Unit 03 Homework Assignment Physics Jokes

We know texting while driving has consequences, but what about texting when doing homework?

It’s something almost all kids do, and most parents have also been known to check their text messages at their desk. If we’re being honest, most of us have our cell phone within arm’s reach when we’re at work, and we will glance at it from time to time. When we’re defending the practice we call it “multitasking.” How bad could it really be?

Pretty bad, according to a recent study that found the mere presence of a smartphone reduces a person’s ability to focus. In the study, undergraduates asked to leave their phones in another room did better on cognitive tests than those who were asked to silence their phones and leave them face down on their desk or in a bag.

In the experiment, even students who said they weren’t thinking consciously about their cell phones still experienced a loss in ability, which means some of this distraction is happening on an unconscious level. This is bad news for those of us who think we’re pretty good at not being distracted by the phone when we’re working.

“I hear about these issues about technology all the time,” says Matt Cruger, director of the Learning and Development Center at the Child Mind Institute. He says that with the kids he works with, he isn’t concerned about their capacity to be able to do homework, but with “the capacity to really get in the mindset of thinking about homework-related activities.” In other words, they could do their work if they were able to focus on it. And while trouble focusing on homework is hardly something new for children, captivating new technologies aren’t making it any easier.

Distraction devices

Why are tech devices so distracting? For starters, most apps and web content are engineered to be as user-friendly and addictive as possible. They ping us with notifications when we get a new message or when someone has posted something we might be interested in. They are reliable sources of validation that tell us when someone likes something we’ve posted.

And we know there is always something new to look at. Even if we haven’t heard the buzz alerting us to something new, we might find ourselves restlessly reaching for the phone to scroll through the constantly updating feeds full of pictures and headlines and jokes curated just for us. We might also feel some pressure to keep up.

But there are also some less-obvious reasons why kids may be particularly hooked. Phones are where young people do a lot of their socializing now, especially as they reach the pre-teen and teenage years, when their major developmental goals are to start crafting an identity separate from their parents and to prioritize forming friendships with their peers — goals that are made for spending hours on social media.

Compared to adults, kids also have a less developed ability to control their impulses. If it’s sometimes hard for their parents to unplug, imagine how hard it is for a child who struggles with impulsivity or a teen with a new BFF to resist checking her phone. Prioritizing getting started on a book report or even studying for tomorrow’s test won’t be nearly as compelling.


Many adults and kids share the idea that when we are texting or monitoring feeds while we work we are still being productive — we are able to juggle everything at once. But neuropsychologists aren’t optimistic about how productive multitasking really is. “Having multiple sources of technology at your fingertips and available at all times probably is almost a guarantee of a reduction in performance and productivity,” says Dr. Cruger.

For one thing, there’s what experts call “resumption lag.” That’s the period of time between when you were interrupted from a task and when you resume it. Transitioning between tasks isn’t seamless, and the time spent collecting your thoughts prior to resuming a task add up.

A study out of Stanford in 2009 examined how well multitaskers are able to process information. People considered heavy media multitaskers were found to have more difficulty ignoring irrelevant but distracting things in their environment. As a result they actually performed worse on a test of task switching ability when compared to people who were lighter multitaskers.

Multitasking means working less efficiently even when you think you’re applying yourself. That’s because people dividing their attention aren’t able to engage in their work with the fluency they might otherwise have. “They’re not free to think about what’s the best way to do something,” Dr. Cruger explains. “Kids will start a task, try to get the task done, but not take the time to travel along and figure out how to do the task best.”

While the work might still get finished, multitasking adds up to shallower thinking and more time spent actually working. But it’s hard for kids to see it that way. “If you haven’t really established a disciplined routine for learning and thinking, it’s hard to have a sense of what to compare your current performance against,” notes Dr. Cruger.

Kids who struggle with attention

There’s a kind of myth that kids who have ADHD are uniquely suited to multitasking.

At a Child Mind Institute event about how children are affected by technology, Ali Wentworth, actress, comedian and host of the event, described how she found her teenage daughter the evening before: She was doing her homework on one screen, texting on another, with Gilmore Girls playing on a third. When Wentworth protested, her daughter told her, “I have ADHD. This is how I do my homework.”

