Unit 8

Skills Building: Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 12 (3-5)

Unit 8 Skills Building

Written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Pre Reading Questions

  1. Taking initiative means taking charge and doing something independently,
    people who take initiative act before others do. When is a time that you
    have taken initiative?
  2. When might it be important to take initiative in your life?
  3. Have you ever heard of Apollo 13 or the mathematician Katherine Johnson? Have you seen the movie, Hidden Figures? What do you know about Katherine Johnson?

Post Reading Questions

  1. Katherine faced many obstacles in her life in order to reach her dream of being a research mathematician but she never gave up despite these obstacles. What were some of the obstacles that she faced? How do you think she might have felt when she was faced with these obstacles?
  2. How did Katherine Johnson show initiative both in her life and with the Apollo 13 mission?
  3. As a girl, Katherine took the initiative to follow her dreams and had the support of her family. What is something you dream of doing when you are older? How can you start working toward that dream?
  4. In the last pages of the book titled “More About Katherine”, it says that despite her impressive achievements, she never liked to take credit because “We always worked as a team” and “It was never just one person.” How do others help you and how do you help others reach their goals?

Creative Enrichment Activity: I’m a Star! Pencil Toppers and Growth Goals (3-5)

Overview: In the books, Mae Among the Stars and Counting on Katherine, we saw two women who worked extremely hard to reach their goals. Both women showed initiative and work hard toward their goals. What do you want to be when you grow up and what do you need to do to get there? How can you take initiative in your life to reach those goals?

Download the Template

● Pre-sharpened or mechanical pencils (1 per student to keep)
Star template printed on cardstock (1 copy of each star per student)
● Color pencils
● Glue sticks
● Tape
● Ribbon (optional)

Duration: 40 – 45 minutes (for staff: 5 pre-activity set up and 15-20 minute prep)
● 5 minutes: Introduce the activity using the book and examples
● 5-10 minutes: Cut out both star templates.
● 15 minutes: Write goals and what i s needed to achieve goals. Color.
● 5 minutes: Glue stars together with pencil between them. Add ribbon (optional).
● 5 minutes: Clean up activity
● 5 minutes: Reflect


  1. Before the activity, the staff should print out the templates and cut the templates so that each student has a star template. For older students, do not pre-cut the template. For younger students, pre-cut
    templates or cut a square around the star to reduce craft time.
  2. Introduce the activity, use the book to have students start to think about their goal, what they want to be when they grow up, and what they need to do to get there.
  3. Students cut out the star templates.
  4. Students draw and write what they want to be when they grow up on one star and what they need to achieve their goal on the other star.
  5. Glue the stars together with the pencil sandwiched in the middle.
  6. Tie a ribbon around the base of the star/top of the pencil (optional).
  7. Clean up.
  8. Reflect.

Reflection Questions

  • Have students share their stars and goals with the person next to them. Then share a few with the whole group.
  • Was it hard to think of what you wanted to be when you grew up?
  • What are some of the steps you will need to take to reach that goal?
  • Who do you think can help you reach that goal?
  • Did you notice any of your classmates with the same goal as you?
Star Pencil Topper Front
Star Pencil Topper Back