Metals and cheeses: unconventional pairings

Photo of a piece of cheese with bits of black truffle at the point of fracture.

A truffle-induced fracture in Sottocenere al Tartufo cheese. (Photo by Michael Short.)

This lecture explores the microstructure characteristics of metals in high temperature/high stress situations, via hands-on experience with similar structures and behaviors in selected cheeses. Cheese-tasting asides enrich the experience.

That’s right: metals and cheeses.

Gourmets know how to pair fine cheeses with other foods and beverages to produce novel and surprising tastes. An MIT course took this into a whole new realm, pairing fine cheeses with metals to produce novel hands-on learning insights. Plus, students got to eat their test results.

For example: Sottocenere al Tartufo is an unusual cheese from Lombardo, Italy, laced with bits of black truffle. This cheese pairs well with a special “honeydew honey.” And when students bent a slice until it broke in half, they could see how the break occured around the truffle bits, mimicking how troublesome metal impurities can cause failures.

All this took place in 22.033 Nuclear Systems Design Projecta capstone design course for seniors majoring in Nuclear Engineering. Near the end of their undergraduate program, students design a nuclear reactor in an intensive semester-long team project. It’s a chance to integrate everything they’ve learned to date, and also to quickly extend their skills as the project requires.

As Dr. Mike Short describes on the OCW course page “Making Content Tangible,”  for this class he realized most students needed more background on how metals perform in very high temperatures and stresses.

You can see the results in Lecture 8: Metals and Cheeses – Unconventional Pairings. Dr. Short certainly found a creative, and tasty, solution!


And don’t miss the class tasting menu, aka “Metallographic Phenomena As Observed in Cheeses” (PDF), found on the Lecture Notes tab of that video page.

Keeping score (MIT News)

Observant OCW users will recognize the face of Prof. Michael Cuthbert from the “Meet Our Instructors” section of our homepage. Today, you’ll see that same face on MIT’s homepage:

Professor Michael Cuthbert on MIT's homepage, his hands on a piano keyboard and a musical text.Cuthbert uses computational tools to study music history. MIT News writes:

Cuthbert’s interest in programming has led him to develop a host of educational and coding tools for other music scholars and teachers, as part of a program called music21. The idea is to build an open-source toolkit with a variety of applications. Late this summer, Cuthbert was putting in 50 hours a week, by his own estimate, programming tools for his classes.

The quantitative approach, Cuthbert says, is simply borne of his desire to know more about music history. Take the question of how much 14th-century music survives. Suppose we only have page 68 of a particular manuscript of music; it might appear that we have lost all of the compositions in the manuscript to that point. But suppose many musical compositions reappear, from manuscript to manuscript — as they did in the 14th century. The first 68 pages of our manuscript might well not be filled with unique music lost to history; they could have had copies of well-known songs. Cuthbert’s calculations flesh out that logic with the existing statistics.

“I hope somebody will carefully go through my data,” Cuthbert says. For musicologists with no training in population biology, he acknowledges, “It does begin to look a little like black magic. You have to buy that the programming is right and the equations are correct.”

But the approach has had traction with Cuthbert’s students, who have begun doing quantitative analyses of things like the distribution of notes written by Beethoven before and after he went deaf, in an attempt to analyze the effects of the great composer’s hearing loss on his music. Continue reading.

You can learn more about Cuthbert’s teaching and tools in his course Studies in Western Music History: Quantitative and Computational Approaches to Music History, and explore his other courses on OCW. You can also read why he values OCW on our website.

The MOOC where everybody learned (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Banner image for 8.MechCx.

It’s an ongoing debate. Can MOOCs help level the educational playing field? Will they be accessible to students of all backgrounds, or are there limits to their effectiveness with some types of students?

A study just published on a recent MITx introductory physics MOOC weighs in on this question. The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog reports:

The MOOC Where Everybody Learned
by Steve Kolowich – September 16, 2014

Some MOOC skeptics believe that the only students fit to learn in massive open online courses are those who are already well educated. Without coaching and the support system of a traditional program, the thinking goes, ill-prepared students will not learn a thing.

