IAP: A Fusion of Fun and Learning at MIT

A Texas Hold’em game from a player’s point of view. (Courtesy of Peter Hopper on Flickr. License CC BY-NC.)

Every January, MIT students, faculty, and staff come together and design a special learning experience. Infused with creativity, inventiveness and fun, the four week term, known as Independent Activities Period (IAP), gives rise to some of the most ingenious courses that aren’t all part of the MIT curriculum.

From beekeeping to Japanese archery and computational law to academic resilience storytelling, the variety of workshops and sessions are created and organized by MIT members passionate about their subject area.

On OCW, there are more than 100 IAP courses that are available for you to work through at your own pace. The following are a sample of IAP courses, but you can find all of the IAP courses on OCW.

15.S50 Poker Theory and Analytics

This course takes a broad-based look at poker theory and applications of poker analytics to investment management and trading.

This course is offered during the Independent Activities Period (IAP), which is a special 4-week term at MIT in January. IAP provides members of the MIT community including students, faculty, staff, and alums with an opportunity to organize, sponsor and participate in a wide variety of activities and topics that are often outside of the regular MIT curriculum.

18.S097 Applied Category Theory

Category theory is a relatively new branch of mathematics that has transformed much of pure math research. The technical advance is that category theory provides a framework in which to organize formal systems and by which to translate between them, allowing one to transfer knowledge from one field to another. But this same organizational framework also has many compelling examples outside of pure math. In this course, we will give seven sketches on real-world applications of category theory.

6.S095 Programming for the Puzzled

This class builds a bridge between the recreational world of algorithmic puzzles (puzzles that can be solved by algorithms) and the pragmatic world of computer programming, teaching students to program while solving puzzles. Python syntax and semantics required to understand the code are explained as needed for each puzzle.

6.057 Introduction to MATLAB

This is an accelerated introduction to MATLAB® and its popular toolboxes. Lectures are interactive, with students conducting sample MATLAB problems in real time. The course includes problem-based MATLAB assignments. Students must provide their own laptop and software. This is great preparation for classes that use MATLAB.

21W.794 Graduate Technical Writing Workshop

This course is designed to improve the student’s ability to communicate technical information. It covers the basics of working with sources, including summarizing and paraphrasing, synthesizing source materials, citing, quoting, and avoiding plagiarism. It also covers how to write an abstract and a literature review. In addition, we will cover communication concepts, tools, and strategies that can help you understand how engineering texts work, and how you can make your texts work more effectively.

Learn to Build Your Own Videogame with the Unity Game Engine and Microsoft Kinect

This is a 9-day hands-on workshop about designing, building, and publishing simple educational videogames. No previous experience with computer programming or videogame design is required; beginning students will be taught everything they need to know and advanced students will be challenged to learn new skills. Participants will learn about videogame creation using the Unity game engine, collaborative software development using GitHub, gesture handling using the Microsoft Kinect, 3D digital object creation, videogame design, and small team management.

Climate Action Hands-On: Harnessing Science with Communities to Cut Carbon

This course explores how citizen science can support community actions to combat climate change. Participants will learn about framing problems, design ways to gather data, gather some of their own field data, and consider how the results can enable action. Leaks in the natural gas system—a major source of methane emissions, and a powerful contributor to climate change—will be a particular focus.

Courses from MIT’s 2019 MacVicar Fellows

Four faculty portrait photos.

The 2019 MacVicar Faculty fellows are (from left to right): Erik Demaine, Graham Jones, T. L. Taylor, and Joshua Angrist.
(Courtesy of MIT Registrar’s Office.)

By Peter Chipman, OCW Digital Publication Specialist and OCW Educator Assistant

For the past 27 years, the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program has honored several MIT professors each year who have made outstanding contributions to undergraduate teaching, educational innovation, and mentoring.

This year’s awardees are Professors Joshua Angrist (economics), Erik Demaine (computer science), Graham Jones (anthropology), and T. L. Taylor (comparative media studies).

OCW is honored to share courses from all of this year’s Fellows:

Joshua Angrist

Erik Demaine

Graham Jones

T. L. Taylor

Through the OCW Educator initiative, we have also collected Instructor Insights from Professor Angrist concerning the need to overhaul econometrics pedagogy, and from Professor Demaine about his love of algorithms and how he seeks to communicate that love in teaching 6.849 Geometric Folding Algorithms: Linkages, Origami, Polyhedra and 6.851 Advanced Data Structures.

Interested in more Instructor Insights from past MacVicar Fellows? Visit our OCW Educator portal to search for Insights from MIT Teaching Award Recipients. Delve into the minds of David Autor, Steven Hall, Anne McCants, Haynes Miller, and many other MIT professors advancing teaching and learning in their fields.

Judge this book by its cover

Image of book cover for "Picturing Science and Engineering," featuring parts of nine scientific images.

The cover of the book Picturing Science and Engineering by Felice C. Frankel. The book serves as a guide to making scientific photographs for presentations, journal submissions, and covers.

Felice C. Frankel is an award-winning science photographer and research scientist based in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering. She’s also a skilled and passionate educator, whose OCW resource Making Science and Engineering Pictures: A Practical Guide to Presenting Your Work has freely shared her methods and insights with the world.

Felice describes making pictures as “an act of discovery” for both the scientist and his or her audiences. “[It] gets you, as the scientist, to look and see things that you would not ordinarily pay attention to.”

With instructional videos, hands-on tutorials, intriguing exercises and many supporting materials, one can learn a lot from this extensive OCW resource. But now there’s more: Felice has converted and extended the OCW course into a full-fledged book, Picturing Science and Engineering, now published by MIT Press.

If you’re new to making scientific imagery, or just curious to learn a little more, sample the topic and start exploring with the OCW resource. And if it grabs you (and it likely will), you’ll love the book.

