Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The Cryptic Case of the Coded Fair, written by Penny Noyce and Swarthmore alumni Robert and Barbara Tinker ’63, is the latest of Tumblehome Learning’s “Galactic Academy of Sciences” (G.A.S.) series.
Coded Fair follows four friends, Ella, Shomari, Benson, and Anita, as they try to stop an evil villain from the future, Dr. G, from wreaking havoc on science fairs across the country. As their blue-haired ally from the future, Quarkum, explains, “[Dr. G] wants everyone to be stupid and unquestioning. That way he can spread his power, frighten people, start wars, and make money” (9). Ella and Shomari must travel through time, learning about different types of codes from various time periods and cultures. The time travelers then return their findings to Benson and Anita who remain in present time so that they can focus on cracking Dr. G’s codes, and ultimately stop his evil plans.
Alumni Robert and Barbara Tinker have both worked tirelessly throughout their long academic careers. In the 1970s, they completed their respective PhD programs — physics for Robert and clinical psychology for Barbara. They spent the majority of their careers in educational research and development, though Barbara spent a decade on clinical work and Robert taught at Amherst for a number of years. In the 1960s, they spent time working with the Civil Rights movement on voter registration while teaching at Stillman College, a historically black liberal arts college in Alabama.
Robert explained over email that when they found themselves retired last year, they “thought that writing educational adventures for kids might be an engaging project for us.” They soon got in contact with a friend, Penny Noyce, who helped found Tumblehome Learning, a publishing company whose goal is to “spread deeper understanding of science and technology through compelling narratives,” in Robert’s words. Once Penny signed on, it was off to the races.
Noyce and the Tinkers decided on the central theme of codes because it landed in the intersection of all their academic interests and backgrounds. Robert would handle the math, Barbara would be responsible for the history elements and the majority of the writing, and Noyce would weave it all together so as to be in line with G.A.S.’s underlying story arc and its general science fiction genre.
Both of the Tinkers greatly enjoyed the writing process and the ability to make the subjects they loved into an accessible book for children. Robert had great fun playing variations in codes, while Barbara deeply enjoyed doing the historic research and incorporating scientific contributions from many different cultures. The book also cleverly sneaks in important fundamentals about math and science, such as the presence of uncertainty in all scientific experiments, the existence of multiple types of infinity, and the extreme importance of environmental science. As Robert joked, “we always try to weave in climate change and sustainability in the time we have left.”
The authors envision their final product as gifts for children and grandchildren with any interest in math, science, or solving problems. Having done everything from working in the Civil Rights Movement to teaching in universities, it seems fitting that these Swatties give themselves a break and have a little fun—while, of course, still learning, as always.
Featured image courtesy of http://blog.csta.acm.org