On Pi Day, A Chance to Make an Impact

Digits of Pi on a whiteboard

Digits of Pi on a whiteboard

By Megan Maffucci, MIT Open Learning

On March 14, math enthusiasts everywhere will take a moment to appreciate 𝛑 (pi), that irrational number equaling the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pi Day (3.14) is marked annually worldwide with creative pi-themed classroom projects, nerdy baking contests, and other pi (and pie!) filled activities to recognize the importance of this elusive and never-ending number to mathematics and science.

Inspired by the power and possibility of pi, March 14 has become a significant day for MIT, giving way to two special MIT Pi Day traditions. First, it is the long-awaited day every year when MIT announces its admissions decisions for the incoming undergraduate class. It is also MIT’s annual giving day, when alumni, parents, and friends of MIT around the world come together to support the Institute during the 24 hours of Pi Day. The Pi Day giving challenge celebrates important initiatives like OpenCourseWare (OCW) and MITx, which carry out MIT’s mission to advance knowledge worldwide. By giving to OCW and MITx on Pi Day, learners can be part of our efforts to expand these educational resources to empower learners worldwide.

Richard Harlow and Parent Connector Michele Sorenson are two such community members who were inspired to take the Pi Day challenge and give back to OCW and MITx. A long-time OCW learner, Richard embraced the opportunity to make a difference as this year’s OCW Pi Day challenge donor and has pledged to give OCW $5,000 if the project reaches its participation goal. Michele, an MIT parent and lifelong learner, is supporting MITx on Pi Day as a way to help expand accessibility for those with limited educational opportunities. Like Richard, she will make a $5,000 gift to MITx if we reach our Pi Day goal.

Get to know Richard and Michele as they share the stories behind their generous Pi Day pledges and reflect on their own relationships to OCW and MITx:

Richard Harlow, this year’s OCW Pi Day challenge donor

What role does education play in your life?

Richard: In the years 1971-73, I was a lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Zambia. The University, as well as the country, were relatively isolated with very few resources, and little communication with the rest of the world: no reliable telephone service and, of course, no internet at that time.

When I returned to the US, a mild recession was in progress and the only jobs available were temporary post-doctoral type positions.  I accepted a Welch Foundation offer at the University of Texas at Austin where, for a period of 3 years, I labored to get my academic credentials re-established. Having accomplished that, I was successful in obtaining a permanent position at DuPont’s Experimental Station in 1977.

How has OpenCourseWare supported your learning goals?

Richard: I kept in touch with the University of Zambia once the internet was available and, one day, I discovered a reference to the OCW offerings on its website.  I checked out some of the lower-level science courses and realized that they would be a valuable asset for any student who was interested in learning science from some of the best professors in the business.  And cost would not be a barrier!

Intensely curious, I have listened over the last 5 years to lectures on chemistry – how was my field being taught these days;  material sciences – technical details of solar panels; quantum physics – I simply wanted to understand the fundamentals; and finance – circumstances that led to the crash of 2008-09.

What inspired you to support OCW in this year’s Pi Day challenge?

Richard: I began to modestly support the OCW program a few years ago as I could see for myself what a treasure these lectures are. I support, and will continue to support, individual initiatives which expand the ability of people to gain free access to higher education.  OCW is well worth supporting.

 

 

Michele Sorenson, this year’s MITx Pi Day challenge donor

What are you learning now?

Michele: Being a lifelong learner, I subscribe to many feeds, ranging from the spiritual to the academic, the cerebral to the practical. As a faith community nurse, attorney, bioethicist and professor of law and ethics, I do almost all of my continuing education online.  It is free and authoritative, and allows me to stay current in all my professional and avocational ventures. These not only keep me fresh in my fields but also take me just about anywhere I want to go for information. I earned a scholarship to attend the University of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, where I am currently working to attain my geriatric education certification, for which much of the training is online.

What inspired you to support MITx in this challenge?

Michele: My life has been devoted to supporting and advocating for the underprivileged, and the underserved. MITx provides for this, and at a location accessible to even the most isolated among us. All that’s needed is connectivity; once you’re plugged in, you own the universe. How inspiring and empowering to those who have little! A life-altering game changer.

[My son] Andrew ’21 spent his IAP (Independent Activities Period) in Kazakhstan, teaching physics to Astanan high school students. He returned home deeply appreciative of MIT. “Mom” he said, “These kids are smarter than I am. When I asked them what they most wanted in life, every one of them said: ‘I want to go to MIT.’ I looked at them and sadly realized how infinitesimally harder it was for them to attend, and realized how incredibly lucky I was to be there.”  MITx affords these talented kids the opportunity to fulfill that dream: to get an MIT education.

What do you think of MITx’s role in shaping education?

Michele: With great gifts, comes great responsibility. MIT has emerged from a dense pack of excellent universities to be regarded as the premier institute of higher learning in the world. Because of this, MIT has an absolute duty to shape education responsibly, to inform its motto of mens et manus with agape, with love and respect for everyone; the duty incarnate in its Better World campaign. MITx takes this concept global, by “expanding access to quality educational opportunities worldwide.”

