Feb 06, 2022

Math Monday: Highlighting Black Mathematicians in the Classroom

This Math Monday, we’re celebrating Black History Month with profiles of three amazing Black mathematicians that you can bring into your classroom.


Find these profiles - and 30 more! - in the Math in Action slide deck!


Katherine Johnson

You may know her as the inspiration for the hit movie Hidden Figures - Katherine Johnson was an astounding mathematician whose accomplishment in her 33-year tenure at NASA included calculating the trajectories for the Apollo 11 mission.

Watch the video to learn more:

 Discussion Questions:

  • Johnson says "Math: you're either right or you’re wrong. That I liked about it.” Why do you think that objectivity was important to Johnson, given the obstacles she faced?
  • In what ways was Johnson a trailblazer?
  • What attributes do you think enabled Johnson to be highly successful at NASA?
  • Why do you think Johnson’s accomplishments went largely unrecognized until recently?


Benjamin Banneker

Benjamin Banneker was an accomplished mathematician, urban planner, and writer in the eighteenth century. He gained fame initially for hand-building an exceptional clock, then for publishing an almanac that included weather predictions, agricultural guides, and political writings. The success of this almanac led to Banneker’s correspondence with President Jefferson, where he advocated for the abolition of slavery, and his role as a city planner designing Washington DC. 

Watch the video to learn more:

 Discussion Questions:

  • Which of Banneker’s accomplishments do you think was the most significant? Why?
  • In what ways did Banneker use math to succeed in different fields?


John Urschel

John Urschel is a mathematician, a former NFL offensive lineman, and the author of Mind and Matter: A Life in Math and Football. He recently earned his Ph.D. from MIT with his thesis Graphs, Principal Minors, and Eigenvalue Problems. Starting in Fall 2022, he will be a Junior Fellow at Harvard University. 

Watch the video to learn more:


Discussion Questions:

  • How does Urschel describe mathematics?
  • What attributes do you think enabled Urschel to be highly successful in both football and mathematics?
  • Why does Urschel say it’s important for him to define himself as both Black and a mathematician?


Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources to continue celebrating Black mathematicians in the classroom:

About the Author

Kathryn Dawson

Kathryn (she/her) is excited to join the NGPF team after 9 years of experience in education as a mentor, tutor, and special education teacher. She is a graduate of Cornell University with a degree in policy analysis and management and has a master's degree in education from Brooklyn College. Kathryn is looking forward to bringing her passion for accessibility and educational justice into curriculum design at NGPF. During her free time, Kathryn loves embarking on cooking projects, walking around her Seattle neighborhood with her partner and dog, or lounging in a hammock with a book.

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