Blog, Social Justice

Teaching Black History Year Round: A Lesson


Some Background

In the fall I shared a lesson about teaching Latinx heritage year round using literature and art as a process of learning. I loved being able to share a lesson that my students enjoyed and I hope it inspired others to weave Latinx creators and innovators into their lessons throughout the year. Now I am back, but this time with a lesson inspired by Black History Month and the need to teach about Black creators and innovators year round.

I am a white woman who teaches in a kindergarten Spanish immersion classroom to a class of 50% native Spanish speakers and typically 50% native English speakers coming from many different backgrounds. As a white teacher, it is my duty to make sure that all of my students are represented in our lessons so that they can understand their value and importance in this world. One of the ways that I hope to show my students their significance in our classroom community and the community they live in is by sharing lessons that give voice to and uplift the work that diverse trailblazers are doing throughout the school year.

Mae Jemison

For this lesson I chose to focus on Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel to space. She was born in 1956 and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. The reason that I chose Mae, specifically, as one of the figures we would focus on for Black History Month is because of how motivated she was as a young person to follow her dreams. Mae was inspired to become an astronaut after seeing Nichelle Nichols act on the Star Trek television show in the 1960s. This truly shows how much of a difference representation in the media makes and why it matters so much! Mae is not only an astronaut, but also a doctor, professor, and engineer. This inspired so many of my students to dream big! What my students also really connected with is how she is still alive today and how it was not long ago that the first African American woman was in space (in 1992). If you would like to learn even more information about Mae, you can find a wealth of information here.

The Lesson

This lesson was created for a group of kindergarten students in a Spanish Immersion setting. However, it can be adapted quite easily for students of any age or language background in an elementary setting.

To begin the lesson ask students what they know about Mae C. Jemison to gather any background knowledge they may have. For my kindergarteners, this was the first time that my students had heard of her and we began learning about her childhood and dreams for her future through the wonderful book Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed. Unfortunately, this book is not available yet in Spanish so I translated the text as I read to my students.

In this beautiful picture book, readers find out that Mae has dreamed big since she was a little girl but was not supported by everyone in her life. This book touches on the sexism and racism that crept into all different spaces, even classrooms, both then and now. My students were shocked that her teacher did not believe she could be an astronaut and I feel that it really impacted my students understanding of what Mae had to overcome in her lifetime.

The Art Project

After sharing information with my students about Mae Jemison and her incredible career as a doctor, professor, and astronaut, we worked on a piece that would showcase what we learned.

Materials-

  • Cardstock paper
  • Printer
  • Pencil
  • Crayons
  • Watercolor paints
  • Paint brushes

With my kindergarteners, I model each step but at this point in the school year, I am able to give more than one step directions at a time! Something I find really helpful for my kindergarteners to grow in their confidence with writing independently is to use a traceable font. You can find this wonderful traceable font KG Primary Dots on dafont.com for free.

To begin this project, you will need to create a document for your students to write and color on. If you are a Spanish teacher like myself, you can find my already made document here for no prep easy printing. If you teach in English, creating this document was super simple and included finding rocket ship clipart, pasting clipart of Mae Jemison for coloring, and finally using the KG Primary Dots font to write “Mae Jemison is ____.”

After teaching my students about Mae Jemison, the first step I took was to brainstorm different adjectives we would use to describe Mae Jemison on the board. After we came up with a list of 5-10 adjectives, I modeled for students how to do the writing portion by tracing the dotted words, and then using one of the adjectives on the board to fill in the space. I wrote “Mae Jemison era valiente” or “Mae Jemision is brave.” After students were finished writing, they could use crayons to color in Mae Jemison using skin colored crayons and they could then choose the color of her space suit.

My example for students

After all students were finished writing and coloring in Mae Jemison, I called them back together so I could model the next step- painting! I love using watercolor paints in my classroom because the students find such tranquility while using them and they are also so easy to clean up. I gave students the freedom to paint their rocket ship and stars however they would like, but when we were all together we reviewed some of the expectations for using art materials. After students finished painting, I set them on a drying rack and displayed their artwork in the hall for other students to see.

Claudia Neu has a passion for language immersion and intersectional children's literature. When she is not working with children or reading, you can find Claudia cuddling with her cat or trying to keep her houseplants alive. Check out her instagram @claudianeureads for more book recommendations and reviews. Favorite genres: queer literature, contemporary fiction, and young adult.

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