One of Our Own

Hats off to a reader who notified American Educator that former counselor and union member Thelma Mothershed Wair was one of the Little Rock Nine. The Fall 2007 issue of American Educator included a story commemorating the 50th anniversary of integration at Central High School in Little Rock, Ark. The issue featured instructional resources for teachers looking to supplement lessons on desegregation, as well as an interview with Ernest Green, the only senior in the Nine.

Wair was a junior when she enrolled in all-white Central High in 1957. She and her peers endured taunting from white classmates, but persevered and finished the academic year. By the fall of 1958 however, public high schools were closed in Little Rock because of a segregationist backlash. Wair never attended classes at Central again, but she eventually received her diploma from there (by mail), after having met the graduation requirements by taking correspondence classes and attending summer school in St. Louis, Mo. Wair later became a counselor for the East St. Louis schools and a member of the East St. Louis Federation of Teachers. She retired in 1994.

Wair has continued to participate in celebrations marking Central High's integration. In 1990, she attended an event in honor of the 100th anniversary of President Eisenhower's birth. Former Governor Faubus, who clashed with the President when he refused to allow the Nine to enter the school, also attended. Wair told the Illinois Union Teacher in 1994 that she never thought Faubus was aware of any of the Nine as individuals, but, as she re-calls, "he said, 'Hi, Thelma,' just like I was an old friend, so I guess he did know us, all the time."

Physics Becomes a Good Read

In The Story of Science: Einstein Adds a New Dimension, Joy Hakim weaves together the science, history, and personalities behind the major advances in physics over the past 100 years. The result is a fascinating tale that's much more accessible (and fun) than the typical science text. And, it's written with middle and high school students in mind.

This is Hakim's third book in her Story of Science series. The first two, Aristotle Leads the Way and Newton at the Center, are equally well researched and written. For excerpts, see "The Story of the Atom" in the Spring 2002 issue of American Educator and "Fantastic Journey: How Scientists Figured Out the Shape and Size of the Earth" in the Fall 2004 issue of American Educator.

A Greenhouse on the Moon

Scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) know they can put a man on the moon. But can he grow plants there, too? That's what NASA wants to find out with its Engineering Design Challenge for this school year.

NASA scientists hope that astronauts may one day be able to grow plants on the moon, which could be used to supplement meals. According to NASA's Web site, astronauts face serious challenges in growing plants there because the moon has no atmosphere, no liquid water, and none of the nutrient-rich soil we have on Earth. That's why NASA is asking students to design and build a growth chamber, a contraption that allows plants to grow with controlled temperature, light, humidity, among other things that plants normally need to grow on Earth.

Students must use their own materials—anything as simple as a soup can or as complex as a hydroponics box (in which plants are grown in mineral nutrients instead of soil)—to build the chambers. All that NASA will provide students are 50 regular seeds and 50 seeds that flew in space on the last space shuttle mission. The seeds will be available to the first 100,000 registrants who must be residents of the U.S., U.S. territories, or outlying areas. Guidelines for the challenge are posted at Registration is free.

Essentially, the chamber should function as a greenhouse in which seeds can germinate and grow into healthy plants to feed astronauts, make more seeds, and generate fresh oxygen. NASA's Web site explains that "only plants can recycle atmospheric carbon dioxide (exhaled by astronauts when they breathe) back into useful oxygen. Astronauts could run out of oxygen on long-duration missions unless they have plants to regenerate their atmosphere."

To have your students sign up for the challenge and learn more about why plant chambers are important to NASA, visit

Clara Barton for Roberto Clemente: Want to Trade?

If you're an elementary school teacher looking to liven up your lessons on American history, join the club—The Heroes Club. Created by businessman Brian Batson and educator Dennis Denenberg, The Heroes Club is a set of 25 trading cards that depicts 25 American heroes and the virtues they represent.

For instance, Benjamin Franklin's card explains that he represents the virtue of service and notes that he started many important services that we still use today: the public library, the postal system, and the police department. Clara Barton's card describes her as "a real-life action figure," who cared for wounded soldiers in the Civil War and started the American Red Cross, and, therefore, represents compassion.

Cesar Chavez's card, which also mentions Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers, associates him with perseverance for having championed migrant workers' rights. "Migrant workers harvest many of the fruits and vegetables we eat," the card reads. "In the 1960s migrant workers were paid $1 a day. They worked many hours (often in fields sprayed with poisons) and lived in shacks without electricity or running water. Cesar and Dolores made people aware of the terrible living and working conditions. They held meetings all over the country and told true stories of the migrants' poverty. Their perseverance in this struggle helped to improve the lives of migrant workers."

The cards serve as a fun—yet educational—way for teachers to take a break from history textbooks and use a relatively inexpensive supplement. A set of 25 cards costs $9.95.

A list of the heroes, their virtues, and pictures of the trading cards appear on The Heroes Club Web site, Worksheets and lesson plans, both of which prompt students to think about the challenges a particular hero faced and why our lives are better today because of that person, are also posted there.

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