Science for All

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words

OVERVIEW: I have owned Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Monroe (Creator of xkcd) for about a year. I keep it in my office and a few times a month I find myself opening it up and spending several minutes examining the brilliant labeled diagrams (they are amazing systems models) that show how common and important living and designed systems work. Mr. Monroe committed to using only the “ten hundred” most common words. This constraint creates a beautiful simplicity that gets to the essence of these systems. As science teachers we can learn a lesson from this. Too often we value vocabulary words as evidence of student understanding. Perhaps we should push more for simplified explanations that use everyday language.

PURPOSE: I think that any human being will find this book to be interesting and any scientist, engineer, or STEM educator will also find it to be inspiring and valuable. There is something about the clearly illustrated systems models that seem to mesh perfectly with the Next Generation Science Standards. This book also makes a wonderful gift.