“STEM toys encourage kids to develop skills in the core disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and math,” says Amazon on its new page. “We chose these toys because they have clear goals and encourage kids to learn STEM skill while having fun.”

Some featured products include LEGO sets, Roominate systems, modular robotics kits, light circuit kits, LightUp Edison kits, a Solar System planetarium, and remote control machines. On the page, you can filter toys by age (Preschool, 5-7 year, 8-11 years, and 12+ years) or by Amazon’s own editor picks.

Of course, promoting STEM values is a noble cause, but Amazon isn’t just doing this for the sake of young minds. According to TechCrunch, “the retailer notes that not only are STEM toys a ‘hot trend’ in education, but they were also the second-most visited section and the second highest in terms of sales volume on Amazon’s 2014 Holiday.”

STEM is hot right now, in other words.

In other Amazon-specific storefront news, the company just launched a dedicated destination for Shark Tank stuff and other “up-and-coming products” called Amazon Exclusives.

]]>The study, published in the *Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry*, has provided evidence linking genetic factors to significant differences in both the anxiety felt toward math and math performance. Genetics were found to make up to a 40% difference between students in otherwise identical environmental situations.

“Genetic factors may exacerbate or reduce the risk of doing poorly at math,” said Stephen Petrill, a co-author of the study and a professor of psychology at Ohio StateUniversity. “If you have these genetic risk factors for math anxiety and then you have negative experiences in math classes, it may make learning that much harder. It is something we need to account for when we’re considering interventions for those who need help in math.”

Petrill and his colleagues looked at hundreds of sets of twins, both idential and fraternal enrolled in the Western Reserve Reading and Math Projects. The twins were enrolled in the program in kindergarten and followed throughout their primary school educations. Based on math comprehensive exams and math anxiety assessments, the researchers were able to statistically determine how the genetically-identical twins differed from the fraternal pairs while separating out environmental factors.

Though genetic factors are not the majority influence on math skills, the study’s authors believe that math anxiety, related to general anxiety, can set children down an early path to poor math skills, with can further fuel math anxiety.

“You say the word ‘math’ and some people actually cringe,” said Petrill. “It is not like learning how to read, in which people don’t normally have any general anxiety unless they have some kind of difficulty.

“If we can get a better idea of what provokes this anxiety response, we may be able to develop a better intervention for those with math anxiety,”

*Image via Thinkstock*

More specifically, the study, published in the *Journal of Health Communication*, showed that math anxiety can lead to less comprehension of messages that include statistic or are based on numbers. The opposite was also found to be true: those with higher confidence in their math skills were better at comprehending such messages.

“This is the first study that we know of to take math anxiety to a health and risk setting,” said Roxanne Parrott, a co-author of the study and a . “Math skills have become a common element in many health and risk message studies, which addresses the skill component of math competence but ignores the cognitive and affective components.”

The study looked at 323 university students, giving them one of three messages arranged with varying amounts of text, percentages, and graphs. By measuring the participants’ math confidence, skills, and anxiety, researchers found the connection between math anxiety and message comprehension. In addition, study participants with math anxiety also assigned more importance to written statistics rather than graphs, demonstrating how math graphics, often thought to simplify data, could be less effective than text.

“This is one more piece of evidence about the importance of applied math education, in which students tackle real world messages and content when learning math skills,” said Parrott. “We have to focus on teaching people math, but also we need to tell people that they do have the skills, and find strategic ways to communicate that ease anxiety and worry about understanding math.”

]]>“It’s time to bring a scientific framework to this problem,” said Dominik Wodarz, the lead author of a new paper published in the journal *PLOS ONE*. “Can we design a rational way to argue about guns?”

Wodarz is a mathematical biologist at the University of California at Irvine. He and his wife, Natalia Komarova, also a mathematician at UC Irvine, looked at gun control and gun death data from the past 100 years. They then developed a set of equations meant to surface effective gun control policies.

“This debate cannot be settled satisfactorily by verbal arguments alone, since these are often driven by opinion and lack a solid scientific backing,” wrote Wodarz. “What is under debate is essentially an epidemiological problem: How do different gun control strategies affect the rate at which people become killed by attackers, and how can this rate be minimized?”

