Recognizing African-American Mathematicians

During the month of February, Desoto County Schools celebrated the contributions of African-American people in America. In sixth grade math, our students learned about African-American mathematicians and their influences in society. In our class, we paused a few minutes daily to learn about our ‘person of the day’.

One person highlighted was Dr. Euphemia Lofton Haynes, who was the first woman to earn her PhD in mathematics. She also was the first woman to chair the D.C. school board and taught in the public school system for forty-seven years. Another person we discussed was Dr. Elbert Frank Cox, who was the first man to receive his PhD in mathematics. He taught for forty years at West Virginia State College and Howard University. We also featured Benjamin Banneker, Kelly Miller, Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr., Evelyn Granville, Percy Pierre and a few others.

We began our study with the three women featured in the movie ‘Hidden Figures’; Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn. A few of the students had seen the movie and were really excited about learning more about them. All three of these women made great contributions to the space program at NASA. What really impressed the students was the fact all three of these women and most of the others we discussed, graduated from high school between 12-14 years old and started college and went on to graduate school. The students were enlightened to hear about their struggle and how they did not have civil rights; and in spite of those obstacles, they achieved their goals.

On Thursday, February 23rd, our sixth graders went to see the movie ‘Hidden Figures’.   The students enjoyed the movie and couldn’t wait to get back to school to ask questions and discuss some of the scenes in the movie. During the movie, there were plenty of applause and cheers as those women attained their aspirations.

I challenged the students to continue to research people of all races and cultures and share with the class what contributions were made to our country, society and especially in math!

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Valory Thomas

6th Grade Math

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