One of my favorite things to do in science class is to highlight important scientists and engineers and their achievements. Black History Month is a perfect time to engage students by introducing them to some African American heroes who made significant discoveries and contributions.
Many students are familiar with black inventors such as George Washington Carver, but there are literally hundreds of African Americans who made advances in various scientific fields. One of the first things I like to do is provide my students with a list of African American inventors and let students explore some of the amazing things we use today because of these discoveries. You can click here to see a list of black inventors. After students have had several minutes to read a little bit about some of the inventions and discoveries, we spend a little bit of time discussing what they read. I love hearing what inventions or discoveries stood out to them!
African-American Research Partner Activity
The next thing I like to do is partner students up and let them select from a list of 15 African American engineers, doctors, scientists, and mathematicians who made significant discoveries or contributions to the world. I carefully selected each scientist to make sure there was enough information about each so that students could research them fully. This activity is printable and digital so students can complete this while teachers are distance learning or if they want to just incorporate some technology into the classroom.
After students select the African-American scientist they want to research, they will use the internet to find the following information about them: a quote from their scientist, the scientist's childhood or background, and the scientist's accomplishments. When students have completed their research I have each pair summarize their findings with the class. The students learn so much from each other and gain a lot of perspective about some of the obstacles that some of these scientists had to overcome!
I also created a teacher reference sheet so I could quickly glance at the scientist's name while students were presenting to refresh my own memory!
When students have finished sharing their findings with the class we spend a few minutes reflecting on what we have learned. I give the students time to really think about their own personal challenges and how they might be inspired by the people they learned about through this activity.
The next thing I have students do is consider some real-life problems that they have. We reference some of the pioneers we learned about, such as Marie Van Brittan Brown, who invented the first security system because she was concerned about crime in her neighborhood. Each pair of students brainstorms several problems (global or personal) that affect them in some way. Then students ask questions about one of those problems to define the issue a little more. They consider what they would need to know more about and how they could investigate their problem further.
This next part of the activity incorporates Next Generation Science Standards as students practice defining a real world problem and asking questions about it. After students have spent some time discussing their problem they will work together to come up with some of the criteria they would need to meet to solve their problem. Next, students discuss the constraints that would need to be considered such as cost, time, availability of materials etc.
Lastly, students write a statement that defines the problem, and lists the criteria and constraints involved with solving their problem. This is a great way to introduce, review, or just practice thinking like an engineer!
I also included a grading rubric to make it easier for teachers and students to know what is expected and how to formulate a good scientific question, and list criteria and constraints.
We finished this activity by sharing our group work with the class and discussing what we learned about the engineering process!