How an MIT Weekend Class Inspired XKCD's New Blog

Randall Munroe, writer of the loveably geeky web comic xkcd (and Massachusetts resident) has been running a new blog since this summer called “What If?” which answers the hilarious nerd hypotheticals we all pondered while ignoring our physics teachers in high school. (Think, “What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light?” Hint: Nothing good.) Munroe explains to The Atlantic‘s Megan Garber that there is actually a Cambridge-based inspiration for the new project. He explains:

MIT has a weekend program where volunteers can teach classes to groups of high school students on any subject you want. I had a friend who was doing it, and it sounded really cool — so I signed up to teach a class about energy, which I always thought was interesting, but which is a slippery idea to define. I was really getting into the nuts and bolts of what energy is, and it was a lot of fun — but when I started to get into the normal lecture part of the class, it felt kind of dry, and I could tell the kids weren’t super into it. And then we got to a part where I brought up an example — I think it was Yoda in Star Wars. And they got really excited about that. And then they started throwing out more questions about different movies — like, “When the Eye of Sauron exploded at the end of The Lord of the Rings, and knocked people over from this far away, can we tell how big a blast that was?” They got really excited about that — and I had a lot more fun doing it than I did just teaching the regular material.

So I spent the second half of the class just solving problems like that in front of them. And then I was like, “That was really fun. I want to keep doing it.”

Munroe is referring to MIT’s Educational Studies Program, which runs a program that’s … pretty much what he explained it to be: a weekend during which members of the community teach high school kids anything they want. Garber’s interview touches on a huge range of Munroe’s work so if you’re a fan of the comic or the “What If” blog, definitely give it a read.