This post includes English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition), by Margot Lee Shetterly. It’s part of a series that shares English Language Arts and interdisciplinary, differentiated activities for selections from Duke TIP’s 4th-6th Grade Online Book Club for gifted and talented students, which you can re-purpose for your classroom.
Why Hidden Figures?
- Compelling true story of the women who broke the barriers of gender and race to contribute to the early space program
- Provides gifted students the opportunity to learn more about the history of human computers at NASA and the broader social dynamics of the time
- Examines the concepts of equal rights, perseverance, and the importance of education
- Allows students to explore social-emotional topics relating to racism, family bonds, friendship, and motivation
- Investigates interdisciplinary connections in aeronautics, mathematics and the American history of the civil rights movement
About the Book
When we think of the early achievements of NASA and the first moon landing, we often focus on the accomplishments of the astronauts or lead engineers. However, these missions required teams of thousands of scientists and mathematicians to ensure their success. Hidden Figures is the true account of four female, African-American “human computers” (mathematicians) who contributed to the early space program despite the many obstacles and prejudices they endured because of their race and gender.
About the Author
Margot Lee Shetterly is a nonfiction author and entrepreneur. Her first book, Hidden Figures, was inspired by her experience growing up in Hampton, Virginia, around many of the women featured in the book. In addition, she founded the Human Computer Project, an effort to identify the achievements of all the women who worked for the NACA and NASA during the 1930s to the 1980s.
Have you taught Hidden Figures?
Sample Reading Journal Prompts and Discussion Questions
- In 1943, in order to support her family, Dorothy Vaughan applied for a computing job at Langley. “If she accepted the job, she would have to move four hours away from her children and, she’d only be able to come back home to see them on holidays” (7). Despite the distance, Dorothy decided to accept the position.
- What do you think about her decision?
- How would you feel if your parent or guardian made this choice for your family?
- In chapter 5, the author writes about double victory, an idea that many African Americans adopted during World War II. They believed they needed to defeat not only enemies overseas, but also the prejudices and unfair laws that oppressed them in their own country. “Dorothy Vaughan understood the importance of the Double V… By accepting her post as a mathematician, she believed she was working towards both goals” (36).
- How did Dorothy Vaughan and the other female mathematicians contribute to the success of the U.S. in the war?
- How did Dorothy Vaughan and the other African American female mathematicians in the West Computing Wing help in the civil rights movement?
- In the early 1950’s, at the height of the Cold War with Russia, people feared that communists who lived in America were plotting to overthrow the government. “Suddenly, Americans were afraid that there might be spies all around them, even in their neighborhoods or at work” (84).
- What occurred at Langley that related to the Rosenberg trial? How did the FBI handle the communist threat at the NACA?
- How did President Truman want to deal with Communism? How did this affect the working environment at Langley?
- Katherine Goble’s first job at Langley was to research a small propeller plane crash. “The research done by Katherine and the engineers on the team led to changes in air traffic regulations” (105).
- Why were Katherine’s calculations so important to the team’s discoveries?
- How does this section of the book, “A Bumpy Ride” (104-105), show the importance of math and the science of flight? Give specific examples from the text.
- Due to the unique and unknown nature of space exploration, “[t]he staff at the Langley Research Center had very few resources to teach engineers about outer space” (140). To tackle this obstacle Katherine Goble’s branch began creating lectures that engineers could attend. The lectures covered various topics, including the solar system and issues with reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. “The lectures were a crash course in all things aeronautic” (140).
- If you were an engineer working at Langley during that time, what courses would you want to take? What would you want to learn more about?
- Why would you choose these particular courses?
- If you could create a lecture about something you are an expert on for your classmates or friends, what would the topic be? What information would you share and how would you present the information?
- Levi Jackson, Mary Jackson’s son, was the first African American to win the Hampton Roads area’s soap-box derby. Mary Jackson was very proud of her son because she believed in, “achievement through hard work, social progress through science” (158). How do the women of Hidden Figures demonstrate this quote throughout the book? Give specific examples.
- At the end of the book Margot Shetterly writes, “Now that NASA had successfully landed astronauts on the moon, Katherine and some of her coworkers talked about a mission to Mars. Others dreamed about going even farther away from earth” (198). Now, 50 years later, our space program still has not reached Mars or any other planet. Many people argue that the cost is not worth the reward and space exploration should be done by private industry instead of using public money through government programs like NASA. What do you think?
- Should funding for NASA be as high a priority in 2019 as it was during the 1950s and 1960s? Why or why not?
- Is it important for humans to land on Mars or other planets? Why or why not?
Interdisciplinary Topics to Explore
Landing on the Moon
- An introduction to the first moon landing
- Resources to learn about the important figures who participated in the moon landing
- An exploration of the surface of the Earth’s moon.
- An opportunity for students to listen and watch recordings of the actual Apollo lunar landing as it was happening in real time
- An overview of female human computers from NASA
- An investigation of the contributions of the female computers at the NACA/ NASA
- An investigation of primary resources from the West Computer area at Langley
- Exploration of how the digital computer has evolved over time
- A review of one of the IBM computers that NASA used during the time of the book
The Science and Math of Flight
- An introduction to basic concepts relating to the science of flight, including aerodynamics, thrust and propulsion
- An exploration of the materials that NASA uses in creating spacecraft
- An investigation of practical applications of math when piloting an aircraft
- The opportunity to engineer a jetliner with this interactive website
- An introduction to important figures of the civil rights movement
- An opportunity to learn about the Brown v. Board of Education court case and ruling
- An exploration of the 1963 March on Washington with this online museum exhibit
- An investigation into the iconic story of Ruby Bridges and how she integrated her elementary school.