In reality, multitasking during homework can be particularly difficult for kids who have ADHD.

“There’s pretty compelling literature that suggests that nobody is actually good at multitasking, but I think kids who have ADHD also have a set of cognitive distortions about their skills and capacities,” says Dr. Cruger. “They’re probably worse at multitasking than people without ADHD, but they often think they’re better at it.”

That might be because the constant stimulation offered by tech devices is very appealing to kids with ADHD. Short bursts of attention, with immediate rewards, are easier for them than paying sustained attention. But trying to do both at the same time — juggling homework and Snapchat — would be particularly difficult for them.

That’s because people with ADHD struggle with executive functions, which are the self-regulating skills we use to do things like shift between situations, control our emotions and impulsivity, and organize and make plans. These are all skills that are integral to doing homework and they are weakened further when we are dividing our attention across multiple platforms.

“One of the psychological impacts for people with ADHD is they have to make smart decisions about how to use their resources wisely because they have limited attentional resources and they have limited capacity to do the hard work of learning naturally,” explains Dr. Cruger. “It just takes more effort for them.”

Given that kids with ADHD are particularly susceptible to the stimulation that tech devices provide, and that focusing on homework is already harder for them, successfully doing both would be incredibly difficult.

Related: What Is Working Memory? 

A distraction-free mind

Setting up a homework routine that minimizes distractions is important, especially if your child struggles with attention, or seems to be finding that her homework is taking much longer than it should.

Let her know that the goal is to make doing homework easier and less stressful. Removing those distractions should improve her homework experience and leave her with more actual free time.

If it’s difficult to get your child’s buy-in, establishing regular homework breaks where she gets to walk away from her homework and check social media or check her texts can make this an easier sell. But to be effective, the breaks should be planned and discrete — they shouldn’t bleed into homework time and ideally they should happen away from her study space, which should be a place for focusing.

This sort of discipline might not come naturally to kids or adults, but learning to unplug from distractions is a life skill that will become increasingly important as technology becomes more absorbing, and the need to learn and stay focused doesn’t go away.

Read More:
Do Video Games Cause ADHD?
Strategies to Make Homework Go More Smoothly
How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers

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■ Two theoretical physicists are lost at the top of a mountain. Theoretical physicist No 1 pulls out a map and peruses it for a while. Then he turns to theoretical physicist No 2 and says: "Hey, I've figured it out. I know where we are."
"Where are we then?"
"Do you see that mountain over there?"
"Well… THAT'S where we are."

I heard this joke at a physics conference in Les Arcs (I was at the top of a mountain skiing at the time, so it was quite apt). It was explained to me that it was first told by a Nobel prize-winning experimental physicist by way of indicating how out-of-touch with the real world theoretical physicists can sometimes be.
Jeff Forshaw, professor of physics and astronomy, University of Manchester

■ An electron and a positron go into a bar.
Positron: "You're round."
Electron: "Are you sure?"
Positron: "I'm positive."
I think I heard this on Radio 4 after the publication of a record (small) measurement of the electron electric dipole moment – often explained as the roundness of the electron – by Jony Hudson et al in Nature 2011.
Joanna Haigh, professor of atmospheric physics, Imperial College, London

■ A group of wealthy investors wanted to be able to predict the outcome of a horse race. So they hired a group of biologists, a group of statisticians, and a group of physicists. Each group was given a year to research the issue. After one year, the groups all reported to the investors. The biologists said that they could genetically engineer an unbeatable racehorse, but it would take 200 years and $100bn. The statisticians reported next. They said that they could predict the outcome of any race, at a cost of $100m per race, and they would only be right 10% of the time. Finally, the physicists reported that they could also predict the outcome of any race, and that their process was cheap and simple. The investors listened eagerly to this proposal. The head physicist reported, "We have made several simplifying assumptions: first, let each horse be a perfect rolling sphere… "

This is really the joke form of "all models are wrong, some models are useful" and also sums up the sort of physics confidence that they can solve problems (ie, by making the model solvable).
Ewan Birney, associate director, European Bioinformatics Institute

■ What is a physicist's favourite food? Fission chips.
Callum Roberts, professor in marine conservation, University of York

■ Why did Erwin Schrödinger, Paul Dirac and Wolfgang Pauli work in very small garages? Because they were quantum mechanics.
Lloyd Peck, professor, British Antarctic Survey

■ A friend who's in liquor production,
Has a still of astounding construction,
The alcohol boils,
Through old magnet coils,
He says that it's proof by induction.

