What We Do
Each January, Harvard students use their Winter Term break to run an after-school enrichment program in several secondary schools throughout the New York metropolitan area. Each day of the program, students from participating schools are introduced to a different academic topic that is age-appropriate but not covered in the grade school curriculum. The lessons are generally taught by a team of two students from Harvard, who prepare lessons inspired by their own coursework under the supervision of grade-school educators. During the course of the program, the Harvard instructors rotate through the secondary schools, presenting their lessons to each in turn. The exact schedules for the after-school program may vary from school to school.
Lectures are interspersed with related activities and games, with breaks and snacks scheduled in as appropriate. There is no homework or advance preparation for the classes (though our classes will include further reading suggestions to help students learn more about any topic if they’d like to).
We understand that the students at our partner schools will come to the program from a range of grades and with widely differing backgrounds. Therefore, we work closely with each partner school to ensure that we are presenting our material at a level and in a style appropriate for that school’s students. Our overall goal is to introduce students to a variety of new ideas and new ways of thinking about the world.
Our Past Courses
Value in Vigor in Voice
In school, it’s easy to believe that your voice is less important than the voices of others. We are often forced into a “shut up and listen” mindset that makes us doubt that our voice is worth listening to. In this lesson, we’ll work together to find our voices – our own ways of communicating with others.
COVID in Ancient Rome: How did the Romans handle pandemic disease in the second century?
Did you know the Romans had their own “COVID” almost two thousand years ago? In this lesson, we will journey to ancient Rome to learn about the Antonine Plague, a pandemic that affected the entire Roman Empire. We’ll step into the shoes of ancient doctors, slaves, and statesmen to compare their pandemic experiences with our own. When we return from our trip to ancient Rome, we will use our knowledge of the past to go forward as we try to get through our own pandemic. Abeamus!
An enlightened world: how the world’s greatest thinkers solved everyday problems
Around 2500 years ago, a simple technological change allowed normal people around the world to start solving one of the greatest puzzles: how to live a good life. We will learn from people throughout history who had the courage to change their own lives by solving problems with reason rather than fear. This is a lesson in peaceful, compassionate rebellion, that can be used by any kid who wants to live a better, more independent life.
Get Psyched…It’s Social Psychology Time!
In this lesson, we’ll learn about social psychology — an exploration of the way our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by others. Through uncovering the secrets of social psychology, we will form a better understanding of why we think and act the way we do, and ultimately, who we are as humans.
When Technology and Society Collide: Searching for Answers through Ethics!
What data should your smartphone be allowed to collect? Who should be able to see that data? What does it mean to have a right to privacy? In this lesson, we’ll try to resolve some of the difficult-to-answer dilemmas that technology creates. We’ll discuss our perceptions of fairness and privacy in relation to one of the most famous theories in ethics – utilitarianism – which proposes one approach for determining right from wrong.
How does your brain work?
Have you ever wondered how your brain works? It has something to do with electricity, but how is your brain electric? How does it send messages? The answers lie within tiny cells inside your brain. In this lesson, we’ll learn how these cells talk to each other and how your body can change the way these cells work.
You live in a Map!
What is the pattern in the sequence 42 34 28 23 18 14? You may have seen these numbers almost every day of your life, as dots on a New York City subway map: they’re stations on the route of the 1 train. Maps are everywhere, but we don’t always recognize them as “maps,” and we may not realize when we become dots on someone else’s map. Many people and companies have an interest in mapping you, and we’ll discover why.
Springs, Masses, and Equations, Oh My!
From particles as small as atoms to systems as large as galaxies, physics allows us to understand how objects move and interact. In this lesson, we will discover the equations that explain the movement of flying objects. Then we will put our equations to the test, with the help of our very own do-it-yourself launcher!
WHAT IF ALIENS WERE REAL? What would communication with aliens look like, and how would our conceptions of the Other inform it? How would contact with an alien species affect our religion, culture, and society? Can thinking about extraterrestrial life give us a new perspective on our own civilization? Students will discover their own answers to these questions as we simulate an encounter with the third kind.
