My short bio: My name is Jim Flannery, Creator of "What the FisX", and I am doing an IndieGoGo fundraiser for "Mission FisX" - a competition where students create short (<2 min) videos teaching each other high school physics. I am advocating for a "students teaching students" model to break the paradigm that information must be disseminated from the front of the room. Students already use social networking and already create fun youtube videos - why not empower them to use these tools to teach one another?

My show can be found at and the fundraiser can be found at The fundraiser ends at midnight tonight PST.

My Proof: Here is a link to my 'WTFisX' twitter: link Facebook: link LinkedIn: link

gone to sleep but feel free to leave additional questions I'll get to them in the morning. Thanks to everyone for your time and support!!!

Comments: 35 • Responses: 18  • Date: 

jamespatrickflannery5 karma

Still taking questions - don't be shy...

Snuffapuffagus1 karma

How do you plan to get kids really interested in something as complex and mind bending as physics? Are you going to keep it simple and basic or go full on wild with it?

jamespatrickflannery3 karma

Actually a blend of the two. (Not trying to be a fence-sitter here)

I want things to be simple in that I want to avoid math and make it accessible to anyone, not just the top 5% of a class. I'm not particularly interested in breeding more scientists and engineers. Personally, I think our issues in the world are social, not technological. And I think learning physics raises our awareness of the world - at least it has for me.

As for the complicated math, if you look at a guy like Isaac Newton he ran around trying to understand the world... and his curiosity about the world led him to "invent" calculus. Instead of shoving math down kids' throats, why not inspire their curiosity and creativity so that they are actually interested in learning the math?

As for going wild - absolutely! The fact is - I don't know what light is. I don't know what magnets are. I don't know what electrons are. Gravity... etc. Richard Feynman is quoted (maybe incorrectly) as saying "Anyone who thinks they understand quantum mechanics, doesn't understand quantum mechanics." I'd go out on a limb and apply that to every aspect of our physical world. All of these things are pitched as being things scientists "understand" simply because we have equations which predict events. Physics is crazy because all of this stuff is around us and nobody takes the time to acknowledge that its basically mystical and absolutely insane.

So... in the words of Ozzy Osbourne "hey everyone, go FisX crazy!"

Snuffapuffagus1 karma

Well I'm totally interested to see the end result! Sounds like it could be a great thing and I could watch with my kid and teach her while she has fun. Hope the best for ya!

jamespatrickflannery2 karma

Thanks! My original aim was to create the student portal to drive this "students teaching students" model. In order to make that a reality it seemed I should make my own show. So hopefully my show entertains you and educates you... and hopefully the student videos will surpass the quality of mine 10x

king_cannabis1 karma

What are your favourite simple demonstrations of the magic of physics? Weird balancing tricks, pendulums or what have you

Do we have the technology to accurately record the force of a strike a la the Dragonball Z Punching Machine? How expensive would such a machine be?

In some video games (e.g. Skyrim) the physics goes mental if the frame rate is over 60fps. Are there any real world or theoretical scenarios where something like this happens?

How do those spear-thrower sticks work?

What is your favourite force?

Will we ever be able to use magnets for some sort of propulsion system or at least badass hovering furniture?

I have heard that many animals if enlarged would not be able to sustain their own body weight, what about the reverse? Could a tiny human leap like a flea?

Feel free to answer any, all or none of these questions as you see fit.

jamespatrickflannery2 karma

I'll do my best. 1) Favorite simple demonstration: Hold an object in front of you. Release it. And then explain to me why it fell to the ground. And if your answer is "Gravity"... then I ask you 'what is gravity?' And if you say "Its a force where all matter attracts all matter" Then I'd ask, 'Why and How does that happen?" And then if you say that mass is distorting space-time... well, I think you see where the rabbit hole goes that I'm digging.

2) I'm not familiar with Dragon Ball Z. I found this link to it: So people really misunderstand what the word "force" means when compared to an "impulse." A "force" is measured in an instant, while an "impulse" adds up the force over a period of time. So your punching machine would need a sensor to measure the force being applied to it at every moment you are in contact with it. And then add these up over the time period you are in contact and then you get an "impulse" I may be misunderstanding the machine... but I would believe it to be measuring "impulse" Another way to look at it - imagine you get hit by a car. There is a force from the car, but it lasts for a certain amount of time (thought it is short). We all know "Force = Mass x Acceleration"... so the force is applied to your mass, and you accelerate. BUT to find out how fast and far you go flying, you'd need to know how long you were accelerating for. And that's where impulse comes in as opposed to simply force.

3) The best example I can give of pure physics is probably when objects approach the speed of light. Things get very very weird and I can't say I'd do a great job of explaining it.... but check wikipedia for "twin paradox" A technology example is that when cameras film wheels turning on a car, the framerate of the camera is not enough for the wheels and sometimes the resulting video gives the illlusion the wheels are going in reverse. I'm not sure if this is stilll the case, but it used to be that when you filmed a computer screen or TV the recording would show a horizontal line scrolling down the screen because the monitor is not continuously displaying information but it has a refresh rate. Additionally... think about the weird clocks (I'm on a plane and SkyMall has one) where you have a pendulum swinging back and forth showing a light and it appears to show you an entire message because your eye also has a refresh rate.

