Katherine Johnson -- Multicultural Math Lesson and Black History Month Blog Hop & Giveaway

*Pictures of Katherine Johnson are from NASA.

This year for Black History Month I could not decide what to focus on for my post. Hazel and I read books about Coretta Scott King (Martin Luther King, Jr.'s wife) and inventor Garrett Morgan. I was trying to decide which to focus on and then I discovered Katherine Johnson and knew I found my post subject. First a bit about how I discovered her. Back from my former life as a high school math teacher I have a friend who was a black history teacher (now he is an assistant principal). Every February he posts on his Facebook page about various black people and events. He only posts so his friends can see them so I have not been able to share them. However this year I have been Googling the person or event and pinning them to my Black History Month Board.  Be sure to check it out to learn about even more Black History. Well one of his posts this year was about Katherine Johnson and I knew I had found my post topic and the bonus is she also is a black mathematician!

Katherine Johnson was born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. As a young child she was anxious to start school and learn. By the age of 10 she was in high school. She always remembers counting. She counted anything and everything. At age 15 she began to attend West Virginia State College. She had to decide on her major and wavered between English, French and math. With the help of a professor she decided on her first love: math. At age 18 Katherine graduated summa cum laude with Bachelor's of Science degrees in mathematics and French. She gives a lot of credit to one professor, Dr. William W. Schiefflin Claytor. He made sure she had the skills she needed to become a research mathematician. In one of his classes she remembers asking questions when she noticed the other students were not understanding his teaching. He told her she should know the answers and finally she told him she was asking when she noticed others did not know the answers. 

After college Katherine Johnson became a teacher. This was the only option for her in her community. She left teaching to become married and start a family. In 1952 her husband became ill and she returned to teaching. At a family function in the 1950's a relative mentioned to her that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA which later became NASA) was hiring. Women were working as human computers. They would do calculations that the engineers needed worked or verified. She immediately applied. The women at NACA were expected to do calculations and not question much or know the inner workings of NACA. However Katherine Johnson was always asking questions. Her desire to know the whys and hows got her labeled as a leader. She worked in a pool of women who did the calculations but was loaned out to an all male flight team. She never returned to the pool of women since the team saw how valuable and intelligent she was. 

In 1962 President John Kennedy charged the country to have a man walk on the moon. Katherine Johnson was on the team and started calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepherd's 1961 mission into space. She also did the calculations for the first landing on the moon in 1969. Even after the computers were used by NASA, John Glenn requested she personally check the calculations of electronic computers before his flight in Friendship 7. Later in her career she worked in the space shuttle program and Earth Resources Satellite. She also encouraged the next generation of students to pursue careers in science and technology.

Katherine Johnson and Astronaut Leland Melvin (Source)
Katherine Johnson worked at NASA for 33 years until 1986 when she retired. She received many awards including being named the Mathematician of the Year in 1997 by the National Technical Association. In 2015 President Barrack Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This is the highest civilian medal there is in America. Katherine Johnson was 97 at the time. 
 At a time when women were not considered equal and blacks were treated unfairly, Katherine Johnson pursued a career and by her own intelligence was accepted and respected by the white males at NACA/NASA. She says she was a "computer when computers wore skirts". (Source) She also said "We wrote our own textbook, because there was no other text about space. We just started with what we knew. We had to go back to geometry and figure all of this stuff out." (Source) Yes, she needed her geometry!! She also describes how she kept asking what was said in the male only briefing meetings they finally just let her come to them. They were sick of relaying all the messages to her. Her questions and wanting to know everything got her to be treated equally with the white males.
CONTOUR Launch (19083178100)
CONTOUR Launch (See the parabola) By NASA on The Commons (CONTOUR Launch)
 [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons
Katherine Johnson goes further to explain, "The early trajectory was a parabola, and it was easy to predict where it would be at any point. Early on, when they said they wanted the capsule to come down at a certain place, they were trying to compute when it should start. I said, 'Let me do it. You tell me when you want it and where you want it to land, and I'll do it backwards and tell you when to take off.' That was my forte." (Source)  When she watched Neil Armstrong take the first steps on the moons Katherine Johnson says she was nervous. "I had done the calculations and knew they were correct," said Johnson. "But just like driving (to Hampton in traffic) from Williamsburg this morning, anything could happen. I didn't want anything to happen and it didn't." (Source)


Katherine Johnson: A Lifetime of STEM,, Nov. 6, 2013.
Katherine G. Johnson,
Katherine Johnson: The Girl Who Loved to Count:, Nov. 24, 2015.
Former NASA Langley Mathematician to be Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom,, Nov. 17, 2015.
She Was a Computer When Computers Wore Skirts,, Aug. 26, 2008.

Math Lessons

 Some math to go with Katherine Johnson's story would be parabolas and trajectories. Here is a lesson from my teaching days on parabolas. Cool Math also provides a pretty complete lesson on parabolas. Better Lesson has an interesting lesson on trajectory. 

Parabolic function graph downwards
Parabolic Function Graph Downwards I, Nicostella [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Black History Month Blog Hop & Giveaway

Welcome to our third annual Black History Month series and giveaway! Follow along all month long as we explore the rich history and cultures of Africa and African-Americans. Be sure to enter our giveaway below and link up your own posts at the bottom of the page.
You can also follow our Black History board on Pinterest:
Follow Multicultural Kid Blogs's board Black History on Pinterest.

February 4 Mama Smiles
February 5 Kid World Citizen
February 9 A Crafty Arab
February 15 Mother in the Mix
February 22 Crafty Moms Share
February 26 LadyDeeLG
February 29 Hispanic Mama
Don't miss our series from last year and 2014!

Enter the Giveaway!

Grand Prize Black Heritage Month Giveaway 2016 | Multicultural Kid Blogs

Grand Prize

From Heritage Box, a starter pack: Masaai box, journal, postcard album, book, surprise toy, and activity and game sheet US Shipping Only
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1st Prize

From Candlewick Press: Willow and Africa Is My Home US Shipping Only
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2nd Prize

From Candlewick Press: Granddaddy's Turn and Jump Back, Paul US Shipping Only
From Rachel Garlinghouse: Homeschooling Your Young Black Child
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