In Module 4, students learn about remarkable accomplishments in space science, paying special attention to accomplishments and people that may have been overlooked until recently. After reading supplemental texts to learn about key events and well-known figures of the Space Race, students begin their anchor text, Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition) by Margot Lee Shetterly. This tells the story of the “West Computers,” the first black women hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, later NASA), which had previously enforced discriminatory hiring policies. The work of these tremendously talented mathematicians, like Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson, led to major advances in space science and helped land human beings on the moon. Major tasks in the module provide opportunities for students to uncover and uplift the stories of these and other hidden figures who have typically not been centered in popular accounts of space science.
Across the eight lessons of Unit 1, students read engaging informational texts about important events in the Space Race of the mid-twentieth century, leading up to the Apollo 11 moon landing. In the first half of Unit 1, much of the work around these texts is related to point of view (e.g., John F. Kennedy’s point of view toward space travel). In the mid-unit assessment, students apply this work to a new text, analyzing the author’s point of view toward the Apollo 11 astronauts and mission and toward the future of humans in space. The informational texts of the second half of Unit 2 add deeper complexity to students’ understanding of the Space Race. Students read arguments that challenge the United States’ decision to invest in space exploration, especially when civil rights abuses were taking place at home. In preparation for the end of unit assessment, which features similar tasks, students practice tracing the arguments posed in these texts, identifying the authors’ main claims and identifying the evidence and reasoning that the authors use to support their claims. This unit helps students build critical context needed to frame and understand the content and focus of Units 2 and 3.
In Unit 2, when students begin reading Hidden Figures, they quickly discover that popular accounts of the Space Race have generally overlooked the contributions of the West Computers. In the first half of Unit 2, students analyze the way that Shetterly introduces and illustrates Dorothy, Mary, and Katherine in the text. Students also practice identifying claims about the West Computers that can be supported using evidence from the text. Students apply this learning and complete similar tasks during the mid-unit assessment. In the second half of Unit 2, and on the end of unit assessment, students read supplemental texts about the West Computers and compare and contrast the authors’ presentations of events with Shetterly’s presentation of the same events in Hidden Figures.
In Unit 3, students revisit the Painted Essay® structure to analyze a model argument essay that addresses the prompt: What makes Dorothy Vaughan’s accomplishments remarkable? Using a similar prompt about Mary Jackson or Katherine Johnson, students write collaborative argument essays that prepare them to produce independent arguments later in the unit. Informed by research conducted across Units 2 and 3, students’ independent essays present arguments about the remarkable accomplishments of their focus figure: a major contributor to space science, outside of the anchor text, whose important work is also comparatively unknown. The performance task of Module 4 invites students to create illustrated pages for a narrative nonfiction picture book about the accomplishments of focus figures. These picture books provide engaging visual support to students’ presentations of their focus figure arguments during the end of unit assessment. During this assessment, students also delineate the arguments of their classmates and reflect on their learning across the module as a whole.
Notes from the Designer
The anchor text, Hidden Figures, tells the story of talented mathematicians who persevered in the face of severe discrimination. Understanding the racist world in which the West Computers lived is critical for understanding their professional and societal legacy and impact. Still, reading descriptions of the discrimination against the West Computers may be painful for students. Across lessons, teaching notes call out specific passages that may be especially upsetting for students and offer suggestions for helping students process the content of these passages safely and compassionately. Instructional decisions throughout the module, too, equip students with the literacy skills necessary to interpret and process the content of the text and contribute meaningfully to class discussions.
Note that in activities and discussions throughout the module, the “hidden figures” are referred to by their first names: Dorothy, Mary, and Katherine. The choice to call these women by their first names was made for two reasons. First, it is consistent with practices of earlier modules, in which the main characters of texts (Percy, William, and Cal) were called by their first names throughout instruction, due to students’ familiarity with them. Second, it reflects Shetterly’s own decision to refer to the women by their first names throughout the text. Still, with this in mind, it is important to recognize that using first names may have a different impact in the context of this module, which aims to center the work of supremely accomplished and talented women in space science. Because the “hidden figures” experienced rampant discrimination and felt forced to “prove” their worth, referring to them by their first names could be interpreted as condescending, especially when compared to the naming of other (male) figures in Unit 1, like [Neil] Armstrong. If productive, discuss with students the issue of naming, examining how the way in which we name someone or something can validate, or undermine, the subject’s perceived worth.