Doing Whatever a Spider Can

a scientific paper on the most unscientific of topics

Do you remember this scene from Spider-Man 2 (2004)? A NYC subway train hurtles toward imminent doom, unless Spidey can stop it. Is it plausible for spider silk to stop a moving subway train?

spiderman2

Suppose a man bitten by a genetically enhanced (or irradiated, depending on the origin you like better) spider can acquire the strengths of a spider proportional to his size. Next, suppose the scene depicted in a popular Hollywood film can give you some clues about the physics scenario afoot. Do that and you have “Doing whatever a spider can” by M Bryan, J Forster, and A Stone.  The paper was published 31 Oct 2012 in University of Leicester’s Journal of Physics Special Topics Journal. This stuff is golden1:

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 11.07.12 AM

Here’s a top view from the movie:

Spider-Man-2-train-webs

I want to teach my own students to describe their assumptions as well as these students(?) did in building their model2. What’s a good way to go about doing that work?

  • Demonstrate it in my own work? Build my own examples and walk through my assumptions.
  • Learn from pros? By getting kids reading papers like this one, even if we stop after the model parameters section.
  • Practice it? Have the kids analyze situations within their own level of physics. This I’ve tried and found to be incredibly painful. I’m willing, here and in public on my blog to commit to having my kids practice assumption-describing daily for 3 weeks. I’ll report back with results.

h/t to Leah Kazantzis, with whom I have the pleasure of teaching!

1 What’s that you say? You don’t teach physics using superhero examples? Oh, you’re missing out.
2 Enough of my friends teach using Modeling Physics that I expect to hear that idea thrown out here. That’s ok, but I’m looking for other stuff, too.

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3 thoughts on “Doing Whatever a Spider Can

  1. Yeah let me know how this goes. I acknowledge the importance of this but it just seems like a daunting task. I have enough trouble getting my kids to solve routine problems. I definitely want to hear about your results. I’ve got no advice other than using ill defined problems. The only thing I’ve read on this is a paper by David Fortus. I don’t know of any other good resources. http://www.project2061.org/research/ccms/site.archive/documents/Restructuring_School_Physics.pdf

  2. Its kinda perfect that Spiderman’s webs represent perfect vectors. I wish I had word problems like this in school!

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