Discovering Native American Contributions to the U.S. Space Program

Summary

Students will learn about the lives of Native Americans who have made significant impacts to the U.S. Space Program and other STEM fields, including Mary Golda Ross and John Herrington. Students will make predictions about coin elements, research Native American historical figures, and create a biography and/or social media profile to represent their accomplishments.

Coin Type(s)

  • Dollar

Coin Program(s)

  • Native American $1 Coins

Objectives

Students will learn about the lives of Native Americans who have made significant impacts to the U.S. Space Program, including Mary Golda Ross and John Herrington. Students will make predictions about coin elements, research Native American historical figures, and create a biography and/or social media profile to represent their accomplishments.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies
  • Language Arts

Minor/supporting Subject Area Connections

  • Science
  • Art

Grades

  • 3rd
  • 4th
  • 5th
  • 6th
  • 7th
  • 8th

Class Time

  • Sessions: Three
  • Session Length: 30-45 minutes
  • Total Length: 91-120 minutes

Groupings

  • Whole group
  • Small groups
  • Individual work

Background Knowledge

  • Students will have a basic knowledge of the following: 
    • Outer space
    • Space programs
    • Social media
    • Biographies
    • Making predictions
    • Research and analysis

Terms and Concepts

  • Native American
  • U.S. Space Program
  • NASA
  • Astronaut
  • Spacewalk
  • Atlas-Agena rocket
  • Gemini space program
  • Apollo space program
  • Velocity
  • Equation
  • Orbit
  • Planet

Materials

Preparations

  • Bookmark the links above in advance
  • Make copies of the following worksheets
    • Coin Component Prediction Chart
    • Historical Figures Biography Worksheet
    • Historical Figures Social Media Worksheet
    • Historical Figures Biography Rubric

Worksheets and Files

Lesson Steps

Session One (30-45 minutes)

  1. Explain to students the premise of the game show What's My Line? It is a 1950s game show that featured mystery guests and a panel of celebrities have to guess what their "line" is (i.e., occupation) after asking the mystery guest a series of questions.
  2. Have students watch an excerpt from the 1958 game show, featuring Mary Golda Ross. Start the video at 2:19 and stop at 9:25 (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFlvpMf-dIo). 
  3. Ask the students why they think the host of the show was "surprised" by Ms. Ross' occupation, and why it took so long for panelists to guess her occupation. Point out that Ms. Ross was not only a hidden figure because of her gender, but also because of her heritage – she was Native American. Explain that many Native Americans made significant contributions to the U.S. Space Program, including John Herrington, as well as other STEM-related fields.
  4. Explain that the U.S. Mint prints one new $1 coin every year that honors the contributions of Native Americans to the United States. Show students the 2019 Native American $1 Coin (link: www.usmint/coins/coin-medal-programs/native-american-dollar-coins/2019-american-indians-in-space) that features the contributions of Native Americans to the U.S. Space Program. Describe the various components of the coin, and using a table graph or similar chart, have students make predictions about what each of the symbols stands for. Use the worksheet Coin Component Prediction Chart worksheet, as needed.
    1. Example #1: 
      1. Component: The woman working
      2. Prediction: The woman played an important role in space travel.
      3. Evidence: The woman's name is Mary Golda Ross of the Cherokee Nation. She was one of only 40 engineers for Lockheed's Advanced Development Program, a top secret think tank. Much of her work is classified. It helped develop the Agena spacecraft for the Gemini and Apollo space programs.
    2. Example #2:
      1. Component: Math equation
      2. Prediction: The math equation has to do with velocity.
      3. Evidence: The equation is used to determine the energy needed to leave Earth and reach the orbit of a distance planet.
  5. Have students read the description of the coin independently or as a whole group on the USMint.gov website (link: www.usmint.gov/learn/kids/coins-and-medals/native-american-dollar-coins/2019-american-indians-in-the-space-program) or the Smithsonian American Indian Magazine article (link: https://www.americanindianmagazine.org/story/mary-golda-ross-she-reached-stars).
  6. After reading, have students fill in the evidence column in the chart about each component of the coin. Then, have students adjust their original predictions to reflect the evidence they found.
    1. Example #1: 
      1. Component: The woman working
      2. Prediction: The woman played an important role in space travel.
      3. Evidence: The woman's name is Mary Golda Ross of the Cherokee Nation. She was one of only 40 engineers for Lockheed's Advanced Development Program, a top secret think tank. Much of her work is classified. It helped develop the Agena spacecraft for the Gemini and Apollo space programs.
      4. Adjustment: Mary Golda Ross (Cherokee Nation) was the first Native American engineer in the U.S. Space Program. She was the only woman engineer at a top secret think tank. Her work made it possible for many space missions, including the Gemini and Apollo programs.
    2. Example #2: 
      1. Component: Math equation
      2. Prediction: The math equation has to do with velocity and was written by the woman.
      3. Evidence: The equation is used to determine the energy needed to leave Earth and reach the orbit of a distance planet.
      4. Adjustment: The equation has to do with speed, orbit velocity, gravitational parameters, mass, and distance. It was not written by Mary Gold Ross, but it is similar to some of the things she has done, many of which are classified.