The couple found that for common domestic and one-on-one gun crimes, reducing the availability of legal firearms is likely to lower death rates – as long as laws are properly enforced. For mass shootings, the results showed that armed citizens could help reduce the number of deaths – but only if trained to avoid shooting bystanders.

The study’s authors were quick to point out that parts of their equations would benefit from better data. For example, data is weak on how many offenders illegally possess guns or how to quantify how protected people who own legal firearms actually are.

“If the current discussion could be steered toward science, rather than having a heated debate without much of a logical foundation, a big step forward toward saving lives would be achieved,” wrote Wodarz.

]]>Shakuntala Devi became famous as a child while traveling with her father’s circus, astounding the people of India with her ability to calculate large sums in her head. Her father had discovered her talents while playing a card game with her at just three years old.

Devi eventually won a place in the Guinness Book Of World Records in 1982 by correctly multiplying two 13-digit numbers in under 30 seconds. The numbers were 7,686,369,774,870 and 2,465,099,745,779, with an answer of 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730.

Devi fascinated American researcher Arthur Jensen, who once saw her find the cube root of two eight-digit numbers before his wife could even start the stopwatch. To Devi, he said, “The manipulation of numbers was like a native language, whereas for most of us arithmetic calculation is at best like the foreign language we learned in school.”

Devi performed in front of audiences throughout her childhood, earning money for her family with a talent unlike any most had ever seen.

“I had become the sole breadwinner of my family, and the responsibility was a huge one for a young child,” she once said. “At the age of 6, I gave my first major show at the University of Mysore, and this was the beginning of my marathon of public performances.”

(image)

]]>Euler is known for introducing most modern mathematical terminology and notation.

Euler was born on April 15th, 1707 in Basel, Switzerland to a pastor and a pastor’s daughter. In his early life, Euler studied under famed mathematician Johann Bernoulli and entered the University of Basel at the age of 13. He received his Master of Philosophy just three years later after a dissertation on Descartes and Newton.

He spent most of his adult life in St. Petersburg, Russia and in Berlin, Prussia. In St. Petersburg, Euler served a position in the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences’ mathematics department. He stayed in St. Petersburg from 1727 to 1741, when he left for Berlin to take up a post offered by Frederick the Great of Prussia. There is where Euler published his most important work: The *Introductio in analysin infinitorum* (1748), which was about mathematical functions, and the *Institutiones calculi differentialis* (1755) on differential calculus.

Euler is considered the most important mathematician of his era and one of the most important mathematicians of all time. He worked in nearly every field of mathematics, including algebra, geometry, calculus,and number theory. He also worked in some areas of physics.

Euler is the only man to have two mathematical numbers named after him. “Euler’s Number” in calculus (e), and the Euler-Mascheroni Constant (γ).

Euler was also known for his work in fluid dynamics, mechanics, and astronomy, one of the most prolific mathematicians of all time, Euler’s collected works fill dozens of volumes.

]]>Too bad it’s simply not going to happen for you. Sorry, man.

DePaul professor Jeff Bergen is here to give to a clear, concise explanation on why you’ll never fill out a perfect bracket. And not just you – nobody is likely to fill out a perfect bracket. There are simply too many possible outcomes. And you’re probably basing your decisions on which mascot would win in a fight anyway. Or team colors. Don’t lie, we know how you pick brackets.

]]>“You only need 39 digits of pi to be able to measure the circumference of the observable universe within the width of one hydrogen atom.”

Whoa.

[Numberphile via Gizmodo]

]]>Having said that, my time would have been a lot more enjoyable if I would have been able to play Portal instead of that “hey which urinal should I chose” game.

Today’s cool thing of the day is this Portal clone, Portal Prelude, which is playalbe on the TI-83 Plus and TI-84 Plus series of graphing calculators.

If you want to play it, it’s downloadable here.

[Builderboy via The Daily What]

]]>Today, AsapSCIENCE tackles the Monty Hall problem – the classic questions that stems from the game show “Let’s Make a Deal.” Let’s say you are given the choice between three doors – and there’s a car behind one of them. You pick door #1. Monty then reveals one of the wrong doors, #3. He asks if you want to change to door #2. Do you do it?

Surprisingly, yes. It may seem pointless, but making the switch actually increases your odds of winning. Check out how:

Last week, AsapSCIENCE looked at the real possibility of a zombie apocalypse. You should check that out too.

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