Why This MIT Professor Wants to Help Everyone Learn Basic Economics

Simple line drawing of two neighboring houses, people out front of each house looking at the other one and saying "Wierd".

Image from a video in Introductory AP® Microeconomics, using the challenges negotiating with a noisy party next door to illustrate the concept of market failure.

Professor Jon Gruber’s 14.01SC Principles of Microeconomics is OCW’s most popular economics course, with legions of appreciative fans. 

Professor Gruber wants the world to understand that economics is not only useful, it’s also “beautiful and surprising and cool.” He’s invested in spreading the economics gospel to a wider audience, such as his 2011 graphic-novel treatment of health care reform [still a timely work, it seems!].

So we wanted to spread the word about Professor Gruber’s new online course with MITx on edX. Introductory AP® Microeconomics opens on August 15, 2017 for self-paced learning. Compared to his OCW course, this gentle introduction is for a more general audience, explaining key points with fun video animations rather than the beauty of calculus. Read on…

Why This MIT Professor Wants to Help Everyone Learn Basic Economics

Jonathan Gruber, Ford Professor of Economics, MIT

I’m excited to announce the launch of a new course on edX that covers Introductory AP Microeconomics. I’ve wanted to do a course like this for years. I have always found economics provides a terrific way to think about the world. Economics principles explain so much of what drives our everyday life: how people decide which goods to buy and how to spend their time; how firms set prices and hire workers, and whether the outcomes of markets are fair and efficient.

These economics principles were inspirational to me when I first learned them as an undergraduate. I have gone on to apply to them to a set of topics I am passionate about, both as a Professor at MIT and as a policy expert for both state and local governments. Whether in the classroom, in Washington D.C., or in state capitals, I have found that basic economic principles never lead me wrong in terms of explaining important aspects of the world.

Yet these basic economics principles are not understood by many. This isn’t surprising. Economics is kind of like a new language. Once you understand it, whole new experiences are open to you – but first you have to learn it, which can be hard.

But what is neat is that learning economics is it’s a whole lot easier than learning a new language. I have realized through years of teaching economics principles that with a relatively short set of lessons we can provide the tools for everyone to see the world the way economists do. And that’s what this course is about.

By combining short videos on economics principles with fun applications of those principles, the course provides both the level of economics knowledge that is sufficient to pass the Advanced Placement® exam and a means of understanding more broadly how economics works.  Now, more than ever, the lessons of the course and the questions that it asks are vital. Is going to college worth it? Why is Tesla building the world’s largest battery production plant? Is rising inequality something we should worry about, and what can we do about it?  These are hard questions – that become much easier once you understand the principles of economics.

Economics is a way of seeing the world that’s useful, but it’s also beautiful and surprising and cool. I truly believe our world would be better if everyone took this course. And I know that you’ll have a great time if you take it.

New season of “Science Out Loud” sparks curiosity

Photo of woman in a lab coat being video'd, surrounded by lighting and camera equipment, with two production people assisting.

Left to right: Elizabeth Choe ’13, executive producer; George Zaidan ’08, director; and Whitney Hess PhD ’16 film “Choose-Your-Own-Chemistry-Adventure” for “Science Out Loud” from MIT+K12 Videos.

By MIT Office of Digital Learning

No equations allowed. This basic rule drives the thinking behind “Science Out Loud,” an original web series hosted and co-written by MIT students. The fun, engaging videos are geared towards middle and high school students and designed to bring scientific concepts to life through research, experiments, and demos performed by real scientists and engineers. No chalkboards. No textbooks. Lots of learning.

The new season of Science Out Loud – now live on YouTube – pushes the boundaries of video production to turn academic education into curiosity-sparking interactive experiences.

There’s a choose-your-own chemistry adventure where viewers can click through the video to change the ingredients of a chemical reaction (yeast, soap, and hydrogen peroxide) and create the best foam explosion.

Another video explores how virtual reality works, which viewers can watch in 360 degrees on YouTube and Google Cardboard. Yet another showcases MIT’s Scratch programming to make a video game, with the option to watch in English or Italian.

Science Out Loud is part of MIT+K12 Videos, an educational outreach program from the Office of Digital Learning that seeks to encourage a lifelong love of learning through original digital media and live programming. The program aims to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) literacy while opening the world of MIT to as many people as possible.

“The foundation of MIT+K12 is not video, camera work, or editing,” explains program director Elizabeth Choe. “It’s about what the videos enable. We want to leverage the amazing community of students and people at MIT to challenge people’s notions of what scientists and science look like while sparking curiosity and agency among young people.”

Originally launched by the School of Engineering in 2011, MIT+K12 Videos has produced more than 150 videos that have garnered close to 10 million views on YouTube. The program fits within MIT’s larger pK-12 vision to bring the university’s immersive, hands-on approach beyond the campus and deliver STEM education to pre-kindergarten through grade-12 learners and educators.