I knew this limerick when I was at school. I've always loved comic poetry and I like the pun in it. And it is pretty geeky …
Helen Czerski, Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, Southampton


■ What does DNA stand for? National Dyslexia Association.

I first read this joke when I was an undergraduate as a mature student in 1990. I'd just come to terms with my own severe reading difficulties and neurophysiology was full of acronyms, which I always got mixed up. For example, the first time I heard about Adenosine Triphosphate it was abbreviated by the lecturer to ATP, which I heard as 80p. I had no clue what she was talking about every time she mentioned 80p. And another thing, how does Adenosine Triphosphate reduce to ATP? Where's the P?
Peter Lovatt, lecturer in psychology of dance, University of Hertfordshire

■ A new monk shows up at a monastery where the monks spend their time making copies of ancient books. The new monk goes to the basement of the monastery saying he wants to make copies of the originals rather than of others' copies so as to avoid duplicating errors they might have made. Several hours later the monks, wondering where their new friend is, find him crying in the basement. They ask him what is wrong and he says "the word is CELEBRATE, not CELIBATE!"

I first heard this maybe more than 10 years ago in conjunction with the general theme of "copying errors" or mutations in biology.
Mark Pagel, professor of biological sciences, University of Reading

■ A blowfly goes into a bar and asks: "Is that stool taken?"

No idea where I got this from!
Amoret Whitaker, entomologist, Natural History Museum

■ They have just found the gene for shyness. They would have found it earlier, but it was hiding behind two other genes.
Stuart Peirson, senior research scientist, Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology


■ What does the 'B' in Benoit B Mandelbrot stand for? Benoit B Mandelbrot.

Mathematician Mandelbrot coined the word fractal – a form of geometric repetition.
Adam Rutherford, science writer and broadcaster

■ Why did the chicken cross the Möbius strip? To get to the other… eh? Hang on…

The most recent time I saw this joke was in Simon Singh's lovely book on maths in The Simpsons. I've heard it before though. I guess its origins are lost in the mists of time.
David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology, University College London

■ A statistician is someone who tells you, when you've got your head in the fridge and your feet in the oven, that you're – on average - very comfortable.

This is a joke I was told a long time ago, probably as a high school student in India, trying to come to terms with the baffling ways of statistics. What I like about it is how it alerts you to the limitations of reductionist thinking but also makes you aware that we are unlikely to fall into such traps, even if we are not experts in the field.
Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology, Oxford

■ At a party for functions, ex is at the bar looking despondent. The barman says: "Why don't you go and integrate?" To which ex replies: "It would not make any difference."

Heard by my daughter in a student bar in Oxford.
Jean-Paul Vincent, head of developmental biology, National Institute for Medical Research

■ There are 10 kinds of people in this world, those who understand binary, and those who don't.

I think this is just part of the cultural soup, so to speak. I don't remember hearing it myself until the mid-90s, when computers started getting in the way of everyone's lives!
Max Little, mathematician, Aston University

■ The floods had subsided, and Noah had safely landed his ark on Mount Sinai. "Go forth and multiply!" he told the animals, and so off they went two by two, and within a few weeks Noah heard the chatter of tiny monkeys, the snarl of tiny tigers and the stomp of baby elephants. Then he heard something he didn't recognise… a loud, revving buzz coming from the woods. He went in to find out what strange animal's offspring was making this noise, and discovered a pair of snakes wielding a chainsaw. "What on earth are you doing?" he cried. "You're destroying the trees!" "Well Noah," the snakes replied, "we tried to multiply as you bade us, but we're adders… so we have to use logs."
Alan Turnbull, National Physical Laboratory

■ A statistician gave birth to twins, but only had one of them baptised. She kept the other as a control.
David Spiegelhalter, professor of statistics, University of Cambridge


■ A chemistry teacher is recruited as a radio operator in the first world war. He soon becomes familiar with the military habit of abbreviating everything. As his unit comes under sustained attack, he is asked to urgently inform his HQ. "NaCl over NaOH! NaCl over NaOH!" he says. "NaCl over NaOH?" shouts his officer. "What do you mean?" "The base is under a salt!" came the reply.

