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Let’s Start a Movement for Hidden Figures

December 11, 2016

I am over the moon (pun intended) excited about the upcoming release of the movie Hidden Figures.

I think this movie is a tremendous opportunity for science education—It’s a chance for us to teach the human side of science, along with a healthy dose of social justice. And it’s got me thinking about how we can make this a movement.

I must admit that until I saw a trailer for this movie a few months back, I did not know who Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson were, and that speaks to the inadequacy of my own education, as well my need to do better as a teacher who cares about making sure that all of my students see themselves as future physicists.

I can remember watching The Right Stuff, as a child, and for the following year, my dreams were of going to the air force academy and becoming a test pilot. I believe this movie has the power to inspire students and to challenge all of us to make our world more equitable and just so that each of us can live up to our full potential.

So how do we make this a movement? Here are some thoughts:

  • What if we organized school-wide trips to see the movie? This is easy for me as a boarding school teacher but were I back in teaching in day schools, I think many kids would have liked an invitation to meet me at the theater to see this movie.
  • What if we created a teacher’s reference guide? So far, I’ve seen a pretty cool contest to identify modern day Hidden Figures, and an effort by IBM to celebrate STEM role models, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of resources our there for the teacher who wants to build a lesson or a unit around the film. The Wikipedia pages of Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson seem rather sparse—and don’t begin to answer all the questions a student might have about this film like:
    • How Many Women were employed as “computers” by NASA in the 1960s?
    • How do you calculate the trajectory of a spacecraft like Apllo 11?
    • How does the math I’m studying now in (elementary/middle/high school) connect to this work?
    • How has the experience of women and under represented minorities working in science changed since the 1960s?

    What if some enterprising teachers tried to create some resources and lesson plans to support this film? We could start by just collecting some of the resources that are out there, like this great interview with Katherine Johnson.

  • What if we organized discussions? There are sure to be people who go to the movie who would like to talk about it more. This seems like a great opportunity for science outreach. Could we hold a meetup in January in our various towns to talk about the film? Could we advertise it at our local theaters? Could we organize virtual discussions?
  • Surely NASA sees that this movie might inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers—so might some NASA scientists and engineers be willing to host skype Q&A sessions with students?

These are just the first thoughts floating through my head. There are probably people out there who are working on this that are more closely connected to this film and these issues than I am as a while CIS male. If you know of anyone who is doing education outreach work for this film, please point me in their direction—I would love to support their efforts.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2016 8:14 am

    Great idea, John! I owe my own debt of gratitude to the space program. I attended public schools on Florida’s Space Coast in the 80s and early 90s, where a number of former Apollo program engineers were working as math and science teachers — in fact my 9th grade geometry teacher was one of them. Mrs. Brackett was a huge influence on my life and I wish I knew more of her story.

  2. Sheila permalink
    December 30, 2016 12:48 pm

    You’re right! It’s great idea. Once I heard about the movie I satarted scouring the web for stem activities for 1-3rd graders but have not really seen anything to tie into the history of the movie. If anyone finds anything for little minds please post it. Thank you

  3. LIsa permalink
    January 4, 2017 1:41 pm

    I am beginning to create lesson plans for my 3rd graders that connect to these women and this movie. I’m hoping once I do, that I can find a place to post my lesson.

    • January 4, 2017 1:42 pm

      Wonderful! If you can’t find any other place to post it, I would be happy to offer you a guest post here.

  4. Keptsia Hawkins permalink
    January 5, 2017 2:24 pm

    I am looking to do the same thing for my 6th graders. I’m working on a lesson, other than simply writing a report, that will have students engaged and motivate them to consider STEM careers

    • Brenda permalink
      February 2, 2017 8:13 pm

      I am too. Bring in the math but at a 6th grade level. Also throw in MYP twist to go school wide amongst contents.

  5. Jenna jungels permalink
    January 5, 2017 5:33 pm

    I’m looking to do something for our fourth graders as well! We are all going to see the movie after reading the book but I want to tie in math and science lessons. Any ideas are greatly appreciated!

  6. Raquel Jacobson-Peregrino permalink
    January 5, 2017 10:38 pm

    I am taking my 7th grade students to see Hidden Figures and found a site that has some good material.

  7. Megan Throm permalink
    January 6, 2017 12:14 pm

    I teach at a middle school in the Detroit area and we are working on a plan to take all 6-8th graders to see the film. Details aren’t worked out yet but if I get something formal I’ll post it here- math and science classes will prep students with relevant/related content and then they will participate in a Visible Thinking routine to connect the movie to their educational experiences as a reflection. I’d love to follow it up with some sort of STEM career day but that might be a bit ambitious 🙂

  8. Loretta permalink
    January 7, 2017 11:45 am

    As an African American elementary school teacher, I would love to participate in any activities that would foster the teaching/learning of this very important topic. Thank you for addressing this and creating a platform for an open discussion.

  9. Kim permalink
    January 9, 2017 11:18 pm

    As a High school English teacher I have developed an entire unit using Hidden Figures and Henrietta Lacks – teaching it through the lens of legacy and characterization. I am more than wiling to participate. I have developed discussion questions, video links, new articles, etc.

    • January 9, 2017 11:19 pm

      Wow! I’d love to know more. I’ve had a bio colleague in the past teach Henrietta—it’s such an amazing book.

    • Christen Nohra permalink
      March 30, 2017 10:04 am

      Kim, would you mind sharing some of those resources? Another teacher that teaches seniors and I are trying to create this unit together and would love any help!

  10. January 16, 2017 3:23 pm

    Hello John. I am a Head Start teacher and am encouraged by this idea! I have a four year old girl in my classroom who is amazing in preschool mathematics concepts already. I affectionately reference her as our Hidden Figure.

  11. January 19, 2017 2:44 pm

    We have just made arrangements to take our entire 4th and 5th grades to see the film in a couple weeks and I am in the process of writing curriculum to accompany the film and its themes of women, people of color, civil rights, STEM, space exploration, etc. I am one of two mathsci teachers for those two grades and I am collaborating with our humanities teachers as well on this project. I would be very interested in exchanging ideas and resources with other like-minded educators.

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