India is the largest democracy in the history of the world. Since the country’s independence from British rule in 1947, it’s a huge mystery how the country has managed to survive––many countries in similar situations have fallen into civil wars, dictatorships, and economic chaos. In this lesson, we’ll study the many cultures and languages of India, the struggles that the country has faced in keeping together diverse ethnic groups in a single country, and the ways the country has tried to overcome these struggles. Has India gotten lucky, or does its recent history offer lessons that could benefit other countries?
We all know how to use a phone, but have you ever wondered how they work? In every phone, computer, tablet, and almost any electronic device you can think of, there are billions of microscopic transistors controlling what device can do. In this lesson, we’re going to take a sneak peak into the world of microelectronics. We’ll start our journey with learning about bits and the binary number system. Then we’ll learn how to manipulate our bits with transistors, gates and boolean algebra. And at the climax of the lesson, we’ll be able to use our gates to create devices that have useful real world applications.
The Modernist Revolution
What is art? People have never agreed about the answer to this question, and they probably never will. However, they generally do agree that definitions of art changed dramatically in the early 20th century. In this lesson, we will talk about the differences between Romantic and Modern art and the factors that contributed to this seemingly radical break. This lesson will explore the modernist revolution through the lenses of history, philosophy, and music. Students will learn about different working definitions of art as well as the role art played after World War I.
Earth is currently experiencing an environmental crisis at the hand of humans. Hopefully, we have the potential to redirect the trajectory that has led to climate change today, but to tackle such an immense problem requires time. Geo-engineering may just be that time-saving trick. What is Geo-engineering, and how does it work to help us tackle climate change? What does it do? Can it really turn the sky yellow? Can humans engineer the climate in a way that involves justice for all?
The Philosophy of Justice
What is justice? What makes something fair, and who decides if it is? Does it matter if an individual is wronged for the good of society? We will explore the meaning of justice by discussing classical and modern philosophers and going through case studies of real-life examples. Students will articulate and argue for and against various views of justice, discover their own conception of justice, and better understand the meaning of justice in life today.
The brain is like a computer–a computer with 100 billion switches. In this course, we are going to examine the electrical, molecular, and cellular properties of these switches, and how they lead to the complex behaviors that make us human. We will explore a cell at rest, what happens when the cell gets excited, and how that cell interacts with other cells. The single cell is the basis for all our behaviors and therefore central to our understanding of neuroscience. In this lesson, we will learn how a single switch becomes a great computer.
What do the people who work on Wall Street do? What does it mean to trade stocks? This class discusses how the United States financial system works and how stocks are traded.
“Why is a four-legged creature that meows a “cat” instead of a “splat?” Why does the Spanish “gato” sound more similar to “cat” than the Hindi “billi,” but less similar than the German “Katze?” Why are some words (like cat) easy to translate between languages, while others are nearly impossible? In this lesson, we’ll try to answer some of these questions through discussing the histories of some of the world’s major language families.
Where did the idea of genius originate? Romanticism is one of the most broad and influential cultural, intellectual, and artistic movements that took place during the first half of the 19th century, which continued to influence later cultural developments. By studying the subtle similarities and differences between many strands of Romanticism, students will be able to learn about basic features of Romanticism, understand the relevance of Romanticism in our modern society, and appreciate the interconnectedness between different disciplines.
How the states got their shapes
Why is Colorado almost a square, but West Virginia has two panhandles? And how has this political geography shaped the American cultural landscape, from the days of pioneers to modern cultural boundaries? Boarders shape more than just a government; they shape culture and history, and there are stories hiding behind each and every line on a map!
What actually makes the universe function? This brief lesson on Classical Mechanics will introduce some of the foundational ideas in Physics that will help you understand the world and universe around you.
Fairy Tales and Bedtime Stories
This lesson discusses childhood stories through the lens of social and cultural history. We will be able to track the social messages coded in these texts and the ways in which they represent the values and beliefs of a given community.
What’s the chance that someone in your grade has the same birthday as you do? What about in your class? Find out these answers and more in this introduction to probability lesson.
By 2100, will we cure cancer? Will we colonize Mars? In this lesson, we’ll explore the study of the future from Nostradamus to Ray Kurzweil. We will encounter predictions that described the future in astonishing detail, as well as some less accurate predictions, such as Horace Rackham’s 1903 statement that “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad”. Finally, we will venture some guesses about what the future may hold.