For MIT students participating, the program is about developing the skills not just to make a video but to clearly communicate their research and share their passion with a non-STEM audience. All to complement what they’re learning in the classroom.

“K12 Videos gave me such a variety of practical experience,” says K12 Videos Educational Media Fellow and recent graduate Ceri Riley ’16. “Every project was different so I got to try out new skills — from producing and editing to animating and filming. It really acted as a springboard for me.” Post-graduation, Riley is already working for SciShow, an extremely popular science channel on YouTube.

“I’m proud of putting myself out there. It challenged me to step outside of my comfort zone, to try new things, and to appreciate the process as much as (or more than) the final product,” says Whitney Hess PhD ’16 and “star” of the choose-your-own chemistry adventure video.

MIT students can get involved with MIT+K12 Videos in a variety of ways, from hands-on hosting and writing to behind-the-scenes education outreach or content consultants to becoming an Educational Media Fellow. For Science Out Loud, students can either directly pitch a video idea or enroll in 20.219 (Becoming the Next Bill Nye) to earn course credit. Volunteers from freshmen to graduate students are always welcome. MIT faculty can also play a role — hosting the #askMIT Q&A series, supporting student-run videos, or collaborating on new projects.

Curiosity sparked? Watch the new season of Science Out Loud or email mitk12videos@mit.edu to get involved. You can also explore materials from previous seasons on PBS Learning Media (including teacher supplementary resources), Khan Academy, iTunes U, and Curiosity.com. All videos are freely available and downloadable under a Creative Commons license.

When the Student Becomes the Teacher

Image courtesy of uoeducation on Flickr. License: CC: BY-NC

Image courtesy of uoeducation on Flickr. License: CC: BY-NC

By Cheryl Siegel

When you think of students at a university, you might imagine them taking classes, doing homework, participating in sports or maybe working at the school newspaper.  But did you know that at MIT, students can also teach their own classes?

Through the Educational Studies Program at MIT, students have the opportunity to teach courses to high schoolers and middle schoolers on a wide variety of topics – some serious, some not so much –  including the history of heavy metal, probability, and medical device design.

On Highlights for High School, we have captured a few of these student-run classes.


Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience

Humanities and Social Science

Gödel, Escher, Bach

Europe in Crisis

Leadership Training Institute


Combinatorics: The Fine Art of Counting

Probability: Random Isn’t So Random


The Big Questions

Excitatory Topics in Physics

Bringing synthetic biology education to life (MIT News)

BioBuilder lab among students, Kuldell says, is called “Eau That Smell,” which involves examining bacteria engineered to smell like ripe bananas at a certain stage of their growth. Students also enjoy “What a Colorful World,” a lab where students study E. coli programmed to change colors. Another lab, “Golden Bread,” has students add beta-carotene to baker’s yeast. (Image: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT)

BioBuilder labs include “Eau That Smell” (bacteria engineered to smell like ripe bananas at a certain stage of their growth),“What a Colorful World” (E. coli programmed to change colors), and “Golden Bread” (adding beta-carotene to baker’s yeast). (Image: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT)

Bringing Synthetic Biology Education to Life

Rob Matheson | MIT News Office
December 4, 2015

Synthetic biology — which involves engineering biological systems for new uses — has become an increasingly prominent, and promising, field of study in colleges and universities worldwide.

Research has yielded, for example, viruses that attack harmful bacteria, yeasts that produce biofuels, and engineered microorganisms capable of detecting toxins in the environment, among many other innovations.

Yet high school students rarely learn about synthetic biology at all, says Natalie Kuldell, an instructor of biological engineering at MIT. The issue, she says, is lack of accessible, hands-on curricula for such a rapidly developing field.

“With subjects like physics, for instance, you can demonstrate engineering by building Rube Goldberg machines or model bridges,” Kuldell says. “But it’s hard to think how to bring engineering to biology for high school students.”

In partnership with high school teachers, Kuldell launched the BioBuilder Educational Foundation in 2011 to provide schools with lab kits and lesson plans — adapted from her own MIT curriculum and MIT research labs — to boost interest and innovation in the field.

Today, more than 400 teachers in 43 states are using the formal BioBuilder curriculum. Some have also adapted the coursework for middle school students. Many other teachers worldwide incorporate some of the material, which is freely available online, into their lesson plans.

Read more >

In Dr. Kuldell’s OCW course 20.020 Introduction to Biological Engineering Design, you can see how she introduces MIT undergraduates to synthetic biologyIn addition to BioBuilder animations, this content-rich course includes detailed week-by-week notes on each design and lab activity, examples of student project work, and teaching notes that fill in pedagogical background.

MIT in new collaboration to transform teaching in the digital age

Photo of professor speaking to a classroom.

MIT Professor Eric Klopfer is co-leading MIT’s new teacher training initiative, along with ODL’s Vijay Kumar.