Session Two (30-45 minutes)

  1. Review the 2019 Native American $1 coin, and discuss the various components of the coin and their symbolism. Discuss that many Native Americans have made contributions to the U.S. Space Program.
  2. Break students into small groups and either allow them to choose or assign them a Native American that made a significant contribution to the U.S. Space Program or other STEM related fields. Disseminate informational materials and/or articles about the figures. Choices include:
    1. Mary Golda Ross (Cherokee Nation): 
      1. Article #1: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/little-known-math-genius-helped-america-reach-stars-180962700/
      2. Article #2: https://www.americanindianmagazine.org/story/mary-golda-ross-she-reached-stars
      3. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwZPVgdLQ_E
    2. John Herrington (Chickasaw Nation): 
      1. Bio: https://hof.chickasaw.net/Inductees/2002/John-Herrington.aspx
      2. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usAMdPfvGYo
  3. Have students either write a 4-5 sentence biography describing their assigned person, or fill out the Historical Figures Biography Worksheet.
  4. Have each group share out what they learned about each person and the impact they had to STEM-related fields or careers.

Session Three (30-45 minutes)

  1. Review some of the information learned about each of the highlighted Native Americans featured on the Native American $1 coin.
  2. Explain what it means to be 'first' and what issues they may have faced. "What challenges did they have? How do you think that made them feel? What obstacles did they face? How did they overcome them?"
  3. Pass out the Historical Figures Social Media Worksheet. Explain to students that they will be composing a social media profile for a person of their choice. They will need to include basic biographic information, as well as information about their likes and preferences. Students will also compose social media posts of what they think their assigned figure would say on social media. This can include thoughts, opinions, or inspirational quotes. It can also include a picture that students draw or describe to include in their post.
    1. Example: 
      1. Name: Mary Golda Ross
      2. Username: @reach4thestars
      3. Location: Los Altos, California
      4. Birthday: August 9, 1908
      5. Hometown: Park Hill, Oklahoma
      6. Bio: "First female engineer @Lockheed's @SkunkWorks supporting the @AgenaRocket program to #Mars and #Venus. Proud #CherokeeNation member. #STEMeducation advocate. #Interplanaryspaceflight and #math lover. @BIA alumn. @UCLA grad. @NMAI supporter."
    2. Social media post examples: 
      1. "Proud to be part of the grand opening of the @NMAI in Washington, D.C. Excited to continue to highlight the legacy and contributions of #NativeAmericans for generations to come."
      2. "New @OECD study finds that women account for just 24% of graduates in #engineering. We need to increase that by inspiring young female and minority students to pursue #STEM fields."
      3. "'If I can do it, so can you.' - Speech to young Native American females at the annual #STEMglobal conference"

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Allow students to use clip art or other images (i.e., magazines) instead of drawing their own.
  • Allow students to use a scribe to complete the worksheet, or present it orally.
  • Allow students the opportunity to type the responses instead of writing by hand.

Enrichments/Extensions

  • Have students write a journal entry in lieu of a social media profile.
  • Have students prepare and present a short skit or play of either John Herrington or Mary Golda Ross when they were young children.
  • Have students research other Native Americans who have made significant contributions to STEM-related fields, including aviation. Have them complete a bio and/or social media profile for each historical figure. Examples include: Mary Riddle (Clatsop and Quinault Tribes), Pearl Carter Scott (Chickasaw Nation), and Madine Pulaski (Cherokee Nation).
  • Have students research other Native American contributions to the U.S. by exploring the subjects of other commemorative coins and medals that the U.S. Mint produces.

Assess

Evaluate using the Historical Figures Biography Rubric and students' participation to assess how well they have met the lesson objectives.

Common Core Standards

Discipline: Language Arts

Domain: Anchor Standards for Reading

Grade(s): K-12 Cluster: Key Ideas and Details

Standards:

  • CCRA.R.1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inference from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Discipline: Language Arts

Domain: Anchor Standards for Reading

Grade(s): K-12

Cluster: Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

  • CCRA.R.7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Discipline: Language Arts

Domain: Anchor Standards for Writing

Grade(s): K-12

Cluster: Text Types and Purposes

Standards

  • CCRA.W.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Discipline: Language Arts

Domain: Anchor Standards for Writing

Grade(s): K-12

Cluster: Research to Build and Present Knowledge

Standards

  • CCRA.W.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Discipline: Language 

Domain: Anchor Standards for Language

Grade(s): K-12

Cluster: Conventions of Standard English

Standards

  • CCRA.L.1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking
  • CCRA.L.2: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing

National Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any National Standards.