Not so, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The researchers analyzed data from a physics course that MIT offered on the edX platform in the summer of 2013. They found that students who had spent significant time on the course showed evidence of learning no matter what their educational background.

“There was no evidence that cohorts with low initial ability learned less than the other cohorts,” wrote the researchers in a paper published this month by The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

Not only that, but the MOOC students learned at a similar rate as did MIT students who had taken the on-campus version of a similar course. That finding surprised the researchers because the on-campus MIT students studied together in small groups for four hours every week and had regular access to their professors and other campus resources. Read more >

The MOOC in this study, 8.MReVx Mechanics Review, is currently running again. And a new version specifically for high school students, 8.MechCx AP® Physics C: Mechanics is open for registration and begins on January 15, 2015.

edX announces new high school initiative

Banner image for the edX high school initiative.

Last week, edX announced their new high school initiative: 26 MOOCs specifically geared to the needs and interests of high school students around the world. As edX CEO Anant Agarwal wrote in the announcement:

Studies show that nearly 60 percent of first-year U.S. college students are unprepared for postsecondary studies. This readiness gap between college eligibility and preparedness is costly not only to students, but also to families and institutions.

Our new initiative will address this severe gap and help alleviate these costly disparities, while also meeting the needs of edX learners who have expressed interest in additional entry-level college course offerings – 90 percent of edX learners according to a 2013 survey.

As I’ve written about in the past, these courses could also provide a path to life-long continuous education, where students come into college after having taken their first-year subjects through MOOCs or other AP* courses, study on campus for two years, then enter the workforce to gain real-world skills, taking MOOCs, community college courses or other online courses as needed throughout their career.

Covering subject areas that range from mathematics to science, English and history, and even college advising and AP onramps, edX high school MOOCs will provide students within the U.S. and around the world the opportunity to pursue challenging, advanced coursework. Currently, 22 high school courses are open for registration, and all 26 will launch within a few months.

MITx is contributing two of these courses. 8.MechCx: AP® Physics C: Mechanics begins on January 15, 2015.  18.01x AP® Calculus BC will be offered in three parts, beginning with Part 1: Differential Calculus in 3Q 2015.

Also, be sure to check out OCW’s Highlights for High School, our collection of open educational resources for high school students and teachers. With test prep for biology, chemistry, calculus and physics, and other great resources across a wide range of STEM and humanities topics, it’s got something for everyone.


The MIT freshman year, all in OCW Scholar

Graphic introducing OCW Scholar

What’s it like to be a freshman at MIT? Dorms, roommates, late-night pizza…new opportunities for hands-on learning, collaboration, and rich personal connections…and a rigorous and fascinating set of courses.

OCW can’t give you campus living or discover your new favorite lab partner. But with our OCW Scholar collection, you can explore all of the courses in a typical MIT freshman year: six core classes in calculus, physics, chemistry, and biology, and a couple of electives. Each OCW Scholar course has everything you need for self-study: lecture videos with some of MIT’s best faculty, notes, assignments and exams with solutions, and supplemental problem solving or study materials.

You might follow the example of new MIT freshman Monica Valcourt, recently profiled in MIT News. While a high school sophomore, Monica used the OCW Scholar course 9.00SC Introduction to Psychology for independent study, since her school didn’t offer a psychology course. She got her school to grade her work and provide credit for this course. Watching the videos, reading the books, and doing the homework ultimately earned her an A in the course. Monica continued on with other OCW courses, including computer programming — which she hopes will become her MIT major.

Here’s what a typical MIT freshman might take, assuming no AP credits for physics or calculus:

Semester 1

Semester 2

The OCW Scholar collection continues with several more STEM subjects taken by many MIT sophomores: differential equations, linear algebra, physics of vibrations and waves, probabilityintroduction to electrical engineering, and engineering dynamics.

With fifteen courses in all, OCW Scholar gives you a hearty slice of the MIT undergraduate experience. But you’ll need to supply the pizza.

Fold, Then Flip

This curved-crease sculpture, created for the opening of the National Museum of Mathematics, demonstrates the intersection of origami, design, and mathematics that is at the heart of this course. (Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine.)

