find the area of a rhombus if it were the last one on Earth.
Thanks to Mrs. Holliman, my daughter, who used both to complete her homework, will probably never forget them.
The assignment: pretend you're redecorating your bedrooms. Figure out how much paint and carpet the renovation will take. And diagram the room with the standard furnishings - a bed, dresser and maybe a desk.
The new room also had to include one of the following: an octagonal jacuzzi, a triangular entertainment center, a circular closet or a curved bay window.
Showing piles of dirty clothes was optional, I think.
Everything had to be to scale and students got extra credit if they got cost estimates and real paint and carpet samples at a home-improvement store.
So, there was my daughter, measuring and estimating and graphing the night away.
The two best things about this lesson? It was about more than math and it involved a real application of abstract concepts.
I figured out the third best thing about this homework assignment when I stumbled on the results of a new study about mathematically precocious young children.
Researchers at the University of Washington have completed a two-year study that shows significantly more boys than girls have exceptional math talent.
Apparently, there may be more packed in that Y chromosome than testosterone.
The researchers recruited 778 preschoolers and kindergartners for their study, making a special effort to enlist girls. Each child took a screening test, and only the kids who scored at or above the 98th percentile made it to the second stage of the study.
That's when the first sign of a possibly gender-related difference in mathematical ability surfaced. Of the children who passed the test, 60 percent, or 210, were boys. So the researchers randomly dropped a few boys in order to balance the gender makeup of the group.
Over next two years, the 276 children in the study received special instruction in a Saturday math club that was designed to help them perceive the world as a mathematical place full of shapes and patterns and formulas.
One researcher said she hoped the enrichment class would boost the skill level of the girls to be on par with that of the boys.
It didn't happen. Boys still came out as the top scorers, and more boys scored at the upper echelon of the group.
The study adds to a pile of research that indicates males are innately better at math than females (women, on the other hand, outperform men in language skills).
As I read about the study my thoughts drifted back to Mrs. Holliman and the real world Olympics, where teachers like her battle the effects of nature and nurture on a daily basis in hopes of connecting with students, particularly young girls like my daughter.
I pictured her bombing down a mountain slope at some obtuse angle, crouched in classic downhill racer style.
She bumps off the moguls of gender disparity and skirts the icy patches of math impracticality, coming up with a gold-medal performance in the classroom.