Investigating Earth’s Earliest Life (MIT News)

Photo of a woman in lab holding up and looking into a small specimen jar.

MIT graduate student Kelsey Moore uses genetic and fossil evidence to study the first stages of evolution on our planet. (Photo: Ian MacLellan)

A brilliant hands-on activity by her second grade teacher got Kelsey Moore, now an MIT graduate student, wondering about the earliest life on Earth.  Students and teachers alike can find inspiration in her story on MIT News — and of course, OCW’s got relevant courses too.

In the second grade, Kelsey Moore became acquainted with geologic time. Her teachers instructed the class to unroll a giant strip of felt down a long hallway in the school. Most of the felt was solid black, but at the very end, the students caught a glimpse of red.

That tiny red strip represented the time on Earth in which humans have lived, the teachers said. The lesson sparked Moore’s curiosity. What happened on Earth before there were humans? How could she find out?

A little over a decade later, Moore enrolled in her first geoscience class at Smith College and discovered she now had the tools to begin to answer those very questions.

Moore zeroed in on geobiology, the study of how the physical Earth and biosphere interact. During the first semester of her sophomore year of college, she took a class that she says “totally blew my mind.”

“I knew I wanted to learn about Earth history. But then I took this invertebrate paleontology class and realized how much we can learn about life and how life has evolved,” Moore says. A few lectures into the semester, she mustered the courage to ask her professor, Sara Pruss in Smith’s Department of Geosciences, for a research position in the lab.

Now a fourth-year graduate student at MIT, Moore works in the geobiology lab of Associate Professor Tanja Bosak in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences…

Keep reading >

Start your own exploration of life’s origins on Earth, with the free lecture notes and more in OCW’s 12.007 Geobiology, co-taught by Professors Tanja Bosak and Roger Summons.

Go deep with oceanographer Carl Wunsch

Photo of a smiling man in front of a chalkboard covered in math and diagrams.

Carl Wunsch, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physical Oceanography (Emeritus) in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. (Photo by Helen Hill.)

Like many scientific fields, oceanography has gone through big changes in recent decades. It’s been blessed with more high-quality data and powerful computing, leading to more accurate oceanographic models and underlying theories. It’s going through culture shifts, e.g. from male-dominated to one where women are increasingly prominent. And as oceanography has been central to our growing scientific understanding of climate change, it’s thoroughly embedded in the science communication challenges and cultural debate around this curiously contentious issue.

Wouldn’t it be great to hear an insider’s perspective on the evolving science and all these changes?

Let MIT professor Carl Wunsch be our guide. With a career starting in the mid-1960s, Professor Wunsch “is at the heart of many of the major advances in modern physical oceanography,” writes Nature climate science editor Michael White.

Professor Wunsch is the latest guest on Michael White’s “Forecast” podcast, which features long format interviews with climate scientists about climate science. Their conversation is a captivating “one-stop history of the field, and a deeply personal insight into how major science questions are conceptualized and addressed,” full of rich stories about the science, and the personalities, conflicts and connections, that make this world turn.

You can also learn some oceanography directly from Wunsch’s two courses on OCW – 12.842 Climate Physics and Chemistry and 12.864 Inference from Data and Models – and his popular online textbook Evolution of Physical Oceanography (also free on OCW). These are just a few of OCW’s extensive oceanography resources.

> Listen to “Carl Wunsch and the rise of modern oceanography” on the Forecast podcast.

Courses from MIT’s 2018 MacVicar Fellows

Four faculty portrait photos.

The 2018 MacVicar Faculty fellows are (clockwise from top left): Shankar Raman, David Autor, Merritt Roe Smith, and Christopher Capozzola.
(Courtesy of MIT Registrar’s Office.)

By Sarah Hansen, OCW Educator Project Manager

For the past 26 years, the MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program has honored several MIT professors each year who have made outstanding contributions to undergraduate teaching, educational innovation, and mentoring.

This year’s awardees are Professors David Autor (economics), Christopher Capozzola (history), Shankar Raman (literature), and Merritt Roe Smith (history).

OCW is honored to share courses from all of this year’s Fellows.

David Autor

14.03 Microeconomic Theory and Public Policy

14.661 Labor Economics I

14.11 Putting Social Sciences to the Test: Field Experiments in Economics

14.662 Labor Economics II

Christopher Capozzola

21M.630 Black Matters: Introduction to Black Studies

21H.223 War & American Society

21H.221 The Places of  Migration in United States History

21H.105 American Classics

21H.225J Gender and the Law in U.S. History 

21H.224 Law and Society in US History

Shankar Raman

21L.451 Introduction to Literary Theory

21L.704 Studies in Poetry: From the Sonneteers to the Metaphysicals

21L.009 Shakespeare

21L.703 English Renaissance Drama: Theatre and Society in the Age of Shakespeare

21L.017 The Art of the Probable: Literature and Probability

Merritt Roe Smith

STS.462 Social and Political Implications of Technology

21H.116J The Civil War and Reconstruction

STS.050 The History of MIT

STS.001 Technology in American History

STS.025J Making the Modern World: The Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective

STS.427 The Civil War and the Emergence of Modern America, 1861-1890

Through the OCW Educator initiative, we have also collected Instructor Insights from Professor David Autor about how he teaches 14.03 Microeconomic Theory and Public Policy. His roundabout path to teaching labor economics is both fascinating and encouraging to those of us on a winding path toward finding our passions!

Interested in more Instructor Insights from past MacVicar Fellows? Visit our OCW Educator portal to search for Insights from MIT Teaching Award Recipients. Delve into the minds of Lorna Gibson, Catherine Drennan, Arthur Bahr, Dennis Freeman, and many other MIT professors advancing teaching and learning in their fields.