Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer

The story of how 200 years ago, the daughter of Lord and Lady Byron, Ada Lovelace, wrote the first program—before there was electricity to make it work. Working with Thomas Babbage on the Analytical Engine, she wrote step-by-step how Bernoulli numbers could be coded for the machine.

Diane Stanley, ©2016, Simon and Schuster, 978-1-4814-5249-6

Author Study

Because Diane Stanley has written at least 16 books about historic characters, now might be a good time to do an author’s study. Begin by gathering as many copies of all 16 of them as you can. For the purposes of an author study that can be done quickly, students should read 3 of them, not counting Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science. That would provide them 4 to consider. Below is a possible outline for their report:

  1. RANK
    List them from favourite (#1 ) to least favourite( #4). Summarize each book in a paragraph, with a sentence for each indicating why they are in that position.
    Write 20 sentence facts about Diane Stanley’s life. Check out her biography on her website, Wikipedia, Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, or Simon & Schuster. Include whether you think what she says about herself is reflected in her books.
  3. ART
    Check her website’s “art stuff” section for an explanation of how she does her illustrations. She has many styles of art. Of your 4 books, which did she illustrate herself? Which style of art did she use for each? Why do you think so?
    Take one of the books that has the least number of additional notes about the historic character and research 10 additional interesting facts she does not include. Do they make a difference to how you see the historic figure
    Approximately how many words are in each book. Count 3 of the pages from the middle of the book, total, and divide by 3 to create an average number per page. Multiply that by the number of pages in the book (Usually 32). If you have something interesting to say about a topic you have gathered information on, this is all you need to write to be an author who makes money for your work.

Unrecognized Women Scientists and Inventors

Historically there has been a lack of recognition of the work of women scientists beyond Ada Lovelace. It is often true as well that their work has actually been credited to others. It might make an interesting quick inquiry project for students to select a woman to investigate. What was the discovery or invention? What happened? Is there any pattern in what happened? And any other questions the class as a whole wishes to investigate.

  1. Rosalind Franklin: DNA. The Nobel prize went to Watson and Crick.
  2. Chien-Shiung Wu: Disproved the law of parity. The Nobel prize went to Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yan.
  3. Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Found the first pulsar and Antony Hewish and Martin Ryle got the Nobel prize.
  4. Esther Lederberg: Found a bacterial virus. Her husband and two others got the Nobel prize.
  5. Lisa Meitner: Found that atomic nuclei can split in two and Otto Hawn won the Nobel prize.
  6. Nellie Stevens: Discovered sex is determined by chromosomes. It was credited to Thomas Hunt Morgan.
  7. Margaret Knight: Patented a paper bag machine. The patent was stolen by a man although she won her case in court.
  8. Elizabeth Magie: Invented Monopoly (she patented it as The Landlord’s Game) and Parker Brothers credited it to themselves.
  9. Judy Malloy: Wrote the first hypertext fiction. That “first” was credited to Michael Joyce.
  10. Candace Pert: Found the receptor that allows opiates to lock onto the brain. Dr. Solomon Snyder received an award for it.
  11. Martha Coston: Designed the signal flares for US Naval vessels. Although he had been dead for 10 years, the patent went to her husband Franklin Coston.
  12. Mary Anning: Only now famous as a British finder of fossils. She was unrecognized because of her class and sex.
  13. Marthe Gautier: Discovered the cause of Down’s syndrome. Two men received the credit.
  14. Emmy Noether: Her theorem united two pillars of physics: symmetry in nature and the universal laws of conservation. Her foundational work was used in the textbook by B. L. van der Warden but not mentioned by him until his 7th edition.


Because we we are introducing programming at earlier ages, now might be a good time to explain the concept of an algorithm—an incredibly detailed set of directions to do something . We have “algorithms” in our head to do many automatic tasks such as tying shoes, getting dressed, typing, searching on the Internet, etc.

For a computer, an algorithm can’t miss a single tiny step. To avoid having to develop a part of the code each time, if you need to count something in the game you are designing, you “plug in” the “count this” algorithm, already designed by an earlier programmer.

The Khan Academy has a really good explanation of algorithms at here.

Ask students to write the most detailed algorithm they can for something like borrowing a book from the school library, or riding on public transit, or making the grilled cheese sandwich.  Students can suggest other possibilities and they can exchange and “debug” each others algorithms, by pointing out essential, simpler steps that need to be included or errors that would have them frying the sandwich before putting the cheese in.

For 13 creative writing ideas, click Ada Lovelace to download.


Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter

rumpelstiltskinThis fractured fairy tale begins after “Meredith” marries Rumpelstiltskin instead of the king and they have a daughter, Hope. Occasionally Rumpelstiltskin spins some gold and Hope takes it to the village. On hearing of it, the king captures her and demands she spin gold. She says she is not sure, but believes her grandfather did it with wheat. So it is planted across the kingdom. The peasants are happy, but the king still wants gold. Next, they try gold wool—again, the peasants are happy, but the king wants gold. Eventually, Hope becomes Prime Minister and, whenever the king becomes anxious, she takes him on a goodwill tour of his now happy kingdom.

Diane Stanley, ©1997, Harper Collins, ISBN 0-688-14327 – X

Parodies of Art

On the wall in the king’s castle are several clever parodies of some famous paintings. Since awareness of famous art and artists is part of the art curriculum, a study of the 8 pictures that are easily identified could be fun. Give each group of students a photocopy of one of the parodies from the book. Then give them a photocopy of the original piece of art, its name, and artist.

Ask students to prepare a one page “poster” on their picture. The poster would include both illustrations along with several paragraphs on the artist’s life, and a paragraph on the piece of art. Why was it created, when, for whom, where it is now, what is it a picture of, etc.?

Explain that an art reference “joke” like this is a literary reference—it is hard to get the joke without background knowledge. You can even talk about how there are a lot of “in jokes” that young people would not get in a movie like Shrek, but that adolescents and adults have background knowledge to catch the reference.

The pictures in the book are:

  • Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci
  • Birth if Venus, Botticelli
  • Laughing Cavalier, Frans Hals
  • Starry Night, Vincent Van Gogh
  • Seated Woman with a Wrist Watch, Pablo Picasso
  • George Washington, John Trumbell
  • Whistler’s Mother, James McNeil Whistler
  • Frederico de Montefeltro, Piero della Francesca

Compare the Tales

Working in pairs, ask students to generate the longest possible list of the characteristics the three stories they have in common—the original Rumpelstiltskin’s fairy tale, the version where Meredith marries Rumpelstiltskin instead of the ing, and the story of her daughter Hope. They should find at least the following qualities:

  • Rumpelstiltskin
  • Meredith
  • The King
  • The request to spin gold
  • The threat of death
  • The promise of marriage
  • Three tries
  • The palace

Students can also be asked to write their comparison when they have completed their list.

For 6 creative writing ideas, click Rumpelstiltskin’s Daughter to download.