“So they say always start these things with a quote,” Matt Brady told the packed room Thursday morning, on the first day of New York Comic Con 2016. The founder of pop culture website Newsarama and current high school science teacher recalled the words of a confused student of his who said, “If you could make this about football, I could understand everything.”
“What if I make it about pop culture?” Brady thought. Plugging some kinematic equations into a heavily-sanitized movie trailer started a new trend in Brady’s classroom.
“Thus was born the Deadpool Drop Lab,” Brady said.
“That’s a pretty common lab,” Brady says of the experiment that has students calculate how to drop something into a moving object. But by framing the “something” as Deadpool leaping into a car full of bad guys, as in the beginning of the character’s 2016 eponymous film, Brady’s found the students are better able to connect with the material. They started to call the dropped object “him” and become invested in the outcome.
“They had a hook into it,” Brady said.
Brady, his wife Shari and Jim McClain, both also teachers, were at Comic Con for a panel called “Comics and STEM Education: A Practical Workshop.” While Neil deGrasse Tyson makes science popular, they put pop culture into science. Whether it’s using Iceman to instruct thermophysics, Finding Nemo for ecology or even the death of Gwen Stacy on Newtonian mechanics, the Bradys realize that teaching relevant, current media is a great way to engage with students and show them your own fun side at the same time.
Shari and Matt Brady, “Comics and STEM Education: A Practical Workshop” panel at New York Comic Con 2016
“They need to see you as a human being,” Shari Brady said.
Or let the students see themselves as comic book characters, as McClain does. The self-proclaimed “M” in “STEM,” the middle school math teacher writes a comic called Solution Squad that uses a diverse portrayal of characters to explain mathematical concepts. La Calculadora leads the team that includes Radical, a “surfer dude” who rides the hypotenuse, and the Ordered Pair — one of whom can only move along the ground, while the other can only go up.
Notice how “Abscissa” moves first, before “Ordinate.” The mussed hair helps you remember the order!
“And of course they fly around in the Coordinate Plane,” McClain said, to unsurprising groans from the audience.
McClain, who originally drew Solution Squad himself but has since hired a professional artist, started the project as a way to use comics without dancing around copyright law. Brady said that to avoid legal issues, those who follow his lead in using established properties shouldn’t share their specific materials, but they can “encourage others to make their own.”
In that vein, the Bradys recently created thescienceof.org. The website addresses the science in pop culture, like if Ant-Man can really ride Hawkeye’s arrow (“He can’t,” Matt Brady said), with an eye toward inspiring lesson plans for other teachers. Those occasional negative answers don’t tend to be the buzzkills one might expect, but a satisfying answer to legitimate query.
“I set it up as a question,” Brady said. “Could this really happen?”
Visit thescienceof.org and AiPT!’s own Reality Check for all your science media needs, and be on the lookout for a hardcover trade of Jim McClain’s Solution Squad, due early next year! And watch the below video for Russ Dobler’s EXCLUSIVE interview with Matt Brady, from New York Comic Con 2016!