Richard and Michele’s stories are just two of many powerful examples of why OCW and MITx remain committed to open access and to helping independent learners and educators make the most of their education. You can make the most of your support and help us unlock Richard and Michele’s $5,000 challenge gifts with a gift of any size on Pi Day.

We hope you’ll join Richard and Michele in supporting us on March 14 by giving to OCW or MITx.

Love is love is love is love

Love is a many-splendored thing, and on OCW, there is so much to love and learn.

Our amazing team of OCW Digital Publication Specialists offer you a short list of MIT courses that delve into the subject of love in all of its varied roles in history, music and culture.

  • CC.112 Philosophy of Love – Explore the nature of love through works of philosophy, literature, film, poetry, and individual experience. This course investigates the distinction among eros, philia, and agape. Students discuss ideas of love as a feeling, an action, a species of ‘knowing someone,’ or a way to give or take.
  • 24.261 Philosophy of Love in the Western World – This course is a seminar on the nature of love and sex, approached as topics both in philosophy and in literature. Readings include recent philosophy as well as classic myths of love that occur in works of literature and lend themselves to philosophical analysis.
  • 21L.000J Writing About Literature: Writing About Love – Designed around analyzing intimate bonds and the permutations of heartbreak, this course focuses on the analysis of a set of relations in novels, short stories, poetry, music videos, and live theatre. We’ll consider the transformative states of the lover’s (un)becoming, for how consciousness is constituted by bonds yet how the lover transcends crisis in the moment of the epiphany that surfaces in love’s very failure; indeed, love itself becomes narcissistically yet optimistically illuminating, even in its oppressive hold.
  • 21L.460 Medieval Literature: Love, Sex, and Marriage – It is easy to think of love as a “universal language” – but do ideas about love translate easily across history, culture, and identity? In this course, we will encounter some surprising, even disturbing ideas about love and sex from medieval writers and characters: For instance, that married people can never be in love, that the most satisfying romantic love incorporates pain and violence, and that intense erotic pleasure can be found in celibate service to God. Through Arthurian romances, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, love letters, mystical visions, and more, we will explore medieval attitudes toward marriage, sexuality, and gender roles. What can these perspectives teach us about the uniqueness of the Middle Ages—and how do medieval ideas about love continue to influence the beliefs and fantasies of our own culture?
  • 21A.111J / WGS.172J For Love and Money: Rethinking the Family – Through investigating cross-cultural case studies, this course introduces students to the anthropological study of the social institutions and symbolic meanings of family, gender, and sexuality. Explore the myriad forms that families and households take and consider their social, emotional, and economic dynamics.
  • ES.S60 The Art and Science of Happiness – This seminar looks at current theories on happiness and positive psychology as well as practical implications of those theories for our own lives. It explores the concept of happiness, different cultural definitions of happiness, and the connection between happiness, optimism, and meaning. Also explored are practical strategies for creating more opportunities for happiness in our lives and for learning how to deal more effectively with sources of unhappiness.
  • 21M.299 The Beatles (See week XI for All You Need is Love) This class surveys the music of the Beatles, from the band’s early years to the break-up of the group, mapping how the Beatle’s musical style changed from skiffle and rock to studio-based experimentation. Cultural influences that helped to shape them, as well as the group’s influence worldwide, will be a continuous theme.

Love to find more topics on OCW?  Check out our find by topics course finder.

2019 is your new year of learning!

2019 is your new year of learning! To kick off your educational journey, our fabulous team of OCW Publication Specialists came up with some of the essential courses to ignite your entrepreneurial spirit and exercise your creativity and logical thinking.

Consider the following as gentle suggestions for your new year resolutions. And may your curiosity be your guide!

Be Your Own Boss with these entrepreneurship courses:

  • 16.660J / ESD.62J / 16.853 Introduction to Lean Six Sigma Methods -This course covers the fundamental principles, practices and tools of Lean Six Sigma methods that underlay modern organizational productivity approaches applied in aerospace, automotive, health care, and other sectors. It includes lectures, active learning exercises, a plant tour, talks by industry practitioners, and videos.
  • 15.S21 Nuts and Bolts of Business Plans – Devise your master plan with this course that covers the basics of starting your new venture. The course includes a video and slide player to see the lecturer while the slides advance automatically.

  • 15.390 New Enterprises – The video tutorials are great for people who want to start their own business, further develop an existing business, be a member of a management team in a new enterprise, or better understand the entrepreneur and the entrepreneurial process.

New Year’s Resolution: Learn something new

New Year’s Resolution: Travel more

  • 21L.007 World Literatures: Travel Writing – Read writing about travel and place from Columbus’s Diario through the present. (The reading list is particularly good.) Travel writing has some special features that will shape both the content and the work for this subject: reflecting the point of view, narrative choices, and style of individuals, it also responds to the pressures of a real world only marginally under their control. Whether the traveler is a curious tourist, the leader of a national expedition, or a starving, half-naked survivor, the encounter with place shapes what travel writing can be.