The human brain is the most complex and powerful cubic foot of space in the universe. Everything we do, think, feel, and believe ultimately comes down to little units in the brain sending messages to each other. We will explore how the brain works and what itâ€™s made of, and then weâ€™ll dive right into the frontiers of neuroscience. For example, weâ€™ll talk about what happens when things go wrong in the brain, how we can hack our brain, how the brain has inspired new technologies, and what future lies ahead for the brain and humanity in general.
“Don’t Give Up the Ship!”: America’s Navy, From Then to Now
How did the U.S. become the great maritime and world power that it is today? Throughout the history of our country, the Navy has been pivotal in ensuring our status as a global force to be reckoned with during both war and peace. Learn about one of the fundamental branches of our armed forces, including the Navy’s beginnings, major American naval battles, and the missions and platforms of the modern fleet.
Did you know that more data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of mankind? Data is generated every second you’re on the internet, using a cell phone, listening to music, and even walking down the street. To make this information useful, we need to be able to understand it and effectively communicate what’s important. We’ll take a look at how principles from art, design, psychology, and math can be used to (literally) paint a better picture of the world around us. It’ll be a lot better than your average pie chart.
The Theory of Argumentation and Refutation
How do you craft an persuasive argument? What is the best way to approach evidence that initially seems irrefutable? This lesson teaches the steps and methods to impromptu and prepared debate, and will include opportunities for students to practice their newly learned skills.
SWOLE IS THE GOAL, SIZE IS THE PRIZE! Whether you’re looking to speed up your mile time, lift that extra 5 pounds, or are just curious about healthy living without wrecking your self-esteem, this lesson is for you. We’ll cover optimal training techniques, some diet myths they don’t talk about in health class, and how you can live the way you want without going overboard. After 2 hours of study you’ll be ready for dominance on and off the field.
In math classes across the country, students complain ‘This is pointless!’, and it’s easy to see why. Too often, math is reduced to memorizing abstract rules without knowing why. Math doesn’t have to be about following textbook instructions. Math is unique because you get to make whatever rules you want. In this class, we’ll think like mathematicians creating our own rules. By the end, we’ll see math as a pure, beautiful, creative art form.
How to Build a Blockbuster
Have you ever wondered why everyone loves superhero movies, or why Hollywood seems to only make sequels? It’s time to pull back the curtain on why popular products only get more popular. In this lesson we’ll learn why a movie studio picks a project, whom they want to play their lead, and how they market it to make a blockbuster.
The Life of a Fish
Have you ever wondered how the fish in your grocery stores and restaurants gets there? What impact does this process have on the environment? Come and learn about the journey your seafood takes before reaching your plate! In the process, dip into several different fields of ocean science.
What is Money?
Why can’t we just print more money and give it to everybody? What happens when a bank runs out of money? What does Wall Street do? In this class, we will answer those questions and explore how money flows around the world through banks, businesses, and governments.
Fun and Games: An Introduction to Game Theory
Games aren’t always just for play or sport. Game theory looks at intelligent decisions and how players determine the best strategy for a given scenario. We’ll look at simple games with a single turn and two players, as well as more complicated situations with many players and multiple turns. In addition to classic examples, we’ll gain insight into some applications across business, economics, politics, and more
The Berlin Wall
Imagine waking up tomorrow to discover a wall built between the East and West sides of Manhattan, heavily guarded by soldiers with machine guns. Try to cross it, and you’d be shot. Subway lines would be cut, families would be separated, and jobs on the other side would be lost. Erected in the dead of night, 15 years after the end of World War II, the Berlin Wall divided the capital city of Germany into two parts from 1961 until its abrupt, unexpected fall in 1989. In this lesson, we’ll learn about why it was built and the fateful story of how it accidentally came crashing down.
Have you ever walked into a store and wondered why certain products are produced in certain countries? Why don’t we see the iconic “Made in USA” label more often? If any of these questions spark your interest or even if you think you’ve got the basics down, come learn about international trade and the costs and benefits of an international economy.
What makes someone a leader? This course on unconventional leadership will teach you how to build communication skills and develop innovative solutions in group dynamics. You will be exposed to the nature of leadership through activities including simulations, case studies, and public speaking exercises, sharpening your critical thinking skills and applying learned concepts toward effecting change.
