The Physics of Freefall: Felix Baumgartner’s Record Breaking Space-Jump

In this lesson, Felix Baumgartner’s space-jump is used to teach students about acceleration due to gravity, air resistance, and the way that those two forces combine to produce terminal velocity.
In October 2012, Felix Baumgartner dove to earth from 28,000 feet in the air and lived to tell about it. He also set five world records including highest altitude skydive and fast freefall velocity.

Athletes and Their Fight for Equal Rights

In this lesson, students analyze the role of athletes in fights for equal rights by examining the historic actions of Jason Collins, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos.

On April 29, 2013, NBA player Jason Collins stated in an interview with Sports Illustrated, “I’m black. And I’m gay.” This statement makes him the first active professional athlete from the four major sports to come out of the closet.

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Is Stephen Curry Having the Greatest Season of All Time?


Before suffering a minor shin injury in late December, Stephen Curry’s play was hotter than the California sun. For the first three months of the season, the Golden State Warriors guard was shooting like an NBA Jam player who’s “on fire” — except instead of shooting lights-out for a few possessions, Curry was on fire for more than 30 games.


Curry leads the NBA in points per game, three-pointers made, and most points in a single game. He also ranks in the top 10 in the league in a slew of other categories, including total points and free throw percentage. Curry is on pace to set a record for three-pointers per game, which would require him to break his own record that he set last season. Oh, and Curry’s Warriors won their first 28 games of the season, by far the most in league history.

But it’s not just traditional statistics that prove Curry’s value to the Warriors. Advanced stats tell the same story: he’s the best player in the league this year. For example, take Curry’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER), a statistic that attempts to account for all of a player’s contributions on the court. Curry’s PER sits at 31.6, which would be the seventh-best all-time over a full season. Basketball legends Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James currently top the list of the best PER seasons ever. It’s safe to say that Curry is in good company.


If Curry can return to full health and continue the pace he set early in the season, he’ll challenge NBA records and put himself in the conversation among the greatest seasons ever. At that point, fans might need to come up with a new way to say he’s on fire.


America’s Favorite Pastime, Part 2 of 3: Immigration in Baseball – Rewriting the Rulebook


Baseball Isn’t Dangerous, Right?

Would you raft through shark-infested waters to play baseball? Would you risk being kidnapped? Would you subject another person to the possibility of death threats for the sake of allowing you to keep playing the sport? Well, for Cuban baseball players, the answer to those types of questions has overwhelmingly been “Yes!” Jose Fernandez, a star pitcher for the Miami Marlins, did indeed brave the shark-filled waters of the Straits of Florida. Can you blame him for having a huge smile on his face when he became a U.S. citizen in April? No more sharks!


In an attempt to reach the U.S. Texas Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin, meanwhile, was kidnapped and held for ransom during his own immigration ordeal. Most recently, 16-year-old Cuban player Lazaro “Lazarito” Armenteros saw his agents subjected to death threats over disagreements about Lazarito’s future.


U.S.-Cuba Relations: Not So Friendly

The common thread among most Cuban MLB players is that they experienced extremely difficult conditions at some point in their journeys to the U.S. Because of the contentious relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, for many years immigration was especially difficult for Cuban players. Except in special cases, Americans and Cubans were not permitted to travel between the two countries, so Cubans had to illegally escape (defect) in order to reach the U.S. As a result, Cuban players often faced much greater obstacles than players who emigrated from more distant countries.


Is Peace Around the Corner?

However, the relationship between the governments of Cuba and the U.S. has improved in recent years. In late 2014, President Obama announced that the two countries would begin to take steps toward normal diplomatic relations with each other, a drastic shift from the hostility between the two countries for over 50 years. In March, Obama even traveled to Cuba to watch an exhibition game in which the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Cuban National Team by a score of 4-1. US-cuba-handshake Many people believe that this progress between the American and Cuban governments could drastically improve conditions for Cuban players traveling to play in MLB. Let’s all hope so - the only time an immigrant should be subjected to sharks, kidnappings, or death threats is in a Hollywood film.

Confronting Homophobia and the Response to Jason Collins’ Recent Announcement

The outpouring of social media-based support for Jason Collins has been widespread and well-publicized, but what lies beneath? In this lesson, students are asked to take an honest look at homophobia on the web and in their own lives, confronting one of society’s darkest shadows and shedding some much needed light on the issue.

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The Science of Why We Love Bad Lip Reading Videos

Bad Lip Reading 

Bad Lip Reading is a hilarious YouTube channel that produces videos with false dialogue dubbed over popular movies, television, sports, and news segments.  They make us crack up because the dialogue they use has the most random, ridiculous plot lines, but when you look at the characters, their mouths move pretty much close enough so that you could believe it’s what they’re actually saying. The experience of seeing and hearing these videos, and believing them, compared to what we know about the source material, makes us chortle heartily.

Verbal Communication

Thinkprogress recently published an article about this topic, and we are also excited about the science behind why we love these videos. Our brains translate the sounds and visuals we take in, via our senses, into what we call verbal communication. Language recognition is different, depending on what language you speak or are fluent in. Our brains often make up for a lack of perfect pronunciation, or something misheard, by filling in the gaps, and using logic to conclude what the intended message was. Verbal communication is something called multimodal, using two or more senses to interpret information.