MIT does not have an education school, but it’s just announced a big new initiative with the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation on elementary and secondary teacher training.  From MIT News:

MIT, through its Office of Digital Learning (ODL) and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, today announced a new collaboration aimed at supporting teachers in their efforts to use emerging digital learning tools and environments, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The effort will promote new ideas, technologies, and curricula along with research related to educator preparation with a focus on STEM subjects for students from pre-kindergarten through the senior year of high school.

Specifically, this collaboration brings together the Woodrow Wilson Academy for Teaching and Learning (WW Academy) and a new research effort within ODL called the MIT PK12 Initiative. It is designed to fill a growing need in education by providing new capabilities to teachers as they transform their classrooms into the technology-enhanced learning environments of tomorrow. The MIT PK12 Initiative has been created with $9.9 million in seed funding from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation to bring together educators and researchers at MIT interested in learning from infancy through the secondary level.

“Hands-on, problem-focused, curiosity-driven learning is squarely at the heart of an MIT education, and it will be central to MIT’s work with the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Together, we will combine MIT’s ‘mind and hand’ approach to learning with recent breakthroughs in cognitive science and digital learning to inform the Woodrow Wilson Foundation’s efforts to develop and support excellent STEM teachers and school leaders,” said MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “We are thrilled to begin this effort to reimagine the classroom experience.”

Read the complete article >

The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that

The venture also builds on some of the ambitions for greater educational experimentation that MIT articulated last year in its report on [The Future of MIT Education]. That plan called for MIT to become more involved with elementary and secondary education; to make greater use of competency-based teaching, blended learning, and simulations; and to develop new roles for professors and new kinds of credentials. The new academy is “a chance to apply it all to teacher education,” said [Woodrow Wilson Foundation President] Arthur Levine…

The teaching academy will start out small; 25 students will attend free in the first class, beginning in the fall of 2017. After that, the academy hopes to enroll about 200 students who will each pay about $15,000 for a degree earned by satisfying the required competencies set out in several modules. The program will focus at first on training teachers for mathematics, and the sciences, working directly with two MIT professors: Eric Klopfer, an expert in the use of computer games and simulations to understand science, and Vijay Kumar, MIT’s associate dean of digital learning.

Professor Klopfer has long been an enthusiastic champion of online learning. Learn more about him in this faculty profile, and check out some of his courses on OCW and MITx.

OCW courses by Eric Klopfer

MITx on edX courses by Eric Klopfer



Calculus for the Aspiring Mind

Photo by Andrés Monroy-Hernández on Flickr

Photo by Andrés Monroy-Hernández on Flickr, license CC BY-SA.

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Two MIT mathematics professors have designed a new online series of short introductory calculus courses for high school students and recent graduates. The first of these MITx on edX courses, Calculus 1A: Differentiation, starts on June 2.

These courses—or modules—are similar to what is taught in MIT’s on-campus introductory calculus course, but they are redesigned for a more forgiving pace. As on campus, students apply what they learn to real-world problems, such as how fast a plane should fly to minimize fuel use and how accurate a GPS positioning system really is.

The courses are taught by Professors David Jerison and Gigliola Staffilani. Students will learn how to:

  • evaluate limits graphically and numerically
  • interpret the derivative geometrically
  • calculate the derivative of any function
  • sketch many functions by hand
  • make linear and quadratic approximations of functions
  • apply derivatives to maximize and minimize functions and find related rates

Professor Staffilani is Associate Department Head of the MIT Mathematics Department. Professor Jerison will be familiar to the many OCW users who’ve visited his courses 18.01SC Single Variable Calculus and 18.02 Multivariable Calculus (taught with Professor Arthur Mattuck).

The second MITx on edX module Calculus 1B: Integration will start in Fall 2015; Calculus 1C: Coordinate Systems & Infinite Series will start in early 2016.

Three evolving thoughts about flipped learning (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

In the latest post in his excellent series on teaching in a flipped classroom, Robert Talbert describes how recent experience has led to three important shifts in his thinking about pre-class and in-class work. Here I’ll simply quote Robert’s main points; his full post is well worth reading, backing up each point with illuminating details.

…Recently I had time to reflect on how I’m implementing flipped learning in my classes, and I noticed that some of my thoughts on flipped learning have evolved over the last few years, including some breaks from things I’ve written here on the blog. Here are three of those thoughts that stood out for me.

What I used to think: Pre-class activity in a flipped learning model is about mastering content-oriented instructional objectives.

What I think now: Pre-class activity is for generating questions 


What I used to think: Students in a flipped classroom need to have some graded measure of accountability when they arrive at class (an entrance quiz, etc.) to ensure that they do the pre-class work.

What I think now: Accountability doesn’t have to look like a quiz …


What I used to think: The in-class instruction in a flipped class should focus primarily on active student work with little to no lecture.

What I think now: The in-class instruction should focus on two things: Answering questions, and engaging students in high-level tasks – and lecture can play an important role in both …

Read the full article here.