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Hidden Figures Book Club, Fall 2017

Hidden Figures: Read. Watch. Discuss.

Discussion Guide to the Book with Questions for Each Chapter:

A Teacher's Guide to Hidden Figures. Wonderful guide from Harper Collins.

Discussion Guide with Questions by Theme:

Hidden Figures Family Discussion Guide. Excellent guide from Twentieth Century Fox.

For Instructors Who Can't Fit Another Thing In:

Some instructors want to use the book in their courses but don't have time to fit it in. Here's a time-efficient idea from Peggy Dodge, Early Childhood Education professor, who uses a format called "Book Clubs." 

  • Peggy gives students a choice of two books to read, Hidden Figures or The Bean Trees
  • Students read book for homework over the course of the semester
  • Four times during class, students break into groups to discuss the book they chose
  • Before each of these four session, students write out their responses to questions that Peggy has prepared (Please see link below)​

         Book Club

Curriculum Guides:

‘Hidden Figures’ Curriculum Brings Film’s Lessons To The Classroom Here are components of this curriculum guide:


"You have to believe in you first."
Michelle Obama, video, minute 37:57.

"The event features the stories of individuals who have made significant contributions to human space flight, space science, and innovation but who have not often had their stories told. The event also includes a Q&A with the cast and crew of the movie Hidden Figures."  Michelle Obama gives an amazing speech starting at about minute 28. Margot Lee Shetterly introduces the First Lady starting at about minute 24.

From the Obama White House: National Archives and Records Administration.

"Left of Black" host Dr. Mark Anthony Neal sits down with author Margot Lee Shetterly to discuss her new book, Hidden Figures. From the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke University.

NASA commemorated the many contributions of retired mathematician Katherine Johnson to America’s space program during a building dedication ceremony on May 5, at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Langley’s new Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility was formally dedicated to the venerated mathematician and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

Johnson worked at Langley from 1953 until her retirement in 1986, beginning as a research mathematician -- part of a pool of women hired to perform mathematical equations and calculations by hand for engineers. She quickly distinguished herself and was permanently assigned to the branch that would later calculate the launch windows for NASA’s first Project Mercury flights.

Notable accomplishments include her computation, by hand, of the launch window and trajectory for Alan Shepard’s maiden space voyage aboard Freedom 7 in 1961, and verification, also by hand, of calculations made by the first computers for John Glenn's history-making orbit around the Earth in 1962. She also calculated the trajectory for the historic Apollo 11 first moon landing flight in 1969. From NASA.

President Obama awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to seventeen recipients in the East Room of the White House on November 24, 2015. See especially minute 1:03, and, later, 30:24 for parts related to Katherine Johnson. From the Obama White House: National Archives and Records Administration.


NASA kicked off a yearlong centennial celebration for its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, with events Dec. 1 highlighting the critical work done by the African American women of Langley’s West Computing Unit, a story told in the book and upcoming movie “Hidden Figures”. During a NASA education event that was streamed to schools across the country, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Film director Ted Melfi, NASA Chief Historian Bill Barry, who consulted on the film, and NASA Modern Figure Julie Williams-Byrd, an electro-optics engineer for the Space Mission Analysis Branch at Langley, discussed the work of past and present NASA figures benefits humanity and enable future long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space, including the agency’s Journey to Mars. From NASA.  More NASA videos related to to African American themes.

Uploaded on Feb 25, 2011. An incredible conversation with a NASA Langley pioneer, Katherine Johnson, who worked at NASA Langley in Hampton during the 1950's—a woman and an African-American who broke through barriers and made history along the way. From WHRO, Hampton Roads, Virginia, PBS.

"Hidden Figures cast member Janelle Monáe (plays Mary Jackson) and Executive Producer Pharrell Williams, visited Google Atlanta to chat about their new film with computer science students from historically black colleges and universities and Googlers." From "Talks at Google."


"The Untold Story of the Space Race / WHAT'S NEXT?" Margot Lee Shetterly, Author, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race with John Donvan. Published on Oct 6, 2016. From AtlanticLive, part of "The Atlantic."  The whole interview is great, but check out the part at minute 23, when Ms. Shetterly discusses the differences between the movie and the book and the problem of people not believing that the whole "Hidde Figures" episode of history actually happened.

"Margot Lee Shetterly: The Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race." An amazingly inspirational interview of Margot Lee Shetterly. Published on Dec 27, 2016. From the Chicago Humanities Festival.  Key moments in this wonderful interview:

  • For the importance of being open to new careers throughout your life, please see minute 18 through minutes 21. 
  • For the importance of failure in the sciences and in the writing process, please see minute 21 through minute 25. Key quotes from this section: "There is no improvement without failure." "Failure is your muse." "I am a big, big fan of re-writing." 