Teaching Outside the Box
America is one of the most developed countries in the world, yet everyone keeps saying we’re lagging behind in education. We’ll use this lesson to look at the development of American education, including No Child Left Behind and the Common Core Curriculum, and examine where the system has helped teachers and where it hasn’t. We’ll also look at some unconventional teaching methods taking place around the world and debate their effectiveness on students. Finally, everyone will get a chance to make their own lesson plans to redefine what it means to teach.
“Man up!” “Act like a lady!” You have probably heard one or both of these phrases before, but did you know that these are gender stereotypes? Come learn more about what gender stereotypes are and how to identify them–and their many effects–in your everyday life!
Memeification: How Information Spreads Online
Doge, dat boi, grumpy cat–memes are everywhere, but why do we love them so much? How did they become so common? In this class, learn about how data spreads online, what kind of content is likely to stick in your brain, and how to master the internet’s information economy.
How to Find an Exoplanet
There’s always talk about life in the universe on planets beyond our solar system. But, are there such planets? We’ll answer this question and more as we investigate the astrophysical techniques of professional “exoplanet hunters.” Where do we look, how do we detect these planets, and are they habitable?
The Future of Education
You go to school every day. You work with certain students, you do homework, and you get grades. Do you know why? Together we will consider the good and the bad in American schools and develop our own vision of how schools can improve.
Starting a Startup
Google. McDonalds. Southwest Airlines. Apple. All of these companies had to have started somewhere. In “How to Start a Startup: Building a Business” we’ll learn how to start our own company. We’ll figure out what we need to do before we start our company, then we’ll find out how to run the company once we get it started. We’ll also learn about successful “startups” and what their owners did to make their companies so great.
Statistics in Public Discourse
Numbers never lie, but they can certainly be misleading. A commercial may claim a new drug is 99% effective, but is it actually useful? News networks offer different predictions of upcoming elections, claiming their preferred candidate is most likely to win. A college advertises small average class sizes, but most students find themselves stuck in giant lecture halls. We’ll take a look how statistics are commonly used, misused, and manipulated in the public discourse.
A Global Economy
As the world gets more globalized and interconnected, the need for knowing how economies work and why they are such a vital part of our lives increases as well. In this class, we will learn how markets work, how prices are determined, what international trade and specialization are, why we pay taxes, how banks work, and how you become part of the economy when you decide how to spend your money and how much to save.
Robots, Facebook, and You
Phones, computers, Facebook, automated checkout machines– technology is in every part of our lives, even when we’re not thinking about it. What are the true costs and benefits of the machines that we use every day? How is technology changing the way we think and interact with each other? Is there is a point at which technology will go too far… Or has it already gone too far? Come learn about all the extraordinary ways technology affects you.
Synthetic Biology: the Legos of Life
What if you could put cells together like Legos? You could put the gene that makes jellyfish glow into a dog–and then you’d have a glowing dog! And, in fact, now you can. With the emergence of synthetic biology, people are making genetic “parts” that can be added together, allowing us to use bacteria to do things they’ve never done before. This new field, synthetic biology, presents a way to solve many of the world’s problems, such as malaria, clean energy, and lack of food. In this class we will look at how synthetic biology works, and the possibilities–and risks– it spells for our future.
The Art of the Remix
Who truly owns an idea? We’re all used to the remixes and samples we encounter in hip-hop, rap and dubstep, and in this course we will begin to explore the values of these re-usages as well as studying other areas where remix plays a big role. We’ll also be discussing the lines between remix and plagiarism, and if, at the end of the day, there really is a difference between the two.
The Heat is On
We all know the Earth is getting warmer, but how can we explain this with simple models? And what can or should our government do about it in a hectic twenty-first century? This short course will introduce some of the science behind carbon emissions and tackle a hypothetical case study in policy through lively debate.
Call Me Maybe: Psychology and Pop Culture
Ever wondered why everyone wants to part of the ‘in-crowd’? Why winning silver feels worse than winning bronze? Why the most annoying person you know seems to get worse everyday? In this class we will use movies, television, songs, and viral videos to answer these questions and more. Come find out what your brain has in common with brain of your favorite character.
If you think you’d need a crystal ball to see the future, you’d be wrong! By recognizing patterns in our past and present, it is possible for us to make predictions about the future. In this class, we’ll search for clues in the world around us that will help us to understand where we’re going next.