New Year’s Resolution: Read more

  • 21L.004 Reading Poetry – How do you read a poem? Intuition is not the only answer. In this class, we will investigate some of the formal tools poets use—meter, sound, syntax, word-choice, and other properties of language—as well as exploring a range of approaches to reading poetry, from the old (memorization and reading out loud) to the new (digitally enabled visualization and annotation).
  • 21L.001 Foundations of Western Culture: Homer to Dante – As we read broadly from throughout the vast chronological period that is “Homer to Dante,” we will pepper our readings of individual ancient and medieval texts with broader questions like: what images, themes, and philosophical questions recur through the period; are there distinctly “classical” or “medieval” ways of depicting or addressing them; and what do terms like “Antiquity” or “the Middle Ages” even mean?
  • 21L.002 Foundations of Western Culture: The Making of the Modern World – This course comprises a broad survey of texts, literary and philosophical, which trace the development of the modern world from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century. Intrinsic to this development is the growth of individualism in a world no longer understood to be at the center of the universe. The texts chosen for study exemplify the emergence of a new humanism, at once troubled and dynamic in comparison to the old.
  • 21L.430 / CMS.920 Popular Culture and Narrative: Use and Abuse of the Fairy Tale – We ask where Fairy Tales come from and we examine the structure of Fairy Tales. We’ll also look at how Fairy Tales are conditioned by oral transmission and inherited story-telling techniques.

New Year’s Resolution: Laugh more

 

Want to learn even more? Check out any and all 2,447 free MIT courses on OCW!

Python Programming for the Puzzled

In this course, we use Python to solve a variety of puzzles. Two of the puzzles involve the game of chess. (Image by Brett Paci at MIT OpenCourseWare.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Python Programming for the Puzzled

Those Sudoku number grids that look so easy but can be so exasperating—wouldn’t it be great to write a program that can solve every one of them?

Imagine you’re a magician, and your neat trick is to read the minds of the people in the audience. They’ve seen some cards pulled from a deck. You boast that you can read their minds and pick the fifth card, which is amazing, because you’ve already missed the first four! How can you pull this trick off?

The bike rack on your car has gotten loose and needs to be re-secured. All you need is a bolt and a nut that match the size of a hole in a metal tube. Luckily, you’ve got lots of bolts and nuts in a couple of jars on a shelf. Maybe it’s finally time to see which bolts and nuts fit together. But you don’t have all day. You need to get this done quickly. You’re meeting up with friends  . . .

Solving Algorithmic Puzzles with Python

These vexing challenges might seem about as different from each other as can be, but the puzzles they present are all solvable by algorithms and a little Python programming!

That’s right—you can program magic, and mechanics, and Sudoku grids right from your home computer. All you need is a little help from Professor Srini Devadas, now available in his course 6.S095 Programming for the Puzzled.

Taught during the IAP period of January 2018, the course has on its OCW site full video lectures, a prose description of each puzzle challenge, the necessary Python code, and the solution to the puzzle.

Professor Devadas is a master at making programming fun by tying it to real-world conundrums. He’s won an MIT MacVicar Fellowship for being such a great teacher, and in this course he’s at the top of his game.

Professor Srini Devadas begins his explanation of how he “read” the minds of the class in the “You Can Read Minds” puzzle.

There’s a square courtyard you have to tile. It should be an easy job, only the tile you’ve been given isn’t square. It’s L-shaped. And there’s this statue that you’ll have to work around. Don’t fret! Professor Devadas has the magic formula!

How can you place eight queens on a chessboard such that no queen attacks any other? How about if you have a chessboard of any size and a number of queens matching that board’s number of columns or rows? You don’t have to be a chess master to solve this one!

Professor Devadas knows how to foster creative thinking with programming, and the puzzles he unravels will surely lead his students to solve even more mind-bending puzzles in the future.

Thanks to you – OCW for the Win!

Dear Friends of OCW,

We are so grateful to the more than 200 OCW learners who were able to donate yesterday during the MIT Pi Day Giving Challenge.

Because of their support, we were able to reach our goal and earn an additional $4,000!  This support along with the challenge prize will help:

  • Sustain OCW’s unique mission of sharing MIT’s teaching materials openly with the world.
  • Publish updated and new course publications reflecting the entire gamut of instruction and student experience.
  • Increase the impact of OCW’s publications on learning and teaching around the world.
  • Raise awareness of OCW’s unique course offerings and resources.

A special thanks to OCW supporter Richard Soley, for believing in OCW and providing the challenge prize.

Sincerely,
Joe

Joseph Pickett
Publication Director
MIT OpenCourseWare

P.S. If you weren’t able to donate during the Challenge Day, you are in luck! We appreciate and accept donations on our giving site, every day and at any time!