4) Spear thrower sticks?

5) My favorite force.... toss up. I love gravity. But the photoelectric effect is equally mindbending to me. I can't think on the spot of the term for the force. But basically if you have a photon of light that has enough energy (example is blue instead of red), it will move electrons around in a metal. The more blue light, the more the electrons move. But no matter how much red light you throw at the metal, no electrons move. Move further into the UV, and the electrons are moving faster. So there is kind of a one-to-one relationship of photons to electrons.

5) Elon Musk is doing making a badass piece of furniture.... sorta... its a high speed rail in California. If you're sitting comfortably, I suppose its furniture.

6) Very good question. I remember reading that the issue with super-sized humans (giants) has to do with blood flow not being able to reach different areas, but I'm not sure about a miniature human. If our strength-size ratio doesn't change then I'm not sure there would be a difference. As a personal experiment - I did calculate my mass in high school and my vertical leap and calculated how much weight I'd need to lose to dunk a basketball. (Was 5'8 and could grab rim) For the reasons I mentioned about the impulse earlier, I was very much wrong in this idea.

I tried to answer all best I could, but can't guarantee accuracy of my answers.... hey, even Newton was wrong a few times :)

king_cannabis1 karma

Awesome reply thank you!

jamespatrickflannery2 karma

My pleasure - and based on your username, you may be interested in learning some about the lighting used in horticulture. I'm very into the relationship between light and biology. My aim is to bring 'human-centric lighting' to schools, prisons, and hospitals. This is lighting that changes its color as the day goes on to match the outdoor conditions (more orange in morning and evening, brighter white in noon) which helps our circadian rhythms. There are a lot of LED products out there which mention being 5-band, 7-band, 11-band, and full spectrum - lots of interesting stuff going on with light and plants, and equally interesting (but much less discussed) things going on with light and humans.

king_cannabis2 karma

Haha good deduction, I do find that interesting. I'm a huge fan of f.lux - if you haven't heard of it yet you should definitely check it out, dims and changes your pc monitor to be more orange (or perhaps just less blue) towards night time. I want to set up some sort of intelligent LED lighting in my bedroom, I can't stand bright lights and much prefer 'ambient' lighting where the light source is hidden. 'Colour psychology' type stuff is pretty intriguing too, being able to change the colour of my lighting to suit or even direct my mood would be great.

jamespatrickflannery2 karma

Yes, I'm familiar w/ f.lux. I'm a member of the Human Centric Lighting Comittee and there is a desk lamp product they promote that is tunable by hand instead of being synced to the outdoors. But same concept, adjusting from warm to cool - they look at it like a cup of coffee when you turn it to bright white. In Europe they are using this concept like psychiatric medications for children - adjusting the lights to get kids to wake up first thing in the AM, calm down after recess, focus in during a test - pretty horrible. But the simple syncing with outdoors is great for circadian. It's called 'Prism' I'm trying to push my own LED company (MSi Lighting Inc) to start promoting the synced products for schools, prisons, hospitals, but as of right now it appears to be mostly used in office/work environments. The argument is that if your worker makes $50k/year, and their productivity goes up 5% then you're getting an extra $2500 out of them, so it justifies buying it. Hospitals have financial incentive to get patients out sooner. Schools and prisons (very similar places) don't have the same sales pitch. To me its a human rights issue, kids are forced by law to be locked indoors, so why can't they have healthy lighting. I feel similarly about prisoners... but thats a tougher argument to sell.

Hooponpop3 karma

Did your show used to be good 2 years ago?

jamespatrickflannery4 karma

I'm not sure what that means.... but the best answer I can give is that, no it was not good two years ago - it was absolutely amazing!!! It only existed in my brain and therefore was completely flawless and explained laws of nature with such ease that I was convinced I should spend all my time and energy bringing it to life. Unfortunately, I am human, and as I tried to convert the show from my brain (over two years) into a material form that I could share with people - the quality has slowly dropped off.

Hooponpop4 karma

It was a jab at snl not you...keep up the good work teaching people about the the wonders of physics and my god snl is going downhill

jamespatrickflannery1 karma

Haha, sorry for being defensive... I guess I've been waiting for some kind of reddit-esque sneaky remark to come at me. So far nothing controversial. Though I did receive a nice "hate email" from a guy on the internet... he even signed it with his name and directed me to his website - which was pages of text and equations all over. I love physics and I didn't even want to read it - don't know how he would inspire a 14 year old kid to read it. When I got the email I was convinced a friend of mine had sent it to me as a prank... can't imagine why people would take the time our of their day to do that - UNLESS- its for the sake of humor!