This curved-crease sculpture, created for the opening of the National Museum of Mathematics, demonstrates the intersection of origami, design, and mathematics that is at the heart of the course 6.849 Geometric Folding Algorithms. (Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine.)

Quiz question: What do medical stents, car air bags, origami sculptures, robotic arms, satellite solar arrays, and morphing computer graphics have in common?

Answer: Folding, of course!

Oh, yes, and algorithms, too!

OCW has just published 6.849 Geometric Folding Algorithms: Linkages, Origami, Polyhedra, a course by Professor Erik Demaine, which explores the universe of folding in one dimension (linkages), two dimensions (origami), and three dimensions (polyhedra).

The course is itself folded in the sense that Professor Demaine flipped his classroom using videotaped “inverted lectures” that students watched outside class.  Time in the classroom was devoted to answering student questions and to pursuing deeper investigations of the multifaceted course material.  Professor Demaine also invited students to optional “open-problem sessions,” at which students worked on cutting-edge problems in a collaborative spirit espousing the belief that “there are no bad ideas.”

The course is a revealing example of the ways that video lectures can actually free up the instructor to engage with students in a more hands-on, thought-provoking way. The course publication on OCW includes all of the video lectures (from Fall 2010) and videos of the class sessions (from Fall 2012) as well.

Professor Demaine explains his thinking behind the course in his This Course at MIT page. The class sessions were shaped by forms that the students filled out online after watching the lectures, so Professor Demaine could prepare for the sessions to address student questions and incorporate the latest research, often with stunning computer graphics and animations.

Professor Demaine liked this format so much he flipped another course he teaches, 6.851 Advanced Data Structures. As he says in the course description, “You interact with data structures even more often than with algorithms (think Google, your mail server, and even your network routers). In addition, data structures are essential building blocks in obtaining efficient algorithms.”

A champion of open sharing, Professor Demaine published this course with full video lectures and a reflective This Course at MIT page on OCW. This allowed him to share a number of lessons he learned from his first flipped experience and to outline the adjustments and improvements he made for his second.

You can see many other OCW’s This Course at MIT pages here. They are part of OCW’s innovative Educator project.

— Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Pivotal Concepts, Pivotal Videos

OCW has been publishing more video than ever before. We recently put up a collection of 47 short videos, the STEM Concept Videos. These videos are designed to help students understand pivotal concepts in undergraduate courses in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As conceived for the collection, a pivotal concept is one that:

  • has importance in multiple disciplines
  • is necessary for understanding higher-level coursework
  • recurs throughout the curriculum for the same discipline

Examples of science concepts treated in the series are conservation of mass, Newton’s laws, and equilibrium. Mathematics concepts include derivatives and integrals (as applied to motion or electric potential, for instance), differential equations (as used to describe enzyme kinetics, among other topics), and probability. Other videos address problem-solving processes and various techniques and applications of representation (torque, vectors, free-body diagrams, e.g.).

Model cars on top of a model dome.

Robots place model police cars atop MIT’s dome. Find out how in Motion, one of 47 STEM concept videos.

The video collection has three fundamental goals:

  • to reinforce pivotal concepts and multidisciplinary themes from the first two years of a general engineering curriculum
  • to provide opportunities for students to actively engage with content (as by presenting challenge questions for the students to consider after pausing the videos)
  • to provide concrete examples from everyday life, or from the laboratory, of the utility of the concepts

The videos were created by MIT’s Teaching and Learning Lab, originally as part of collaboration between MIT and the government of Singapore to establish a new university, the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD). The idea was to create videos to supplement the newly designed SUTD curriculum, but the videos proved so useful that instructors incorporated them into their courses on the MIT campus, and students began to watch on their own.

These videos provide a wonderful resource for teachers and students interested in college-level science.

The stars of the videos? MIT faculty, instructors, postdocs, and graduate students!

People interested in how these videos were developed can read the paper presented by TLL researchers at the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) 2013 conference.

The videos do not constitute a course and are not listed in MIT’s curriculum. Rather, they are published on OCW as a Supplemental Resource. OCW’s collection of Supplemental Resources includes other video series, online textbooks, and other publications and learning tools.

— Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director