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7 Women Scientists to Integrate into Your Lesson Plans
Astronomer Dorothea Klumpke Roberts
Science is not a man's world, but the accomplishments of many women scientists have been hidden, forgotten, or ignored for many years. Luckily, more resources are becoming available that share their stories.
One such resource I've found valuable is the book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. Recently, I assigned some of the book's scientists as the subjects for a classroom research project. Here are a few of the women scientists who spoke to me and some ways you can incorporate them into your lessons.
Explore the Stars with Mae Jemison
When teaching a space system lesson, you can have students explore Mae Jemison's experiences as the world's first woman of color to go to space and her continued drive to enrich middle and secondary school students in STEM fields to this day. I was thrilled to hear Dr. Jemison speak at a science conference a few years ago, where she shared her vision, perseverance, and passion. It's important to share her talents with students.
Get Dissecting with Nettie Stevens
Are you teaching a lesson on genetics or inheritance? Challenge the students to a race to find out, using the method of your choice, who the scientist credited for the discovery of XX and XY chromosomes was.
Further Reading: What I Learned about Gender Roles in Education from Stephen Marche's "The Unmade Bed"
Through dissections of bugs over a century ago, Nettie Stevens changed the field of genetics with her detailed evidential notes of her findings of the XX and XY chromosomes. This also teaches students an important lesson about the skill of note-taking—her research notes were the necessary proof that led to Nettie Stevens receiving credit for the discovery!
Use Technology to Observe Molecules with Dorothy Hodgkin
Can you imagine waiting 17 years before being awarded the Nobel Prize? That's what happened to Dorothy Hodgkin. Using x-ray crystallography, she mapped the structure of cholesterol, which led to the creation of synthetic penicillin. Dorothy Hodgkin's perseverance is a strength students should not only admire but strive for.
Because technology allowed Hodgkin to make those discoveries, engage students in an activity by showing them an image of an x-ray crystallography machine. Provide many pieces of cardboard, and ask them to create a cardboard model. This will increase their interest in learning and forge a connection to Hodgkin's accomplishments.
Cure Disease with Alice Ball
Are you prepared to give your students leprosy for a science lesson? Open class by having a few preselected students exiled to only one corner the room—just talk to them in advance so they're not shocked! Tell the rest of the class that no one can touch or talk to those students because of their condition. Then lead the class in a discussion about the importance of research and cures!
Afterward, have your students read about Alice Ball and her accomplishments. Ball was the first woman and woman of color to receive a master's degree from the University of Hawaii, and she created a treatment for leprosy. At this point, the exiled students can be "cured" and asked to join the discussion, sharing how it felt to be excluded. This is a great connection to science and bullying as well.
Discover Dinosaurs with Mary Anning
Roaring and roaming, dinosaurs bring excitement to all—or is that just me? As the earth science unit and discussion of fossils begin, prepare a fossil dig by filling plastic or aluminum tubs with soil. Bury clues about Mary Anning, such as images and incomplete sentences or paragraphs from a reading. In teams of four, students can work together to solve the identity of the mystery paleontologist by finding the pieces and putting them together.
At the early age of 12, Anning discovered the first complete ichthyosaur skeleton. She was also the first to discover a new species, the plesiosaur. Sadly, because this occurred in the 1800s, she wasn't allowed to publish her findings because she was a woman. It's a good thing we know better now!
Join NASA with Annie Easley
Annie Easley became one of the first rocket scientists in the United States, which was a truly amazing accomplishment for an African-American woman at the time. While working for NASA, she had many titles: mathematician, computer scientist, and rocket scientist. During the 1970s, her main focus was on different ways to create fuel, such as electric batteries. Today's hybrid cars are actually based on Annie's founding research!
Further Reading: Supporting Girls in STEM Is One of the Biggest Education Trends
During a physics unit, have students read a selection from Hidden Figures, a book about the history of NASA's black women scientists. You could also end the unit by showing a clip from the recent, award-winning movie!
Get Particular with Sau Lan Wu
Inspire your students just like particle physicist Sau Lan Wu was inspired by Marie Curie, another woman scientist! Sau Lan Wu received her doctorate from Harvard and then co-discovered three particles: the charm quark, the gluon, and the Higgs boson. She's a great subject for a research project. Have students gather data about Wu's life and her accomplishments with subatomic particles, which has given the world greater insight into the structure and properties of matter.
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This is only a starting point. There are many more women scientists to discover and share with your class. All these women have had varying degrees of obstacles to overcome, and their perseverance is a commendable example that all students can learn from.