Reading Together

Storybook Guide Based on Helaine Becker’s “Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13”

Explore math while reading and talking about this storybook.

Topic:

Activity Summary

Use this storybook guide with the book “Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13.” Many public libraries have this book. This is a Mathical Award honor book.

Reading guide

About the Story

Katherine Johnson wanted to become a research mathematician. But she faced many obstacles, including segregated schools and a lack of job opportunities for women. Katherine began teaching elementary school. In the 1950s, the new U.S. space program hired women mathematicians, including Katherine, who calculated—by hand!— numbers essential for designing the spaceship. Later, she was responsible for plotting the route home for the damaged Apollo 13 spaceship. She had achieved her goal.

Words to Learn

universe, research mathematician (someone who makes discoveries about math), catapulted, graph, reputation, astronaut, triumph

About the Math and More

As children read the book, they can learn about these topics:

  • A simple model explains a rocket ship’s trajectory in space.
  • Black children faced discrimination in school.
  • Girls and women were (wrongly) not considered capable of doing mathematics or engineering (or much else!).
  • Although very angry at the discrimination she faced, Katherine persisted to overcome these obstacles and make a vital contribution to the space program.

Math Talk During Reading

  • TALK ABOUT THE JOY OF KATHERINE’S WORK
    Why do you think Katherine enjoyed working on math problems, even though they were often very hard?
  • TALK ABOUT MOTIVATION about motivation:
    Have you been blocked from doing something you really wanted to do? How did you react?
  • TALK ABOUT SCHOOL DISCRIMINATION
    In Katherine’s time, Black children were not allowed to go to school with White children in the United States. How do you think the Black children felt about this? How do you think the White children felt?
  • TALK ABOUT JOB LIMITATIONS FOR WOMEN
    Discuss how many women had (and still have) difficulty going into certain professions. “Do you know of any women who are not teachers or nurses? What do they do?”

Try to come up with some of your own questions and comments, too!

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