EDIT I found the hater email Here it is

Just give it up. It is a terrible teaching tool, adding nothing to the viewer's understanding of gravity. Laws are pronounced without telling "how do we know?", mass is named without explaining what it is, and the added action distracts more than it instructs.

For a different approach--suitable for high school--look up my web site and the ones preceding it.

David P. Stern

Love the internet

yullip1 karma

You might find this link pretty interesting... Derek Muller did his PhD on making effective science videos.

jamespatrickflannery2 karma

Yes, I'm familiar with the fellow from Veritasium. I think Henry from minutephysics sent me this link a while ago. I tried to incorporate this concept into a few of my videos - ie, showing them their 'wrong assumption' and the 'correction.' I had a couple teachers tell me its a little confusing to show the wrong way followed by the correct way, but I completely agree with his view that kids think they already understand the laws of physics by virtue of living in this world.

askakshay1 karma

What does physics mean to you?

jamespatrickflannery5 karma

Interesting question. I think its basically philosophy based on observations, not just about human nature, but of all the experiences around us. I like to think the secrets of the universe are either too complicated for a human OR so simple that any human could figure it out even if on a deserted island somewhere. I try to avoid focusing on equations as it makes people think they understand things.... many people think because they know an equation or how to predict a future behavior that they truly understand something. I like to be honest and admit that I love physics because it is beyond my understanding.

mollymac1041 karma

Do you have a regulation method to make sure that the information that students convey through their videos is accurate?

jamespatrickflannery4 karma

For the first competition we have judges reviewing the videos for accuracy and quality. Right now I have Dr. Alec Cerchiari PhD signed on as a judge as well as myself. I have a high school physics teacher who I'm discussing being a judge in addition to searching for a bright high school student.

As the project grows (future competitions) I will need to adapt to having an 'overflow'. One thing I want to implement is an opportunity for one or two early submissions for review so students don't spend all their time making a great video and then having it get dismissed for something small (+ - sign for example).

Another option would be to allow errors and then provide the corrections below. Kind of like your seeing the students work plus their grade on it. Nobody's perfect.

jamespatrickflannery3 karma

  • also - I'd like things to inevitibly follow a similar model to the FIRST Robotics Competition or the JETS NEDC Competition (competed in the latter) where there are mentors assisting students along the way. And breaking things up regionally so that not 100% of American is doing videos about one subject but instead are broken up by region with each assigned a certain topic.

Jiminy_Jillickers1 karma

James, this is a wonderful concept. For many such as myself who find themselves drawn to more creative approaches to things and find themselves turned off by dry facts and formulas this could be really great. How do you find the right balance of humor and facts so that the point doesn't get lost?

jamespatrickflannery1 karma

I'm not sure. Trial and error I suppose. Wait that sounds bad. Evolution?? Little classier answer

jamespatrickflannery1 karma

I should add to the "trial and error . Feedback from students tgenselcea is best. But I'm also having s challenge of marketing directly to youths. Seems inappropriate for some reason.... Of course part of my issue is that kids are not treated equally. So I find myself going through parents and teachers to reach them which is a challeng . It shouldn't be so awkward in society for adults and youths to interact

Jiminy_Jillickers1 karma

Well, keep up the great work... I wish I had a teacher like you, maybe I would have learned something in physics class...stupid Mrs. Banks...

jamespatrickflannery1 karma

Thanks. I very much appreciate your encouragement

android471 karma

Neat project! How many teachers have you got on board so far?

Why so short? To me it seems like it would be extremely difficult to explain gravity in 2 minutes.

jamespatrickflannery2 karma

I've got a couple AP classes in New England working on videos as 'extra credit'. I just left San Diego where I met with some home school parents and got my foot in the door at a couple schools. It's somewhat easy to get schools to show my videos - its a bit harder to get them to make videos as part of their lesson plans. I think things would be easier if I could find an appropriate avenue to go directly to students.

As for the two minutes - the aim is to have a collection of short videos that attack the topic from different angles rather than trying to put everything together in one. Attention spans are a lot shorter on the web so I'm taking a page out of the 'minutephysics' handbook - you can check the youtube channel for that

It also will make production shorter for the videos so its more accessible to more students. It also helps to get students to be more direct with their message/lessons.

Note: This is something I can't be 100% confident about. If I get enough feedback from students saying they'd prefer longer videos there is a possibility to change things up.

Gaaargh1 karma

Before I saw Mr. Wizard, or Bill Nye, I was getting physics lessons from Dr. Julius Sumner Miller on The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.

I'd suggest an homage to him as a theme.

jamespatrickflannery1 karma

I love this video - what age were you when you watched him? He seems a lot more 'real' than Billy Nye. Meaning, he doesn't seem to be in character, just seems to be awesome. There was also a show I watched as a kid called "Square One" which I think was my subconscious inspiration for the parody/spoofs I did.

EDIT - it also looks like he's got a smart board in the background.... mid 80's haha

snegtul0 karma



jamespatrickflannery5 karma

Yes. Why not?