A Free Stanford Course on How to Teach Online: Designed for Middle & High School Teachers (July 13 – 17)

This fall, many teachers (across the country and the world) will be asked to teach online--something most teachers have never done before. To assist with that transition, the Stanford Online High School and Stanford Continuing Studies have teamed up to offer a free online course called Teaching Your Class Online: The Essentials. Taught by veteran instructors at Stanford Online High School (OHS), this course "will help middle and high school instructors move from general concepts for teaching online to the practical details of adapting your class for your students." The course is free and runs from 1-3 pm California time, July 13 - 17. You can sign up here.

For anyone interested, Stanford will also offer additional courses that give teachers the chance to practice teaching their material online and get feedback from Stanford Online High School instructors. Offered from July 20 - July 24, those courses cost $95. Click to this page, and scroll down to enroll.

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The History of the 1918 Flu Pandemic, “The Deadliest Epidemic of All Time”: Three Free Lectures from The Great Courses

In one cascade of events after another, people are finding out the normal they once knew doesn’t exist anymore. Instead it feels as if we’re living through several past crises at once, trying to cram as much historical knowledge as we can to make sense of the moment. 2020 especially feels like an echo of 1918-1919, when the “deadliest epidemic of all time,” as The Great Courses calls the “Spanish flu,” killed millions (then the U.S. devolved into a wave of racist violence.) By offering examples of both negative and positive responses, the history, sociology, and epidemiology of the 1918 flu can guide decision-making as we prepare for a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

The Great Courses started offering free resources on the coronavirus outbreak back in March, with a brief “What You Need to Know” explainer and a free lecture course on infectious diseases. After catching up on the history of epidemics, we’ll find ourselves naturally wondering why we learned little to nothing about the Spanish flu.




The three-part lecture series here, excerpted from the larger course Mysteries of the Microscopic World (available with a Free Trial to the Great Courses Plus), begins by boldly calling this historical lacuna “A Conspiracy of Silence.” Tulane professor Bruce E. Fleury quotes Alfred Crosby, who writes in America’s Forgotten Pandemic, “the important and almost incomprehensible fact about the Spanish influenza, is that it killed millions upon millions of people in a year or less… and yet, it has never inspired awe, not in 1918 and not since.”

Epidemic diseases that have had tremendous impact in the past have become the subject of literary epics. Few epidemics have accomplished mass death “through sheer brute force” like the 1918 flu. The numbers are truly staggering, in the tens to hundreds of millions worldwide, with U.S. deaths dwarfing the combined casualties of all the country's major wars. Yet there are only a few mentions of the flu in American literature from the time. Fleury mentions some reasons for the amnesia: WWI “took center stage,” survivors were too traumatized to want to remember. We may still wonder why we should look back over 100 years ago and learn about the past when current events are so all-consuming.

“History compels us not to look away,” professor Fleury says, “lest we fail to learn the lessons paid for by our parents and our grandparents.” Faulkner, it seems, was right that the past is never past. But we need not respond in the same failed ways each time. The ability to study and learn from history gives us critical perspective in perilous, uncertain times.

Sign up here for a free trial to the Great Courses Plus.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Albert Einstein Explains Why We Need to Read the Classics

Two pieces of reading advice I’ve carried throughout my life came from two early favorite writers, Herman Melville and C.S. Lewis. In one of the myriad pearls he tosses out as asides in his prose, Melville asks in Moby Dick, “why read widely when you can read deeply?” Why spread our minds thin? Rather than agonize over what we don’t know, we can dig into the relatively few things we do until we’ve mastered them, then move on to the next thing.

Melville’s counsel may not suit every temperament, depending on whether one is a fox or a hedgehog (or an Ahab). But Lewis’ advice might just be indispensable for developing an outlook as broad-minded as it is deep. “It is a good rule,” he wrote, “after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”




Many other famous readers have left behind similar pieces of reading advice, like Edward Bulwer-Lytton, author of notorious opener “It was a dark and stormy night." As though refining Lewis’ suggestion, he proposed, “In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest. The classic literature is always modern. New books revive and redecorate old ideas; old books suggest and invigorate new ideas.”

Albert Einstein shared neither Lewis’ religion nor Bulwar-Lytton’s love of semicolons, but he did share both their outlook on reading the ancients. Einstein approached the subject in terms of modern arrogance and ignorance and the bias of presentism, writing in a 1952 journal article:

Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous.

There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind. We owe it to a few writers of antiquity (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) that the people in the Middle Ages could slowly extricate themselves from the superstitions and ignorance that had darkened life for more than half a millennium.

Nothing is more needed to overcome the modernist's snobbishness.

