The current cinematic theatre is saturated with dramatic special effects and fantastical plot lines. In a world where continuous action is required to sell tickets, it was shocking to observe a movie centered around the value of mathematics succeed so spectacularly. In the 2016 film, Hidden Figures, the courageous and admirable battle against racism and sexism undoubtedly cultivates the film’s captivating nature.
However, the foundation of the screenplay was centered on the role of math in society’s greatest achievements. Elevating this facet of the film, the general population is unknowingly familiar with the principles explored. Deconstructing the mathematical principals utilized to send the first Americans into space exposes the value of math, at all levels of application, in complex challenges.
To evaluate the foundation of the film, a synopsis is required. Hidden Figures is a biographical film, detailing three black female mathematicians who aided NASA in winning the Space Race. Katherine Jones, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson battle racism, sexism, and a total disregard for intellectual capabilities as they challenge adversity in the name of their country. Both the historical figures and the production company succeeded, as the space launch and box office sales were a complete success (IMDb, 2016). The three woman were an unsuspecting asset for NASA late 1950s. Likewise, mathematics was an unsuspecting asset for Fox 2000 Pictures today.
As aforementioned, mathematics plays a fundamental role in life’s challenges. This sentiment is exposed in Hidden Figures through three principles of varying levels of complexity. Foremost, the rudimentary principle of verifying work was emphasized at several instances throughout the movie. Repetitively, Al Harrison, the program’s director, instructed Katherine Johnson to review Stafford’s work (Schroeder ; Melfi, 2015).
NASA was cognoscente of the dependence on accuracy. American lives were at stake. Subsequently, all work was checked and double-checked. This doctrine is familiar to all Americans. Reviewing one’s own work is instructed in the classroom, at all ages, and displays marked success in improving performance (Pape, Bell, & Yetkin, 2003). The importance of checking calculations is referenced in just the third section of the first chapter of Mathematical Ideas, underscoring its importance (Miller, et al., 2016).
The continuous imposition on Katherine Jones was observed by the audience, and sympathized with personally, building viewer interest. However, revision was not the only mathematical principle observed in Hidden Figures. Additional rudimentary pillars were present.
Rocket science is not exclusively built on complex mathematical principals and theories. As noted, peer and personal revision were mainstays in the analysts approach. Critical thinking was an additional fundamental principle explored in the film. Critical thinking describes the ability to draw conclusions from given information, analyzing thinking with a view to improve it, and synthesizing data to meet objectives (Paul & Elder, 2005).
Throughout all points of the film, the main characters are assessing how they are viewing the challenges at hand, and tackling them in the most effective way. The use of critical thinking is evident as Mary enters the wind tunnel after testing a launch pod prototype. The experiment fails as the prototype begins to deconstruct. As the other engineers are investigating whether air drag or friction generation is a more important issue, Mary evaluates how to solve both problems with one solution. She insists flat head rivets would be an effective measure, and is promptly promoted to the engineering team (Schroeder & Melfi, 2015). Critical thinking is also observed as Dorothy foresees her value to NASA deteriorating.
As NASA implemented IBM computers to aid in operations, the need for human calculators was quickly disappearing. Dorothy used her critical thinking skills to identify the peril of her future, as well as to identify a future outlet of utility. She promptly teaches herself, and her colleagues, how to properly code the computer systems; a task requiring critical thinking skills (Jonassen, Carr, & Yueh, 1998). However, this implementation of critical thinking is not the only instance observed. Critical thinking also led the analysts to the final mathematical principle addressed, the Euler Method.
NASA was tasked with several challenges regarding the space launch. Perhaps the most difficult was predicting a twenty square mile reentry zone. The analysts and engineers were struggling to concoct means to deliver this estimate. Once again, utilizing critical thinking skills, Katherine delivered a profound theory; utilize the Euler Method. The Euler Method is a means of estimation utilizing differential equations. This theory utilizes successive estimations built off very small ranges of error. This allows for the slight variability experienced in complex equations, without significantly damaging the final result.
The equation relies on basic mathematical principles, utilizing logarithmic and exponential laws to create valid differentials (Lempuo, 1995). These laws are deconstructed in basic level textbooks, such as chapter seven of Mathematical Ideas (Miller, et al,. 2016). Further adding to the fascinating nature of the film, Hidden Figures displayed that the early development of rocket science was fuled by theories taught to children and young adults.
Hidden Figures was a surprise at several different levels. Foremost, the film shocked speculators, as a movie grounded in mathematical principles garned widespread success. However, perhaps more fascinating, was the exposition of the math involved. The film depicts the first American man sent to space; and depicts the basic mathematical principles that achieved this feat. Revision, critical thinking, and Euler’s method launched a man through the Earth’s atmosphere. Thankfully, the film weaved the utilization of these principles in with the battle against racism and sexism, exposing the work of mathmaticians in one of society’s greatest achievements.
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