What if? Physics Style

xkcdlogoThe cartoon blog xkcd.com calls itself “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” The comics range from mathematical romance:


to more explicitly math/physics related topics.


The author accurately warns “This comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors),” so it is probably not suitable as a global reading assignment, even for most high schools students. But it is still both a treasure trove of resources and fine source of inspiration for advanced math and physics classes.

In particular, the Tuesday “What If” feature is fascinating. Each Tuesday the author answers hypothetical questions using physics. Did the sun ever set on the British Empire? What would a bowling ball look like if it were blown up to the size of earth? Rougher or smoother than earth? Or how about, how many giraffes high could a human throw something?

The What If feature is great for exploring, but even better as a model of questioning. Imagine challenging students to ask and answer similar questions. The words “What if” are at the base of so much creative exploration across many disciplines. Why not explore them, and then share what you find!

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