Einstein himself read both widely and deeply, so much so that he “became a literary motif for some writers,” as Dr. Antonia Moreno González notes, not only because of his paradigm-shattering theories but because of his generally well-rounded public genius. He was frequently asked, and happy to volunteer, his “ideas and opinions”—as the title of a collection of his writing calls his non-scientific work, becoming a public philosopher as well as a scientist.

We might credit Einstein's liberal attitude toward reading and education—in the classical sense of the word "liberal"— as a driving force behind his endless intellectual curiosity, humility, and lack of prejudice. His diagnosis of the problem of modern ignorance may strike us as grossly understated in our current political circumstances. As for what constitutes a "classic," I like Italo Calvino's expansive definition: "A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say."

via Mental Floss

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

This Is What an 1869 MIT Entrance Exam Looks Like: Could You Have Passed the Test?

The late 19th Century was the time of Charles Darwin and James Clerk Maxwell, of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. It was a golden age of science and technology. So you might wonder how hard it was to get into one of the top technical universities in that era.

The answer, according to this video? Not very hard.

At least that was the case in 1869 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT,  as the young Australian science and math teacher Toby Hendy explains on her excellent YouTube channel, Tibees. MIT was brand new and desperate for tuition revenue in 1869, so the object of the test wasn't to whittle a massive field of applicants down to a manageable size. It was simply to make sure that incoming students could handle the work.




MIT opened in 1865, just after the end of the Civil War. The idea was to create a European-style polytechnic university to meet the demands of an increasingly industrial economy. The original campus was in Boston, across the Charles River from its current location in Cambridge. Only 15 students signed up in 1865. Tuition was $100 for the whole year. There was no formal entrance test. According to an article from the school's Archives and Special Collections,

The "conditions for admission" section of MIT's catalogue for 1865-66 indicates that candidates for admission as first year students must be at least sixteen years old and must give satisfactory evidence "by examination or otherwise" of a competent training in arithmetic, geometry, English grammar, geography, and the "rudiments of French." Rapid and legible handwriting was also stressed as being "particularly important." By 1869 the handwriting requirement and French had been dropped, but algebra had been added and students needed to pass a qualifying exam in the required subject areas. An ancillary effect was to protect unqualified students from disappointment and professors from wasting their time.

A couple of years earlier, in 1867, the MIT Executive Committee reported that faculty members had felt it necessary to ask parents of "some incompetent and inattentive students to withdraw them from the school, wishing to spare them the mortification of an examination which it was certain they could not pass."

Nowadays, the students who make it into MIT have average SAT and ACT scores in the 99th percentile. Of 21,312 first-year applicants hoping to join the Class of 2023, only 1,427 made it. That's an admission rate of 6.7 percent. What a difference 150 years can make!

To take the 1869 entrance examination in English, Algebra, Geometry and Arithmetic, and to see the correct answers, visit this cached article from the MIT website.

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Experience New York City’s Fabled Mid-Century Nightclubs in an Interactive, COVID-19-Era, Student-Designed Exhibit

It’s been over a month since public health precautions led almost every school in the United States to switch to online instruction.

While there are obviously much greater tragedies unfolding daily, it’s hard not to empathize with students who have watched countless special events—proms, commencements, spring sports, performances, hotly anticipated rites of passage—go poof.

In New York City, students in Parsons School of Design’s Narrative Spaces: Design Tools for Spatial Storytelling course were crestfallen to learn that their upcoming open-to-the-public exhibition of group and solo projects in the West Village—the centerpiece of the class and a huge opportunity to connect with an audience outside of the classroom—was suddenly off the menu.




Multidisciplinary artist Jeff Stark, who co-teaches the class with Pamela Parker, was disappointed on their behalves.

Stark’s own work, from Empire Drive In to Miss Rockaway Armada, is rooted in live experience, and New York City holds a special place in his heart. (He also edits the weekly email list Nonsense NYC, an invaluable resource for independent art and Do-It-Yourself events in the city.)

This year’s class projects stemmed from visits to the City Reliquary, a small museum and civic organization celebrating everyday New York City artifacts. Students were able to get up close and personal with Chris Engel’s collection of photographs, menus, promotional materials, and souvenirs documenting the heyday of New York’s supper club nightlife, from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Student Rylie Cooke, an Australian who aspires to launch a design company, found that her research deepened her connection to artifacts she encountered at the Reliquary, as she came to appreciate the fabled Copacabana’s influence on the popular culture, food, and music of the period:

... with COVID-19 it became important to have this connection to the artifacts as I wasn't able to physically touch or look at them when Parsons moved to online for the semester. I am a very hands-on creative and I love curating things, especially in an exhibit format.

