Groundhog Day, The Weather and "Hidden Figures": A New Movie & True Story Featuring STEM/Gender/Diversity - Part One

29906170001_4734016812001_video-still-for-video-4733807271001If you haven’t seen that old classic movie “Groundhog Day” we highly recommend it! No, it doesn’t tell the viewer how to get rid of winter quicker. But it does provide a great lesson in life: We can each of us be better than we are.

In the case of Bill Murray, the star of the movie, it comes down to his slowly becoming a better man, learning to play the piano and eventually earning and deserving the love of Andie McDowell, his weather show producer. A happy ending does not come quickly to his Phil Connors in this movie. In the words of that old TV commercial, Mr. Connors had to “earn” it.

jea 1020 Grand Day ParadeSo what do movies have to do with winters? On our MN “frozen tundra”, as we like to call it here, being at 45º latitude (that’s halfway to the North Pole!), we either go to or stream a good movie, or we head to downtown St. Paul and watch the Winter Carnival Torchlight Parade.

“If you can’t beat winter, join it!” becomes our motto. Or, you can go to a good movie with a good message. We chose the latter. And that brings us to this blog.

thYour RE@L Blogmeisters have been extolling the future benefits of a STEM/STEAM based-curriculum. We’ve also emphasized the importance of gender in these new Project-Based curricula. It’s imperative for girls and young women to be a part of this new learning. It can lead to a satisfying career, and better tomorrows.

roger ebert reuters corr 650A few frigid nights ago we chose to go and see a recently-released, feel-good, think-good and do-good movie called, “Hidden Figures.” It’s been praised by none other than the popular website RogerEbert.com. “Thumbs up!”

In the words of their reviewer Odie Henderson: Hopefully, “Hidden Figures” will inspire women and people of color (and … men too) with its gentle assertion that there’s nothing unusual nor odd about people besides White men being good at math. …. It deserves to make as much money as any planet in the Marvel Universe does. This is one of the year’s best films.”

Who says our dreams can’t come true? So true, that they become real and they end up in a movie about making the impossible become possible!

That is what happened to three young black women, back in the early ’60′s. We emphasized the word “black” to emphasize another dimension that we believe STEM needs to address: diversity. We need students of color taking STEM/STEAM too. All our racial groups need to be represented.

we-choose-to-go-to-the-moonHere’s the background story: Back in 1961, then President John F. Kennedy told the world that the USA would put a man on the moon! Those words were almost unheard of before that, being the stuff of dreams and sci-fi authors, some of whom opined the moon was green cheese!

But, first we had to put a man in space. Amazingly, and in less than two years, John Glenn was in space, and 6 years later, in 1968, we had two astronauts on the moon. But first things first.

HF2It all started with a young black girl, Katherine Johnson, who learned how to do her mathematics in school so well that she ended up choosing a mathematics major in college. Soon after graduation she was hired by IBM and assigned to helping NASA meet its moonstruck goals.

Click this movie trailer graphic to the left to view the video that introduces this powerful story.

One of their first tasks was how do we  locate where our slightly used space capsules, occupied not by a dog, but by a young astronaut, which, after an early orbit or two, splashes into the sea. Suffice it to say that it was imperative to find the capsule before it sunk along with one of our new young heroes.

th-1So the IBM program was written to calculate the orbit and find the young astronaut, John Glenn, quickly, thanks to the help of Ms. Johnson. Murphy’s law works there too and sometimes things go terribly wrong with computers and their programs. It’s even worse when the capsule is in its final orbit to the sea.

Katherine and her young black female team whipped out their slide rules, gigantic chalkboard and ladder, and…..well, we’re not saying any more. Go see the movie! Bring your daughter of any age old enough to understand. Talk it up in your schools, especially among girls and young women of color. Yes, it’s wonderful to also bring boys and young men, too.

STEM 3 Bubbles

   We will be back next week with the rest of the story:

We’ve got 3 RE@L Bubbles to share with you. IBM wants to reprise their act with the rest of their story. And more!

They are joined by the NY Times, all of whom are working on an Augmented Reality STEM-Based project. We hope their stories will put all these young learners in a virtual space suit walking on whichever planet is next. It’s Mars, we hope! STEM fun and great career challenges will fill their futures.

By the way, it’s 25º F here today, but the sun is shining. Enter your local temp by clicking on the “Comments to RE@L” below. Oh, and feel free to add any questions, comments or weather reporting you wish.

 

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Tom King & Dale LaFrenz

Dr. Tom King has served for over 40 years as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saint Thomas in the School of Education. The Saturn School of Tomorrow, formerly a St. Paul Public School, and his visionary response to educational reform, was a lighthouse on the frontier of school change. Tom was an experienced high school teacher of mathematics, a school administrator, and Director of Technology for the St. Paul MN Public Schools. He is also a member of the RE@L Team. Dr. Dale LaFrenz is Chairman of RE@L and one of the founders of MECC Software who brought “Oregon Trail” to millions of K12 kids everywhere. He has written extensively on the history and evolution of Ed Tech. His work in forging new paths for MECC’S “edutainment" software was instrumental in connecting school-markets, kids, teachers and consumer-markets/kids/parents, and now serves as the new launching pad for RE@L apps and software.