I think I heard this when I was a student in the early 1980s.
Hugh Montgomery, professor of intensive care medicine, University College London

■ Sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium Batman!

This is my current favourite. It comes from my daughter, who is a 17-year-old A-level science student.
Tony Ryan, professor of physical chemistry, University of Sheffield

■ A weed scientist goes into a shop. He asks: "Hey, you got any of that inhibitor of 3-phosphoshikimate-carboxyvinyl transferase? Shopkeeper: "You mean Roundup?" Scientist: "Yeah, that's it. I can never remember that dang name."

Made up by and first told by me.
John A Pickett, scientific leader of chemical ecology, Rothamsted Research

■ A mosquito was heard to complain
That chemists had poisoned her brain.
The cause of her sorrow
Was para-dichloro-

I first read this limerick in a science magazine when I was at school. I taught it to my baby sister, then to my children, and to my students. It's the only poem in their degree course.

Martyn Poliakoff, research professor of chemistry, University of Nottingham


■ A psychoanalyst shows a patient an inkblot, and asks him what he sees. The patient says: "A man and woman making love." The psychoanalyst shows him a second inkblot, and the patient says: "That's also a man and woman making love." The psychoanalyst says: "You are obsessed with sex." The patient says: "What do you mean I am obsessed? You are the one with all the dirty pictures.''

I have no idea where I first heard this joke. I suspect when I was an undergraduate and was first taught about Freudian psychology.
Richard Wiseman, professor of public understanding of psychology, University of Hertfordshire

■ Psychiatrist to patient: "Don't worry. You're not deluded. You only think you are."

I heard this joke from my husband, my source of all good jokes. It is a variation of the type of joke I particularly like: a paradoxical twist of meaning. Here the surprising paradox is that you can at once be deluded and not deluded. This links to an aspect of my work that goes under the label "mentalising" and involves attributing thoughts to oneself and others. It's a mechanism that works beautifully, but the joke reveals how it can go wrong.
Uta Frith, professor in cognitive neuroscience, University College London

■ After sex, one behaviourist turned to another behaviourist and said, "That was great for you, but how was it for me?"

It's an oldie. I came across it in the late 1980s in a book by cognitive science legend Philip Johnson-Laird. Behaviourism was a movement in psychology that put the scientific observation of behaviour above theorising about unobservables like thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Johnson-Laird was one of my teachers at Cambridge, and he was using the joke to comment on the "cognitive revolution" that had overthrown behaviourism and shown that we can indeed have a rigorous science of cognitive states. Charles Fernyhough, professor of psychology at the University of Durham


■ An interviewer approaches a variety of scientists, and asks them: "Is it true that all odd numbers are prime?" The mathematician rejects the conjecture. "One is prime, three is prime, five is prime, seven is prime, but nine is not. The conjecture is false." The physicist is less certain. "One is prime, three is prime, five is prime, seven is prime, but nine is not. Then again 11 is and so is 13. Up to the limits of measurement error, the conjecture appears to be true." The psychologist says: "One is prime, three is prime, five is prime, seven is prime, nine is not. Eleven is and so is 13. The result is statistically significant." The artist says: "One is prime, three is prime, five is prime, seven is prime, nine is prime. It's true, all odd numbers are prime!"
Gary Marcus, professor of psychology, New York University

■ What do scientists say when they go to the bar? Climate change scientists say: "Where's the ice?" Seismologists might ask for their drinks to be "shaken and not stirred". Microbiologists request just a small one. Neuroscientists ask for their drinks "to be spiked". Scientists studying the defective gubernaculum say: "Put mine in a highball", and finally, social scientists say: "I'd like something soft." When paying at the bar, geneticists say: "I think I have some change in my jeans." And at the end of the evening a shy benzene biochemist might say to his companion: "Please give me a ring."

Professor Ron Douglas of City University and I made these feeble jokes up after pondering the question: "What do scientists say at a cocktail party". Of course this idea can be developed – and may even stimulate your readers to come up with additional contributions.
Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience, University of Oxford

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