In this post you’ll find Black History Figures that will empower and inspire your math students. I’m sharing how I help my students see themselves as mathematicians by using inspiring words and stories of these Black History Figures in mathematics.
If you asked your students to name a Black Mathematician, could they?
There is a serious issue happening in our students from underrepresented groups… they don’t see themselves as mathematicians. I believe that is due in part to the fact that we don’t teach them about mathematicians that look like them. I mean, do we even teach about mathematicians?
So, I’m on a mission to ensure my students find role models in math, people that can inspire them to think critically and set goals to reach high in math.
So, we are going to start with 7 powerhouse Black Mathematicians. One that is a football player, another that loves to tinker from an early age, and another that invented water gun. These mathematicians’ stories broke glass ceilings of gaining the first PhD in mathematics, worked on space ships, and trail blazed at NASA. Find out all about each of them here!
Why teach Black History Figures?
If you’re here you likely already believe that teaching & celebrating Black History is important. Maybe you’re wondering why your students need to know about these Black Leaders in math.
First, Black History is OUR history. Black History should be taught in all subjects and in all parts of the day. Add in an extra recognition and celebration in February.
Second, celebrate Black Greatness and Excellence as part of teaching Black History. I believe that looks like sharing influential and inspiring leaders from all professions and disciples. Too often our students don’t see themselves represented in the STEM field.
It is my goal that my students both see themselves and people that are different than them represented in all the parts of my class. So, I incorporate Black History Figures from the field of math into our celebrations and studies.
What is a Mathematician?
Have you asked them what they think a mathematician looks like? In my experience, students often don’t have a clear definition for what a mathematician is or even a vision of what they look like.
Here’s what I do: (you can read more about this lesson here)
I ask students to reflect on what they think a mathematician is by drawing a picture (see photo above). Then we start to make a list or web of all the things we think a mathematician does. At some point we arrive at the fact that WE ARE ALL mathematicians and add the things we do in class to the web. We go back to our drawings and add pictures of ourselves.
After this lesson we start getting to know mathematicians by reading their inspiring words through these quote posters.
Why teach Black History Figures in Math?
You see, I don’t just teach math. I teach little people. I’m on a mission to ensure those little people leave my class not only as mathematicians, but as good people. I want my students to live in a world, to MAKE A WORLD, where every person is represented. So, in math we all belong… and one way I create that sense of belonging is being sure to include texts, tasks, and quotes that represent all folks.
How can you teach Black History Figures in Math?
I have 3 suggestions for how you can teach and celebrate Black History Leaders this month and hopefully all year.
#1 Start your Class with a Black History Figure’s Quote
I use these slides to start every math class. These reflection quote slides provide opportunities for my students to reflect on Black History Figure’s inspiring words. Through these reflections students start to develop their math identity. I believe that if we are not teaching students the character traits and mindsets to do the work of the real world, then we aren’t preparing them. I have witnessed in my own classroom the power of taking time to reflect, discuss, and goal set. So, I suggest investing the time to allow students to reflect and in turn gain so many valuable experiences and skills.
#2 Black Leaders in History Biography Project
Create a biography project that allows your students to synthesize the information from their research a Black History Leader in Math. Ask students to start their research by reading one of these biographies (found here). The accompanying graphic organizers can help students gather information to use in the creation of their final product. Students could find an online source and read additional texts to support these articles. I like to have my students think about which Black Leader in math inspired and empowered them with this project. Then, have students share their completed biography project in a sharing party where students present their Black History Figure and learn from one another.
This book is a treasure trove of information and fun activities that help students connect to female Black History Leaders in math. If your students are studying Black Mathematicians this is a must have book. It is a great companion to these mini book or one page close reading biographies. You’ll find the word searches, puzzles, and games a fun addition to the biographies inside the book. I discovered many new women mathematicians while reading this book. Be sure to get a copy because I have a feeling it will be one you’ll reach for often.