Tina’s and Latoya’s first grade class studied changemakers to understand their importance and the contributions they’ve brought to the world. In honor of Black History/Futures Month, they selected three African American women who had a big impact on American culture: Katherine Johnson, Nina Simone and Mae Jemison. While studying these women, the first graders made connections between their stories, and were able to identify similar challenges they faced. Together, they were able to understand that each woman worked hard to make a change and deserved to be recognized.
Katherine Johnson was a mathematician, and famously calculated the orbital paths for the Apollo 13 mission in the 1960s. Mae Jemison is the first Black woman to travel into space. Nina Simone was one of the most influential singers of the 20th century, as well as a social activist who advocated for equal rights. The first grade class learned about each woman’s journey, and the adversity they faced: Katherine Johnson’s hometown didn’t offer education to African Americans beyond the 8th grade; Mae Jemison experienced discrimination from her teachers in her pursuit of science; Nina Simone experienced racism throughout her childhood and in the early stages of her music career.
While learning about each woman, two of whom were scientists, the Little Calhouners enjoyed a few activities pertaining to their respective fields. They made paper rockets when they studied Jemison, and did test flights on the terrace using different straws. They recorded the data on a worksheet to compare each test run. While studying Johnson, they tested different materials to simulate flight paths. For Simone, they read Nina, A Story of Nina Simone, by Traci M. Todd and watched a short interview and performance of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free.” They loved experiencing the work of each changemaker, and it helped them understand their own thought processes and make connections between them.
“Throughout the process, it was amazing to see the students pick up on the connections between the women based on their contributions to society. They noticed the similarities before we even pointed it out to them” - Tina LoGiudice, First grade teacher.
To help them make connections further, Tina and Latoya gave the first graders labeled picture cards with a Venn diagram. They sorted the cards quickly, and made more connections between these famous women, most importantly their collective determination in reaching their goals. Frequently, the students called these women “geniuses,” in awe of their accomplishments. Through this project, the students received great life lessons about perseverance while getting to experiment with paper rockets, flight paths and critically-acclaimed music.