The Story of Us – A Journey through Time and Space from the Big Bang to Humans
“Where did we come from?” — this age old question, pondered by philosophers for centuries and romanticized in literature and religion, does indeed have an answer. We shall explore the story of how the universe came to be, how the stars and planets were formed, and how life arose and evolved on our planet. Physics, biology, and chemistry come together to tell an epic tale of exploding stars, poisonous planets, and exotic creatures. That story carries us all the way from the Big Bang up to modern humans and the world we see today.
The Psychology Behind “Mind Reading” and the Pressure to be Perfect
Ever thought about how we are able to predict what other people are thinking? Or why do we care what other people think about us? Or have you ever felt pressure to be “perfect”? In this course we will explore the theories about the origins of how and why humans can “mindread” and how this impacts our everyday lives and relationships. We will also discuss how this impacts our drives to be “perfect” and how can we find better ways of being “perfect” past what the media tells us.
Non-Orientable Surfaces: An Introduction to Topology
Is a square always different from a circle? Do all shapes have an inside and an outside? Mathematics says no. Do you know why? This class will introduce you to such counterintuitive shapes as the Moebius band and the Klein bottle–and in the process, teach you how to think about shape and space like a topologist!
Equality Under the Law: Sports and the Sexes in Schools
Our founding fathers wrote the Constitution as the “supreme law of the land”, to guide American government for centuries to come. They designed this document to protect Americans from tyrannical government and protect individual rights; eventually, the Constitution came to safeguard equality for all. But what does our Constitution actually protect us from? If it guarantees equality for all, why do we still have single-sex sports teams in schools?
The Integral Parts of Calculus
You don’t have to be Isaac Newton to discover calculus. While people might think it takes a genius to understand this seemingly complex subject, anyone with a basic grasp of mathematics is more than capable of working through the basics. With some thought and a little direction, we’ll work through the concepts of local linearity, derivatives, and integrals through both numerical and graphical approaches.
School’s In: The Politics of Education in America
In most any school in New York City, or in the United States, kids go to school for about five days a week, for about six hours a day, and from about September to June every year. Have you ever wondered why? In this class, we will talk about the American school system, where it came from, and whether or not we should change it.
How to Fail
What do Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Oprah, and Bill Gates have in common? They’re all incredible successes, but before that, they were also great failures. Failure is a beginning, and all great things start by finding what works by what doesn’t. In this class, you’ll learn what you can learn from failure, how to do it well and, ultimately, how it can lead you to success.
Do you want to conquer the #1 fear in America? Think you can convince people that a complete lie is the truth? Or just want to be less nervous during oral presentations in class? We see people speak in public all the time; everyone from teachers to politicians to celebrities. But more American adults fear public speaking than fear death. Conquer the fear and learn how to make you voice heard in this public speaking course.
The Ultimate Speed Limit
What does E=MC2 actually mean? What would the world be like if the speed of light were 50 mph? What would “real” time travel be like? Light, gravity, energy, and the nature of the entire universe all come from the ultimate speed limit. In this course we’ll learn about the most famous theory of all time: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity!
Understanding Your Crushes and Blushes
Where do our emotions come from? Have you ever thought about how you can feel different types of love? Check out our lesson on what causes you to feel an emotion, how you how you can manage your emotions, and when your emotions can become dangerous.
All the World’s a Stage: Shakespeare’s Legacy
Have you ever heard of William Shakespeare? No? Have you ever said the word “eyeball”? If so, then you’ve spoken the language of Shakespeare. Come find out who Hamlet is and what he has to do with your favorite Disney movies. Learn how to tease your friends like it’s 1599!
A Living Economy
When people say that the economy is a mess, what do they mean? What is the economy, and how does it work? How do recessions begin, and how can they end? How do government, business, and ordinary people affect the economy? This course addresses these questions through the use of a hands-on simulation. Students will take on the roles of different agents within the economy, and as different situations are presented to them, they will see for themselves how the flow of goods and money takes form.
Art of the Prank
There’s nothing like a prank to make a society second-guess its reality. Tricksters from Hermes to Duchamp have perfected the art of the prank, while Hacktivists like Anonymous and Cult of the Dead Cow carry on the tradition into modern days. What role does the trickster play in society? How are pranks necessary? And, most importantly, how do you create the perfect one?
