by IEEE REACH Program Specialists
Originally Published: Feb. 11, 2022, Updated: Feb. 1, 2023
Happy Black History Month!
During Black History Month, we take a moment to honor the trailblazers who have made a lasting impact on our society. In the STEM field, there are few stories more inspiring than those of Black inventors who overcame adversity to change the world. Since the STEM fields were traditionally reserved for elites, while African Americans were marginalized by slavery and racism, the accomplishments of these Black inventors are even more impressive. At the same time, their lives can illuminate the interactions of science and technology with other social systems of the times they lived in, including politics, economics, identity, and class. The IEEE REACH Inquiry Units incorporate information about two fascinating African American inventors.
With the “Skyscraper” Inquiry Unit, students explore the impact skyscrapers had on society and how the development of these buildings spurred further technological advances. Within the lesson, you will find contributions of Black inventor Alexander Miles, who invented the final piece of technology that made the elevator suitable for skyscrapers in 1887 – the automatic elevator door, still in use today.
The Electric Light Inquiry Unit explores the connections between the invention, commercialization, and adoption of electric lighting, as well as alternative forms of artificial illumination in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The unit features a biography and video of Lewis Latimer, a child of escaped slaves who was instrumental in the development of the light bulb.
Outside of REACH, another useful resource for information about invention and technology is the Engineering and Technology History Wiki, sponsored by a consortium of engineering associations. The site maintains an index of its articles and primary materials on “African-American Pioneers” of technology.
Finally, an extremely useful book to consider is Black Inventors in the Age of Segregation by Rayvon Fouché (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), which can be found on Amazon and may also be available at your local library in print or electronic format.
We hope these resources provide useful ideas for you to integrate Black history into either your Social Studies or STEM curriculum this month. We highly recommend giving them a try in your classroom!
If you have any specific suggestions or questions about REACH resources or want to share your experiences using REACH in the classroom, we would love to hear from you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
About IEEE REACH Lesson Plans:
The program provides full lesson plans that are researched and vetted by Ph.D. Historians. The plans include formative and summative performance tasks, excerpted documents, and civic actions, which make the material relevant to students’ lives today. They are designed in an inquiry format that encompasses engaging students through compelling questions and inquiry, using and evaluating evidence to answer questions and communicate answers, and participating in civic actions. Inquiries are supported by primary sources, short engaging student videos, and hands-on activities.
All the program’s resources are available via the REACH website and meet both the United States and International education standards. These standards include, in the U.S., the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) C3 (College, Career, and Civics) standards and the Social Studies Common Core standards, in addition to the Next Generation Science Standards. They also meet the International Technology and Engineering Educators Associations’ (ITEEA) Standards for Technology and Engineering Literacy or STEL.