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This curriculum guide to Hidden Figures, like other Journeys in Film resources, is based on a few fundamental beliefs:

  • That a well-made, relevant film is an excellent way to convey information and teach students important critical thinking skills.
  • That an interdisciplinary approach will reach students who have different learning modalities and interests. That talented teachers interacting with real students on a daily basis are best positioned to write good lesson plans.

The first few lessons in this guide will help students understand the context in which the events of Hidden Figures occur. Designed primarily for social studies classes, they may be used either before or after you screen the film, depending on how much prior knowledge of the era your students have.

Lesson 1 teaches students about the Cold War, which dominated foreign policy in the years following World War II: the competition for political and economic dominance between the United States and the Soviet Union, each with its own “spheres of influence.”

Lesson 2 dissects one facet of this struggle, the space race that began in earnest with the Soviet launch of Sputnik. Whether for fear of nuclear weapons from space or just the appearance of falling behind in technology, the United States government wanted progress immediately; this urgency gave the women of “West Computing” their opportunity.

Lesson 3 is concerned with the strong patterns of segregation that had persisted from the end of Reconstruction into the mid-20th century in the South, and with the efforts to resist them. From the Freedom Riders and the marchers at Selma to Dorothy Vaughan’s “borrowing” of a library book and Mary Jackson’s insistence on being admitted to classes in an all-white high school, the civil rights movement would eventually reshape the lives of millions.

Lesson 4 is a viewer-response activity for language arts classes, to be used as students watch the film and afterward. Students also use the film as the basis for a character study, consider the various meanings of the title, and discuss the multiple interwoven themes of the film.

Lessons 5 and 6 are STEM lessons. Lesson 5 is a geometry lesson that begins with a series of problems through which students become familiar with scientific notation. From there they go on to a study of conic sections, in order to better understand the orbits and trajectories calculated by the “human computers.”

In Lesson 6, which is designed for physics classes, students consider the quantitative effects that forces have on the motion of an object and program in GlowScript to model data. They also consider the critical question of how work will change as automation becomes ever more widespread and sophisticated.

Lesson 7 considers the film as a work of art, constructed with purpose and skill, in a film literacy lesson about the use of scripts and the choices directors make.

Lesson 8 uses the film to motivate students to learn more about the history of women in science and the opportunities available to them.

Although it is possible to use all of these lessons, most teachers will select just one or several to use with their classes. You might wish to consider a team approach built around Hidden Figures for a memorable experience for your students.

Ready to continue the dialogue while awaiting the full curriculum? Enjoy our Hidden Figures discussion guide.


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