Modern governments are large and complicated, but in the end they are defined by the simple rules laid forth in their constitutions. In this course, students will learn about how constitutions work (and don’t work) as they explore the United States constitution and discuss other ways that it might have been put together. They will then employ their newfound insights to craft their own constitution!
How to Create a Monster
Wherever there are people, they create monsters with which to terrify themselves. In this class, students will learn about the mythological origins of well-known fictional monsters and the psychological effects that cause them to resonate so deeply. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll invent monsters of your own to terrify generations to come.
Conflict and Chaos in the Renaissance
The Thirty Years War was among the longest and bloodiest conflicts in European history, and also one of the most complex. In this lesson, students will explore the political and religious dynamics that drove the war, and the devastation that followed in its wake.
Introduction to Algorithmic Thinking
What is a computer program, and how are they written? This course will introduce students to the building block of computer programming: the algorithm. Students will write algorithms for activities they perform every day, exploring the challenges of thinking like a computer scientist.
Let Fiction Be True
We all know that life inspires art… but it is a deeper and greater truth that art inspires life. If we would change the world, we must first imagine the change we would make, and often that act of imagination is expressed through stories. In this course, students will explore the ways that language and fiction can set the stage for upheavals and revolutions that are anything but imaginary.
A Change is Gonna Come: Voices of the Civil Rights Era
Imagine having to eat at a different restaurant, ride in a separate train car, or use a separate drinking fountain due to the color of your skin. This was the reality for people of color before the dawn of the civil rights movement. Civil rights activists fought so future generations wouldn’t have to live in such a world. Come embark on a journey back in time and experience the explosive movement that changed the course of history and the way of life for people of different colors, creeds, and sexualities.
Assumptions in Advertising
When we stop to think about it, the sheer volume of advertising that we are exposed to every day is astounding. What are these images and sounds we hear every day trying to tell us? What assumptions do they make about who we are as people? And how do they affect our behavior? In this class, we’ll study the relationship between consumption and citizenship, and try to develop the skills to identify the messages implicit in our advertisement-saturated society.
Time Is Relative
You’re sitting on a moving train as another train goes past in the other direction. When the trains are right next to each other, you see that the windows line up exactly. When two people at the ends of your car clap at the same time, your friend in the other train also sees them clap at exactly the same time. And when you take the train back to the station you started from, you notice that your watch is three minutes off from the station clock, just like it was when you left.
In this lesson, we will discuss why none of these observations would hold if the train were traveling close to the speed of light, and learn about how physics understands motion that approaches light speed.
How do animal populations interact with their environments? How do ecosystems influence how offspring are raised, how populations grow, and whether a given population will succeed or fail? In this lesson, we will examine these questions and others in an introduction to the study of population dynamics. We will discuss how individual species exist within their ecosystems, and explore interactions between different populations in the same ecosystem, shedding light on the question of how animal populations impact and are impacted by the world around us.
The Comics Scare
In the 1950s, the US Senate launched a show trial of comics in the form of hearings on juvenile delinquency. The result was that the Comics Code Authority was established, forbidding American comics to depict crime, horror, or dissidence. Why did this happen and how? What were the consequences of this sudden censorship? In this class, you’ll learn the story of how an entire industry nearly disappeared, and how that affected both comics and American culture through the rest of the 20th century and to this day.
Home Chemistry for the Apocalypse
If the zombie apocalypse, the biblical apocalypse, or the nuclear apocalypse came tomorrow, you might know where to find family, friends, and even food. But would you know how to make your own electricity? We’ll teach you some basics for recreating the benefits of modern civilization out of common household materials, along with the science behind them.
Interrogating the Text
All of us engage with texts on a daily basis – in pictures and screens as well as old-fashioned books. But how much do we really think about the process of reading texts? Why do the things we read mean what they mean? How do they have meanings at all? Close reading is a tool that provides ways to analyze texts and examine how a string of words can put forth ideas. It also enables us to “read” texts that don’t have any written words at all – from pictures and music to film and dance. In this lesson, students will encounter some of the basic techniques for close reading and apply them to a variety of different kinds of text.
“Just Following Orders”
What choices do people make when instructed to hurt someone they don’t know? Does it matter if everyone else is doing it? Social psychologists Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo set out to answer these questions in their famous experiments. Students will compare the procedures and results of these experiments, and consider why they diverged from psychologists’ expectations. In exploring the implications of such studies, students will gain insight into human nature and how situations can affect the behavior of individuals for both good and ill.
