I read the following two books from our monthly booklist:
Inspiring African-American Inventors: 9 Extraordinary Lives
by Jeff C.Young
This book follows the lives and achievements of nine African-American inventors. These write-ups were more in depth than those in the other collections I read. There were lots of links to resources provided in the book; however, it seemed like many of them are no longer active.
What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors
by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld,
illustrated by Ben Boos and A.G. Ford
This book is a combination of fiction and nonfiction. While it gives rather brief write-ups for the inventors mentioned, it does a nice job of addressing why diversity in STEM is important.
I also read these two books:
Unsung Heroes of Technology
by Todd Kortemeier
This book gives an overview of 12 scientists, mathematicians, and/or inventors whose contributions to STEM have often been overlooked. The majority of the people highlighted in this book are women and/or African-Americans.
Stephen Hawking: Master of the Cosmos
by Robert Sneddon
This graphic novel follows the life and scientific contributions of Stephen Hawking. While still in college, Hawking was diagnosed with a disease that confined him to a wheelchair for much of his life. Hawking contributed greatly to our understanding of the universe and was able to communicate many of these ideas to average readers.
I felt a strong connection to this month’s theme. My years studying and working in engineering had me facing a lack of diversity in STEM on a very personal level. In college, I met the first woman to graduate from my alma mater. In school and while working, I was the only woman in a room full of men on many an occasion. Our family is full of neurodivergents and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Recently, I went through training to become a counselor for BSA’s Citizenship in Society merit badge.
Here are some activities to consider when tying this month’s books to the classroom.
This month’s theme is “Diversity in STEM.” But what is diversity? Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as, “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.” In terms of people, what are the differing elements?
Most often, diversity in STEM (or any other organization/discipline) focuses primarily on race, gender, and sometime sexuality. But there is so much more to it than that. If we start looking at what makes up a person’s identity, the possible factors seem almost limitless. (There’s an interesting, short write-up about identity in Sydney University’s 2019 Anthology here: https://www.usydanthology.com/2019/04/12/lodens-wheel-of-diversity.)
Have students define some aspects of their own identities.
(For help in defining some of these, there’s a great write-up from Appalachian State here: https://cae.appstate.edu/sites/cae.appstate.edu/files/big-8-identities.pdf)
If you want to include even more aspects of identity in this exercise, go ahead. When we factor in all the different things that make up who we are and compare those with others, we find out we are much more alike than we might assume upon first glance.
Once students have defined some parts of their own identities, have them find a scientist/inventor/mathematician highlighted in this month’s reading (or in one of the links below) who has an identity that matches them. Then have them read about someone who seems very different.
Have a discussion or have students write their thoughts on the following:
– How does it make them feel to learn about amazing achievements by someone who shares similar identities with them?
– Do they feel any differently about those whose identities are very different from their own?
– Why do they think it’s important to have diversity in STEM?
Explore How Progress in STEM Works
In What Color is My World?, Mr. Mital talks about scientific knowledge as being handed from person to person like a bucket brigade.
Set up your own bucket brigade. Line students up around the room. Then have them pass something from person to person – it doesn’t have to be a bucket. In fact, a book might be more appropriate, since STEM is all about passing knowledge and ideas from person to person.
Once you’ve had the students pass the scientific knowledge (book, bucket, whatever) successfully down the line, take a few people out of the line. All the other students should stay in their positions – they should not move closer together to fill the gaps.
Have them pass the scientific knowledge along the line again. What happens when it gets to the gaps in the line? Think about/discuss how this relates to diversity in STEM.
If you don’t have enough people to conduct this activity, try creating a domino train/fall (http://www.domino-play.com/TopplingBasic.htm). Remove a few dominoes from different locations to see how that changes things.
Since a lot of the links given in the books I read didn’t work, I decided to dig up a few more. Here are some links to a variety of people who made inspiring contributions in STEM fields but are either from underrepresented communities and/or their contributions are largely unsung. You will find many of the people covered in the books among those listed on the web sites.
This article was written in relation to What Color is My World?: https://invention.si.edu/lost-histories-african-american-inventors
Native American Scientists and Engineers: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/blog/native-american-scientists-engineers
12 Disabled Scientists Who Made the World a Better Place: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/87068/12-disabled-scientists-who-made-world-better-place
Hispanic Scientists and Engineers: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/blog/hispanic-scientists-engineers
Inspiring Scientists and Engineers to Know – Asian American Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month: https://www.sciencebuddies.org/blog/aanhip-scientists
6 Important LGBTQ Scientists Who Left a Mark on STEM Fields: https://www.osc.org/important-lgbtq-scientists-who-left-a-mark-on-stem-fields
LGBTQ+ scientists in history: https://www.asbmb.org/asbmb-today/people/061821/lgbtq-scientists-through-history
Unsung innovators of color: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/these-unsung-american-inventors-changed-the-world/ss-AAMy3V3
10 Black Inventors Who Changed the World: https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/86923/11-african-american-inventors-who-changed-world
NASA’s Innovators and Unsung Heroes: https://www.nasa.gov/50th/50th_magazine/unsungHeroes.html
Janet Slingerland has written more than 20 books for children. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out her website – – or visit her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.