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McGurk Effect

A really good way to see this process in action is by seeing the McGurk Effect.  You can see it in the video below by AsapSCIENCE. In it, the man repeats “bar, bar, bar.” When paired with an image of a man clearly mouthing a “bar” sound, that’s what you hear. But when an image of the man clearly mouthing a “far” sound is shown instead, what you hear changes to “far, far, far.” The key is, the sound never changes.  If you close your eyes, it goes back to “bar.” So, your brain concludes what the sound must be, based on what your eyes are perceiving through lip reading. But, it’s also tricking you, because the sound never changes even though the visual does.

Creating Logic by Believing What We See and Hear

Our brains indeed learn better when combining visual and auditory information, and it’s used to this sensory experience every day of our lives.  So, when we see something that doesn’t quite make sense, our natural processes fill in the gaps in the attempt to create logical meaning. With the Bad Lip Reading videos, what’s happening is your brain wants the visual and the auditory signals to match up, because that’s what we would normally predict, and it wants to use all the information available.  But the visuals aren’t crisp enough to completely disagree with the audio. The images don’t quite match what we’re hearing, but our brains just go with it. The creators of these videos aren’t using random words either. They are matching words that are close to the way the subjects’ mouths are moving to make the original words.

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Origins of the Bad Lip Reader

In an interview with the Washington Post in 2011, the anonymous figure behind Bad Lip Reading said that he started by trying to lip-read a video of a talk radio host mouthing words to himself. “My brain kept coming up with completely random, strange interpretations. They were mainly random word combinations like “Bacon Hobbit” and “Moose potion, poke me” — things like that. So I grabbed my microphone and recorded these phrases into the computer, and when I played that back in sync with the video, it really looked like the guy was saying it,” he said. One of the reasons lip reading is so hard to do, for anyone attempting it, like the hard of hearing,  is that so much of sound production occurs inside our mouths. One lip movement may correspond to a number of sounds, posing a serious challenge. The Bad Lip Reading creator  is actually a decently good lip reader, he’s finding really well-matching words, just the wrong ones.

Priming and Activating in Communication

Yet, even despite the inherent ridiculousness of the sentences, the video has a sort of logic. This is because of the way we pick which words we’re going to use next.  Priming is what we do when engaged in conversation, preparing to hear a set of words that match with the content of the discussion. If the topic at the moment is hair, we’re likely to keep talking about hair, so we “activate” words related to hair and make them easier to produce. So, the creators of these videos are not only manipulating the way our brains process language, but also the way we communicate, and our natural tendencies to predict, assume, prime, and interpret. Bingo! I mean, Peephole! Ugh, what I’m saying is, Bravo!

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America’s Favorite Pastime, Part 3 of 3: Immigration in Baseball — Barriers to Entry


Baseball Players Are Rollin’ in Cash, Right?

Most of us would agree that a half-million dollars is a lot of money. Well, the minimum salary for a Major League Baseball player is more than a half-million dollars. The point is, don’t cry for the best baseball players, whether they’re American or foreign-born — they’re doing just fine.

However, that doesn’t mean that all professional players live a life of luxury. The majority of minor leaguers — young guys who haven’t yet made it and veterans clinging to a last chance — make less than the federal poverty level. Many international players earn more money than those minor leaguers as a result of signing bonuses given to international free agents. But that doesn’t mean that international players have it easy by any stretch of the imagination. Let’s take a look at some of the areas where MLB players come from and examine the primary obstacles faced by players from different places around the world.



Asia: Long-distance Travel and Language

In Part 1 of this series, NuSkool examined how far players must travel from various countries to play in MLB. Asian players have it the toughest in that regard. The Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, for instance, must fly almost 7,000 miles from home to play for the New York Yankees. In addition to the distance they must travel, Japanese players have larger language barriers than their Latin American counterparts. Since there are so many Spanish-speaking players in MLB, those players can rely on each other to overcome language struggles. There are fewer Asian players, though, so most of them are forced to hire their own translators to help them navigate the big leagues. Finally, Japanese players must adjust to the size of the American baseball, which is a bit larger than the standard Japanese ball.



The Caribbean: Sharks and Milk Cartons

While Cuban players have much less distance to travel than Asian immigrants, Part 2 of NuSkool’s series highlighted the considerable obstacles Cubans must overcome in order to reach America. Those include harsh immigration laws, limited opportunities to defect, and journeys through shark-infested waters.

Players from other Caribbean countries also face various obstacles. Young players in the Dominican Republic, for example, often learn the game using makeshift baseball “bats” made out of tree limbs and “gloves” fashioned out of milk cartons. (Suddenly, the different size of the Japanese baseball doesn’t seem like a big deal.) Whereas many American players grow up with high-tech baseball gear, Caribbean boys must overcome their significant lack of resources to reach MLB.



Central America: Lack of Resources and Exposure

Players from Central America overcome some of the same obstacles as those in the Caribbean. High poverty rates lead to a lack of equipment, and while some countries have baseball academies, such resources are not accessible in all places. Therefore, even talented players are sometimes overlooked because MLB scouts have not had the chance to see them play. Who know how many big league-quality players have lost out on the chance to play in the majors due to lack of exposure?


The Money Makes it Worthwhile!

All of the obstacles mentioned above contribute to the difficult journeys of immigrant baseball players. However, for talented ballplayers from foreign countries, the allure of the high wages in MLB — a minimum salary of a half-million dollars! — make it totally worthwhile to take on those obstacles.