Infinity Plus One
“Infinity” is a concept that gets used very casually, but it has a rich and complex mathematical underpinning. In this lesson, we’ll explore how we can reason about infinity, how we can “count” infinitely many things, and why the childhood cry “infinity plus one!” can in fact mean something bigger than “infinity”. In doing so, we’ll learn about the framework that all of modern mathematics is built upon: set theory.
The Science of Secrets
Everybody has secrets. Cryptography studies the various ways in which these secrets are protected, as well as how they are discovered. In this class, we will examine the use of encryption throughout history, from ancient codes and ciphers, through World War II and the Enigma machine, to modern data-encryption algorithms. Students will have the opportunity to create and crack ciphers of their own, as well as learning practical knowledge for protecting themselves in today’s digital world.
Explorations in Poetry
Often in school we have the chance to examine and interpret the work of famous poets, but rarely do we look behind their words and examine the creative process itself. In this lesson, we will start by attempting to identify what makes a poem a poem in the first place. Once we are in agreement (or friendly disagreement), we will explore the many frustrating and wonderful ways of finding inspiration, writing, and editing by creating our own poetry and examining the poetry of others in a very different way from the approach taken by many traditional English classes. The lesson will be taught in a workshop style, so students are encouraged to bring their own work to share, if they like, or to bring pieces that they simply enjoy.
When Games Get Real
When should you bluff in a game like Poker? Why don’t rational choices always produce the best results? Under what circumstances should purely selfish people cooperate? In this lesson, we will examine questions like these by breaking them down into simple strategic interactions called “games”. We will discuss how game theory can help to answer questions in many fields: in economics to analyze auctions and bargaining; in biology to explain animal behavior and communication; in psychology and sociology to study human altruism and decision-making; and in political science to model negotiation, voting, and democratic systems.
The Sounds of Language
“If Barry buried the berry in the wood, Hugh would hew the resulting tree.” Any first grade student can tell you that English spelling is a terrible way to represent the actual sounds of our language. By learning about basic phonetics, the study of sounds and how they are produced, you can discover that a lot of what you say doesn’t involve the sounds you think it does. We’ll also discuss the International Phonetic Alphabet, a system used by linguists and others to represent the actual sounds in the languages of the world.
Waves and Particles
What does it mean for a particle to be a wave – and if it is, how does that change our everyday understanding of the world around us? This lesson provides a basic look at quantum mechanics, one of the most fundamental theories of physics. We’ll begin with a classic thought experiment of quantum theory, the single-slit/double-slit experiment, and use that to introduce some of the more essential ideas of wave phenomena. From there, we’ll delve into probability states and quantum oscillators, and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the meaning and expression of position and momentum in a particle wave.
Building a Fictional World
Although the main appeal of fiction is often how widely it diverges from the real world, fictional worlds feature their own internally consistent civilizations and natural laws, necessary for suspension of disbelief. This lesson will introduce students to the complex and fascinating process of worldbuilding, beginning with general areas such as the geography, history, and politics of a fictional world, and touching upon more specific inclusions such as religion, race, culture and languages. Students will identify the basic tenets of worldbuilding and will be encouraged to apply their own observations of the workings of the physical and social world around them to fictional settings.
What Are the Odds?
Probability theory is the study of reasoning under uncertainty. This lesson will cover basic concepts such as probability distributions, conditional probability and expectation. Students will learn to use probability to model real-world situations, including examples from court cases and medicine. After taking this class, students will have a better understanding of what constitutes evidence for a claim and be able to identify common errors of reasoning. We will also explore some fun and surprising results; for instance, the fact that it takes only 23 people to have a greater than 50% chance that some pair share a birthday.
The Shape of the Universe
People talk a lot about the universe, black holes, and the fourth dimension. What are they really? Dark matter, dark energy; how can we possibly know anything about these things? We’ll talk about theories of the shape of the universe, the “force” that pushes galaxies away from each other, and some reasons we might not have heard from extra-terrestrial races. After this class, students will be able to describe the 4-dimensional shape of the universe, why supernovas are an important tool in learning about dark energy, and what happens if you fall into a black hole.