Why This Book?
Tens of thousands of students take college-level general physics each year. It's a notoriously challenging subject, but my experience as a tutor and teacher shows that the vast majority of students can do quite well if they just get a little extra help.
The sad fact is, however, that most college physics courses are taught poorly. Textbooks often lose the forest for the trees, and far too many instructors think that if the course was an impenetrable morass when they took it, they should replicate that experience for their students--that way the "real physicists" will make it through while the rest fall by the wayside.
Kirin and I believe there is no such thing as a "real physicist"--all of us are capable of learning physics, including the quantitative problem-solving that makes up the core of most courses.
We are developing this book with the hope that it helps students in those mediocre courses, students who are worried that they can't do physics but are dedicated to trying.
A Graphic Novel with Dinosaurs
In addition to just teaching how to do physics problems, we also wanted to show how to figure out how to do physics problems. (Yes, we're very meta.) So we created a story featuring dinosaurs who have been told, by a group of cranky professors from their future, that "dinosaurs can't do physics." These professors proceed to parody mediocre physics teaching, leaving the dinosaurs to fend for themselves. They need to learn to work as a team, ask for help when appropriate, and forge ahead even when their understanding is incomplete.
If you're wondering, "why dinosaurs?" it's because they are a handy stand-in for anyone who feels that they're not cut out to learn physics. When, in the first chapter, Professor Alfa tells the dinosaurs that he thinks it "highly unlikely" that dinosaurs can learn physics, some students will think of a group they're a part of instead.
For many students, this subtext will be unobtrusive--just an entertaining story framing the main event of solving problems. But even if they don't realize the intent, it will provide them a model for how to approach problems in less-than-ideal conditions.
Spoiler Alert: The Plot
At first, the dinosaurs don't know why strange creatures from the future are trying (halfheartedly) to teach them physics. But as the book goes on, it becomes clear that a killer asteroid (yes, THAT killler asteroid!) is on a path to destroy them and their late Cretaceous world. At this point, their task takes on more urgency: if they don't successfully learn to apply physics, dinosaurs will die out!
Kirin and I first took this book idea to a major academic publisher. We've gone that route before, with the specialist textbook XAFS for Everyone. But it soon became apparent that it is difficult for an academic publisher to release a book which implicitly criticizes many physics professors. We therefore opted to use CreateSpace on Amazon to produce our own books, in order to retain creative control. It is possible that in the future, should initial runs of the book prove successful, that we will again approach a major publisher to take over production.
We are pleased to announce our first stretch goal! See that adorable drawing of Simplicio on a trampoline that we use for the project's cover picture? If we make it to $3500, our touch-up artist Kimmie Nguyen will turn it in to a color drawing, which we'll provide as downloadable wallpaper to everyone at the $5 support level and above. Who doesn't want a t-rex on a trampoline for their desktop background? We know we do!
Meet the characters in We Can Do It!
Simplicio, a t-rex, is the decision maker of the group, and is unafraid to ask questions. Simplicio appeared in our earlier book XAFS for Everyone, and appears with the permission of Taylor and Francis, the publisher of that book.
Sadie, a triceratops, is good at math and memorization.
Terrance, a pterodactyl, is good at short-cuts and seeing the big picture. He's also the most rebellious of the group.
Maia, a Cretaceous-era mammal, makes herself an expert in physics by reading the textbooks that the dinosaurs can't understand. (The textbooks aren't written in Dinosaur.) But while Maia can understand the dinosaurs, they can't understand her, and at the beginning of the book they think of her as a dumb animal.
Kitsune, a lemur, is also from the dinosaurs' future, but unlike the other professors, she really does want to help the dinosaurs learn. Because the other professors don't approve, she has to hide what she is doing, and is sometimes unavailable. Kitsune appeared in our earlier book XAFS for Everyone, and appears with the permission of Taylor and Francis, the publisher of that book.
Alfa, a jaguar, is the leader of the professors. He is the villain of the piece, delightfully mean and unhelpful.
Professor Scott Calvin teaches physics at Sarah Lawrence College, where he has developed courses such as Crazy Ideas in Physics, Rocket Science, and Steampunk Physics. In the past, he has taught at the Hayden Planetarium, Examkrackers, the University of San Francisco, and Southern Connecticut State University, as well as operating Mirare Services, a private tutoring agency. He has authored a textbook on x-ray absorption spectroscopy, co-authored a best-selling chemistry test-prep book, and co-designed and produced an artisanal pop-up book promoting the National Synchrotron Light Source II facility.
Kirin Emlet Furst studied physics at Sarah Lawrence College under the tutelage of Professor Scott Calvin. She is a life-long doodler turned scientific cartoonist, and has illustrated a textbook on x-ray absorption spectroscopy. After years of dabbling in the sciences, she is embarking on a career in water quality engineering and environmental remediation. She will be attending the Graduate School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University in the fall.
What We'll Do with the Money
Funds raised in the Kickstarter will go to paying our copy editor, solutions checker, and touch-up artist, and to supplying Kirin with tools to streamline her artistic process. In addition, of course, funds will go to fulfilling rewards, such as book copies, t-shirts, and smartphone cases. Successful funding of the project will not entirely meet all of those expenses, but we're willing (and able) to cover the rest.
A sneak peak of our first chapter!
Risks and challenges
The primary risk is to our completion date. We're going to try our darndest to get the book out in time for the Fall semester! Kirin and I have a prior history of meeting a similar deadline (with XAFS for Everyone), so we're pretty confident we can do it. But we also still have about 2/3 of the book still to do. That's part of the reason we're having this Kickstarter--the funds will help us focus on getting the book done as well as allow us to contract for specialists to speed the process of creating an accurate book (specifically, a copy editor, a solution checker, and a touch-up artist).
There's always the risk, though, that either Kirin or I gets sick or injured--a hand injury to Kirin would be particularly troublesome! Figure a 90% chance of us meeting our September deadline.
If we don't, however, the date is likely to slip significantly, as Kirin will be starting grad school and I'll be starting the teaching year at Sarah Lawrence. In addition, the pressure to get this out in time for the Fall semester turns in to pressure to get this done by Fall 2016.
So we estimate a 90% chance we meet our September deadline, and a 99% chance we complete the book by September 2016.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (31 days)