Lesson of the Day: ‘How Fast Can a Human Run?’

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Lesson of the Day: ‘How Fast Can a Human Run?’

Find all our Lessons of the Day here.

Featured Article: “How Fast Can a Human Run?” with text and illustrations by Randall Munroe.

“Two legs are good. Four legs might be better,” Randall Munroe writes in today’s featured article.

In this lesson, you’ll explore why there is a limit to how fast humans can run, and what it would take to make us go faster. Then, you’ll come up with your own questions about the world that can be used as inspiration for our new STEM Writing Contest.

How fast is it physically possible for a human to run?

That’s the question Steve from Davis, Calif., asked Mr. Munroe, the writer and illustrator of the Good Question column, which answers readers’ science-related queries.

What do you think the answer is? What evidence supports your prediction?

Now, take it a step further: How do you think humans could be engineered to run as fast as possible?

Write a hypothesis that responds to this question. You might use this sentence stem: “If _________, then humans could run faster.”

Remember, a hypothesis is an educated guess, so consider what you already know about the scientific principles related to speed and human anatomy.

If you’re in a classroom setting, share your prediction with a classmate and explain how you came up with it.

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. Why are humans limited in how fast they can run?

2. Why can humans skate faster than they can run?

3. Mr. Munroe suggests four changes to human anatomy that might make them run faster. Which of these are most likely to have a positive effect, and why?

4. A 2016 paper by Ryuta Kinugasa and Yoshiyuki Usami predicted that by 2048, a person on all fours could go faster than a person running upright. Why does Mr. Munroe say that this is a “bold prediction”?

5. Media literacy. Mr. Munroe cites experts and research throughout the article. Select one piece of evidence he includes and explain how it helps substantiate his explanation.

6. Return to the predictions you made in the warm-up activity. Were your guesses proved or disproved in this article? If so, how? If not, brainstorm some ways you could potentially test your hypothesis to see whether it’s correct.

Option 1: Create an illustration.

Throughout the piece, Mr. Munroe adds illustrations to enhance readers’ understanding of the science behind his explanation — or just to make reading it a little more fun.

Choose a paragraph or two from the article that Mr. Munroe did not illustrate, then create your own stick-figure drawing that helps communicate the main idea.

Option 2: Ask a “good question.”

Mr. Munroe’s Good Question column encourages readers to notice the world around them and ask questions about the things they would like to know more about.

What science, technology, engineering, math or health issues are you intrigued by?

Maybe you want to know if your dog really loves you; what would happen if you ditched your phone for a while; how artificial intelligence can be used in the operating room; what scientific uses there are for bumblebee vomit; if you’ll one day be able to clone your pet; or something else.

Brainstorm a list of your own “good questions” and post them to our related writing prompt: “What Questions Do You Have About How the World Works?

If you want an additional challenge, you might use one of those questions as the basis for an entry to our informational writing contest, in which we’re challenging students to write an explanation, in 500 words or less, about any STEM-related concept that will engage and enlighten readers.