Coauthored by Lisa Lewis, gifted intellectual instructor at Lafayette Upper Elementary in Fredericksburg, VA, and Pitsco TAG member
As educators, we are the individuals who have a direct connection and responsibility to make STEM accessible to all students. We must be mindful to provide and empower all students with STEM opportunities.
As we reach out to encourage and nurture student gifts, it’s important to tell students that they really can do anything that they set their mind to doing if they believe in themselves and connect with the subject. We must also help normalize and encourage failure, bolstered with stories of famous individuals who have failed multiple of times before succeeding.
February is Black History Month. Pitsco TAG member Lisa Lewis is sharing with us how she recognizes and studies the history all month long (and beyond). Lisa Lewis is a gifted intellectual instructor at Lafayette Upper Elementary School and district STEM coordinator.
Black History Month in the Classroom
In my classroom, my students are encouraged to try new things and express learning in diverse ways using a platform of their choice. If students are an artist, they can draw to meet the standards; if they are writers, they can create books, poems, and blogs. In my classroom, we tinker and make, sometimes without an end in sight. We use opportunities to explore our environment from many points of view.
This year for Black History Month, we are connecting our learning by investigating a new famous pioneer each day this month and connecting the past to the present with a current STEM activity. Students will explore design challenges just as Elijah McCoy did, make tools to monitor the weather like June Bacon-Bercey did, understand the aerodynamics of flight like Bessie Coleman did, and investigate life-saving DNA as witnessed in the story of Henrietta Lacks.
Download the 28 days of STEM calendar here!
To get you started, try out these STEM activities related to famous Black people in your learning environment:
- Claudia Alexander | Make a NASA paper model.
- June Bacon-Bercey | Create a weather instrument using household items.
- Bessie Coleman | Make a paper airplane and add weights to different areas to test for speed and distance during flight.
- Henrietta Lacks | Learn how to extract DNA from strawberries.
- George Washington Carver | Learn about the history and process of peanuts.
- Madame C. J. Walker | Make your own invention! Download the worksheet here.
- George Franklin Grant | Create your own golf tee with injection molding.
Inspiration for All Students
We believe STEM is for all students. We strive to encourage and inspire students to learn about how STEM is part of everyday life and, even further, hopefully pursue STEM careers.
When students see themselves in STEM, they dream in STEM. Providing examples of various pioneers who could appeal to them provides greater opportunities to connect and apply the examples to their own lives.
STEM stories are a fun and engaging way to introduce STEM pioneers to your students. For this month in particular, check out these books that highlight African Americans who have paved the way for others:
- This Jazz Man by Karen Ehrhardt
This book gives a tribute to African American jazz giants. Dance and sing with muscians like Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.
- I Am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer
Learn about Rosa Parks, who dared to stand up for herself and other African Americans, resulting in ending public bus segregation and launching the country’s civil rights movement.
- Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Read the story of four Black women whose hard work and perseverance advanced the space race.
- Teammates by Peter Golenbock
Go back to 1947, when Jackie Robinson was the first African American player in Major League Baseball.
- Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
Follow the inspirational story of Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space, which highlights the impact of optimism and hard work.
- The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
The true story of a Malawian who built a windmill entirely from scratch to save his family and village from drought and famine.
- Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker
The bold story of Katherine Johnson, an African American mathematician working for NASA, who made sure Apollo 13 returned safely home.
Computer science is also part of the STEM-for-all equation. We believe in teaching everyone to code.
Smart Buddies™, a coding solution released in 2019, is dedicated to helping students envision themselves in STEM careers and pursue the acquisition of STEM skills. Zara and Theo are two of the buddies students can get to know and learn with.
Zara is a computer genius who loves to help friends and family with any technology problem they might have. She also enjoys playing electric guitar in her band and practicing her tae kwon do moves. Though her friends and family think she’s amazingly talented, Zara can’t help but wonder if she’s as gifted as everyone else thinks.
Theo is passionate about helping others prepare for earthquakes and making the public aware of how dangerous they can be. He dreams of one day being a scientist so he can continue to help his community. His biggest obstacle is finding the resources to best prepare his town in the event of a natural disaster.
Looking for more activities? Check out our latest pins on Pinterest to help you celebrate Black History Month! Or, join a read aloud with books perfect for Black History Month!
We hope you are able to encourage, inspire, and teach students of all backgrounds about the importance of Black History Month. We’d love to know how you are celebrating. Comment below with activities or readings that you have planned this month!