Relatable Physics Homework

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Project ends on March 22, at 02:51 PM MST
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Relatable Physics Homework

Think about motion. Before you left your home this morning, what moved (either on its own or because someone moved it)? When you think about the most important moments of your life, what’s moving in the scene as you envision it?

Now you get to your physics class where you’re currently studying motion. Word problems – the heart of all physics homework – are primarily about cars and sports. No flower girl scattering petals down the aisle. No eggshells tossed in the compost after breakfast. No problems about a wheelchair or other mobility aid, cultural practices and traditions, entrepreneurial endeavors, nor charitable or advocacy work. Only a few about hobbies other than sports. Not to mention no problems featuring a same-sex couple or an individual whose pronouns are they/them. When you turn to the internet for more practice problems, you get more of the same.

Do you feel like you belong?

If not, you’re not alone.

“The lack of representation and relatable problems had made physics difficult to grasp at times,” wrote an ASU freshman last year.

That’s why we’re writing new problems.


Who benefits from our problems?

  • K-12 students
  • Pre-med students
  • Engineering students
  • Physics major students
  • K-12 teachers


When Associate Teaching Professor Allison Boley was an undergraduate, she felt like she didn’t belong in physics and recognized that homework problems played a role in her experience. That’s why she has intentionally written her own problems since she got her own classroom in 2015. And while she’s successfully written about far more than just cars and sports, there are still a lot of problems she can’t – or shouldn’t – write. Boley is one person with one set of identities and one set of experiences. It’s important to feature problems about other experiences from the perspective of an insider, not treating those experiences like a stereotype from the perspective of an outsider.

The solution: Gather a diverse group of physicists to write problems from their own knowledge and experiences.

With your help, this is exactly what we are doing.

Our student body is more diverse than our faculty, so this project enlists students to write problems for excellence in representation. We have a core group of four undergraduate physics majors, each an excellent student from a different underrepresented group in physics, each with a proven track record of taking initiative to give back to the community, and each so excited about this project that they’ve already committed time. We will also have opportunities for other students to contribute to the problem set.


What do students get from participating in this project?

  • Experiential learning
  • Opportunity to build resume
  • Collaborative work with faculty
  • Positive impact on future physics students
  • Competitive compensation


At least two physics teaching faculty, including Boley, will review the problems for excellence in pedagogy as well as write their own problems. Finally, we’ll publish the problems online so students and teachers from around the world can access them for free. And then get the word out.

And in the process, inspire textbook publishers and other homework problem writers to step up, providing a model of excellence for them to follow.

Every donation -- regardless of the amount -- is greatly appreciated, as it helps pay students and faculty for their work, and enables us to let more students and teachers know about this free resource.


Example problems by Dr. Boley:

  1. You are pushing a grocery cart in a straight line down the frozen foods aisle. If the aisle is 30.6 m long, and it takes you 7.3 s to push the cart that distance, what is your average speed during that time?
  2. Jae Jin sprays sunscreen on his son’s arms before leaving home. If he starts at his son’s shoulder and moves the spray can down his son’s extended arm at a steady speed of 0.025 m/s for 12.7 s until he reaches his son’s wrist, how long is his son’s arm?
  3. Sarah has a medical accommodation at work to park in the closest garage, only 14.6 m due east from the nearest restroom. If Sarah walks at 1.8 m/s in a straight path west from the garage, how long will it take her to get to the restroom?
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