Why Every Teacher Should Go See “Hidden Figures”
Last month I saw the movie “Hidden Figures” and I was so incredibly inspired.
I am a former English teacher, so my love is words and writing and reading. But I ventured to see this movie because it empowers women and sheds light on some pretty amazing mathematicians who had the power to make this word-loving English teacher a fan of math. I mean, as a teacher I’ve always loved data, but for me, seeing this movie reinforced why numbers are just as important as words.
We look at data a lot in education, but most of the time I believe we are just looking at numbers and not really grasping the full story data can tell us.
Data does tell a story.
Sometimes it’s a story we don’t want to hear; sometimes it’s a story we already know and we’re just validated. Sometimes it’s a story we never gave any thought and a whole new path is opened for us. If the data you look at regularly is just numbers on a screen and it’s not telling you a story, maybe some insights from “Hidden Figures” will help.
In the movie, the main character is NASA “human computer” Katherine Johnson. She is responsible for computing a math problem that would safely bring John Glenn back from orbit. The data she was looking at was extremely important, because it meant keeping John Glenn safe and bringing him home. From the film, we learn that data does 3 important things.
Data gives us direction.
As teachers, we often believe we already know what direction we need to go with our students because of our experience and content knowledge. The truth is, you probably do know better than anyone what your students need just by being their teacher. But even the best teachers need support. Even the most seasoned and veteran teachers need a compass to keep them on the right track. Data can be your compass.
Data provides a foundation.
John Glenn got to the point where he would only trust Katherine Johnson’s computations. He needed her numbers to be his foundation to feel safe being an astronaut and to give him the best possible start to any launch and return he conducted. As teachers, we want what is best for our students. We want to give them the best possible start. Sometimes that means letting data become a foundation for us all to grow on.
Data gives us momentum.
There have been so many times in my teaching career that I knew my students were struggling with something; when I would find data that matched exactly what I thought, the validation was electrifying! I felt encouraged to dig deeper and find more ways to use data to help my students. When you look at data that makes a difference in your students’ lives, you can’t help but be energized and renewed.
Something else we learn from this incredible movie is the kind of mindset we need to have as teachers when we view our data. In the movie, you will see Katherine’s numbers help bring John Glenn back safely. What you don’t see though is Katherine’s numbers deciding whether or not John Glenn is a good astronaut. Katherine’s numbers tell a story, but not the whole story. Her numbers were a path for John Glenn to follow.
As teachers, if we are going to collect the data that makes a difference for ourselves and our students, we need to remember the data doesn’t tell our whole story; it tells one story. Additionally, data doesn’t define you or your students. Instead, data should define your path. Data defines where you need to go, where you need to help your students go. When you can shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset with data, you will not only be able to use data more fully – you will be able to truly grow from it.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that data is not the destination we are after. Data is the journey. We need to see data as dynamic and constant and cyclical. It’s not an end to the means. It’s the process itself! FLVS Flex teachers may struggle with collecting data because we have a revolving door of students. And not only do students come in at all times, but they leave at all times. And what’s more, they are all at different points in the course at any given time. This means that traditional methods of looking at data don’t always work for us.
When I was a brick and mortar teacher, I would take a group of students and track data for them from the beginning of the year until the end. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that method, but it just may not work for us here in the virtual setting. That doesn’t mean we can’t look at data though. It just means we have to look at data differently. And different doesn’t mean more difficult and different doesn’t mean more work. In fact, because we have a revolving door of students, the story our data tells us can be richer and fuller and make even more of a difference for us and our students.
So whether you’re a math teacher and you’re already in love with data, or if you’re like me and more of a words person, I have no doubt you’ll be inspired by the lessons learned from this empowering movie.
Teachers, how do you use data in your class and with your students? How does your data inspire you?
Post by former FLVS Teacher Amanda Schaffer