"Soledad O’Brien hosted a panel on the importance of diversity in STEM fields, presented by IBM and featuring special guests from the Twentieth Century Fox film, ‘Hidden Figures,’ and leaders from the industry. Soledad was joined by Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer, the film’s director Theodore Melfi, Elizabeth Gabler (President Fox 2000 Pictures), Leah Gilliam (Girls Who Code), Rashid Ferrod Davis (P-TECH), Lindsay-Rae McIntyre (IBM Chief Diversity Officer) and Kristen Summers (Watson Public Sector)." From IBM. Published on Jan 15, 2017.

African Americans in the Classroom

"Cutting one way, these stories [such as Hidden Figures] do assist in deconstructing the White male math myth discourse—mathematics is not just for White (and Asian) boys and men. Cutting the other way, however, these histories too often become the 'exception story,' so to speak," David W. Stinton. Please see PDF below for entire article, which is from the December 2016 issue of Journal of Urban Mathematics Education.

Miriam Mann

Image of Miriam Mann

"It was Miriam Mann who finally decided it was too much to take. 'There’s my sign for today,' she would say upon entering the cafeteria, spying the placard designating their table in the back of the room. Not even five feet tall, her feet just grazing the floor when she sat down, Miriam Mann had a personality as outsized as she was tiny." (Shetterly, Hidden Figures, Chapter 5).

How World War II opened the door for one of the first black women at NASA:  In a photo submitted to Historically Black, a project by The Washington Post, Miriam Daniel Mann walks with purpose down a Hampton, Va., street in 1943, clutching a thick, hardcover book. She sports heels, a fashionable turban and a coat with two large buttons, the hemline of her plaid skirt peering out underneath.  Mann, Harris' grandmother, was one of the first black female computers employed by NASA's predecessor,the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) ... (keep reading)

Magazine and Newspaper Articles

Notable and Diverse Role Models in STEM Recommended by Cheo Massion, Professor of English as a Second Language at College of Marin. "In Celebration of the Release of the Movie Hidden Figures, IBM and Vanity Fair Studios Profile Notable and Diverse Role Models in S.T.E.M."

Duchess Harris Explains the Politics of Possibility  Recommended by Sara McKinnon, Professor of ESL at College of Marin. "By now, we all know the inspiring story—popularized by the Academy Award-nominated film “Hidden Figures”of the Black women mathematicians who worked at NASA during the Space Race.

Duchess Harris, professor and chair of the American Studies department at Macalester College, knew this story inside and out long before it hit the theaters. In fact, she had grown up hearing about these women. That’s because her grandmother, Mariam D. Mann, was among the first Black women who started working NASA in the 1940s, decades before the film was set."


How History Forgot the Black Women Behind NASA's Space Race "In the 1940s, a group of female scientists were the human computers behind the biggest advances in aeronautics. Hidden Figures, an upcoming book and film tells their remarkable, untold story." A useful overview of the movie and book. "They never stopped trying to find ways, large and small, to expand the space for themselves and the people who came after them.” Margot Lee Shetterly, author.

The Nearly Forgotten Story... Overview of the book and movie, including quotes from the author, Margot Lee Shetterly.

Oscars Honor Real-Life NASA Hero Katherine Johnson, But Pass On 'Hidden Figures' Short article describing "Hidden Figures" wins and losses at the Oscars.

Calculating Women by Priyamvada Natarajan, Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Yale. A review of Hidden Figures and two related books. "Although the books by Sobel, Shetterly, and Holt are not polemical, they have an argument: science is not about singular discovery and invention. It is not an activity reserved for male geniuses working on their own. Discovery in almost every scientific field occurs through the collaboration of a large number of experts."

from "The Guardian"


Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

From the American Association of University Women. "The number of women in science and engineering is growing, yet men continue to outnumber women, especially at the upper levels of these professions."

What is it, anyway?

"Intersectionality, one of the foundational concepts within the social sciences, complicates traditional approaches toward the study of race, gender, class, and sexuality by treating these factors as interconnected variables that shape an individual's overall life experiences, rather than as isolated variables. Power, privilege, and oppression are often much more complex than has been traditionally thought, as an individual may be relatively privileged in one or more aspects of their life, while simultaneously experiencing prejudice, discrimination, or oppression stemming from other aspects of their social background or identity. Intersectionality seeks to explain how these different variables come together to shape experience, identity, and society." From García, Justin D. "Intersectionality." Research Starters: Sociology, January. 

For a quick and clear explanation, watch Arshya Vahabzadeh's video created on Jan 20, 2015, for the Khan Academy.

Additional Resources:

"Now more than ever, it's important to look boldly at the reality of race and gender bias -- and understand how the two can combine to create even more harm. Kimberlé Crenshaw uses the term "intersectionality" to describe this phenomenon; as she says, if you're standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you're likely to get hit by both. In this moving talk, she calls on us to bear witness to this reality and speak up for victims of prejudice." From TED. Published on Dec 7, 2016.

Click the image to compare the book with the film!

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