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Math, Measurement, Civil Rights, and Pancakes: A Recipe from Rosa Parks

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Rosa Parks at the Poor Peoples March at Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. Warren K. Leffler, 1968

This post was written by Amara L. Alexander, the 2019-20 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Library of Congress

Rosa Louise McCauley Parks is best known as a public figure: Her decision to stay seated on a bus during the era of Jim Crow laws launched the Montgomery bus boycott and fueled the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. The documents in the Rosa Parks Papers at the Library of Congress, however, allow students to explore the private side of this civil rights legend.

Take a peek at this recipe. After covering the title, ask students to predict what this recipe is for. Students may be amused to know the recipe is for pancakes and was created by a prominent American. Prompt students to think deeply about the recipe. Use the primary source analysis tool and selected questions from the Teacher’s Guide: Analyzing Primary Sources to help facilitate student-led and whole group conversations.

Deepen discussion by asking:

  • What do you notice but can’t explain?
  • Why do you think this item is so important?
  • If somebody made this today, what would be different?
  • Where do you think this recipe came from ?
  • Who do you think this recipe was created for?

The recipe can also introduce concepts from across the curriculum. It could be used to introduce measurement to students. Draw students’ attention to the abbreviations of the measurements and dive deeper into a measurement lesson. Bring in measuring tools and, if time allows, the ingredients listed to create Mrs. Parks’ pancakes. Another idea: Students can practice multiplying whole numbers and fractions to double or triple the pancake recipe. In social studies, direct students to research pancake recipes from across the globe and compare and contrast them to Mrs. Parks’ recipe.

Next, share this image. Lead students into a think-pair-share discussion about the person. Invite students to list the name of the individual and two facts about her. Share out student’s feedback and discover students’ awareness of the photograph. Referring to the recipe, inform students that the recipe belonged to Mrs. Rosa Parks. Not only is she known for her courage and leadership within the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but she also enjoyed making pancakes. Mrs. Parks was active in her community and remained committed to civil rights issues beyond the boycott. The Library of Congress makes the Rosa Parks Papers available for students and teachers to learn more about her life and legacy. There is also an exhibition documenting the life and legacy of Mrs. Parks at the Library of Congress.

Rosa Parks has left an immeasurable mark on American history. Her legacy continues to reach generations teaching Americans, young and old, the significance of truth and justice.


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