Rather than scrap their goal of public exhibition, the class decided to take things into the virtual realm, hustling to adapt their original concepts to a purely screen-based experience, The New York Supper Club: From Nightlife to Social Distancing.

The plan to wow visitors with a period-appropriate table in the center of their West Village exhibition space became a grid of digital placemats that serve as portals to each project.

Cooke’s contribution, A Seat at the Copacabana, begins with an interview in which baseball great Mickey Mantle recounts getting into a cloakroom brawl as he and fellow New York Yankees celebrated a birthday with a Sammy Davis Jr. set. Recipes for steak and potatoes, Chicken a la King, rarebit, and arroz con pollo provide flavor for a floorshow represented by archival footage of “Let’s Do the Copacabana” starring Carmen Miranda, a Martin and Lewis appearance, and a dance rehearsal from 1945. The tour ends at the Copa’s current incarnation in Times Square, with a vision of pre-socially distanced contemporary merrymakers salsa-ing the night away.

(Navigate this exhibit using toolbar arrows at the bottom of the screen.)

Student Hongxi Chen’s investigations into The China Doll nightclub resulted in an elaborate interactive immersive experience on the topic of cultural appropriation:

The China Doll… was founded in 1946 by Caucasian stage producer Tom Ball, who deemed it the only “all-oriental” night club in New York. While the club sometimes played off “Oriental” stereotypes, and titled one of its shows “Slant-Eyed Scandals,” they featured Asian dancers and Asian singers presenting popular songs in a way New Yorkers had never seen before. The Dim interactive experience unfolds with the story of Thomas, a waiter at the China Doll.

As a junior in Parsons’ Design and Technology program, Chen had plenty of previous experience forging virtual environments, but working with a museum collection was new to him, as was collaborating on a virtual platform.

He sought Stark’s advice on creating vivid dialogue for his fictional waiter.

Jiaqi Liuan, a Design and Technology MFA student and veteran of the Shanghai production of Sleep No More, Punchdrunk’s immersive retelling of MacBeth, helped choreograph Chen’s China Doll dancers in an homage to The Flower Drum Song's Fan Tan Fannie number.

Chen stayed up until 7 am for two weeks, devouring open source tutorials in an attempt to wrangle and debug the many elements of his ambitious project—audio, video, character models and animation, software, game engines, and game server platform.

As Chen noted at the exhibition’s recent Zoom opening (an event that was followed by a digital dance party), the massive game can be a bit slow to load. Don't worry, it’s worth the wait, especially as you will have a hand in the story, steering it to one of five different endings.

Chen, an international student, could not safely return to China and has not left his student apartment since mid-March, but gamely states that remaining in the same time zone as his school allowed him to communicate efficiently with his professors and the majority of his classmates. (Cooke is back home in Australia.)

Adds Chen:

Even though we are facing a difficult circumstance under the pandemic and had to pivot our original ideas into a virtual presentation, I’m glad that our class was able to quickly change plans and adapt to the situation. This… actually inspired me a lot and opened up ways to invite and connect people with virtual artwork.

Other highlights of The New York Supper Club: From Nightlife to Social Distancing include Ming Hong Xian’s exploration of the famous West Village country music club, The Village Barn (complete with turtle races) and What Are You? a personality test devised by Mi Ri Kim and Eleanor Melby, to help visitors determine which classic NYC supper club best suits their personality.

(Apparently, I’m headed to Cafe Zanzibar, below, where the drinks are cheap, the aspirin is free, and Cab Calloway is a frequent headliner.)

Stark admits that initially, his students may not have shared his swooning response to the source material, but they share his love of New York City and the desire to “get in the thick of it.” By bringing a Generation Z perspective to this historical ephemera, they stake a claim, making work that could help the City Reliquary connect to a new audience.

Enter The New York Supper Club: From Nightlife to Social Distancing here.

Explore the City Reliquary online here, and join in the civic pride by participating in its weekly Instagram Live events, including Thursday Collectors’ Nights.

(All images used with permission of the artists and The City Reliquary)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her contribution to art in isolation is a hastily assembled tribute to the classic 60s social line dance, The Madison. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Albert Einstein’s Grades: A Fascinating Look at His Report Cards

Albert Einstein was a precocious child.

At the age of twelve, he followed his own line of reasoning to find a proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. At thirteen he read Kant, just for the fun of it. And before he was fifteen he had taught himself differential and integral calculus.

But while the young Einstein was engrossed in intellectual pursuits, he didn't much care for school. He hated rote learning and despised authoritarian schoolmasters. His sense of intellectual superiority was resented by his teachers.




In Subtle is the Lord: The Science and Life of Albert Einstein, author Abraham Pais tells a funny story from Einstein's days at the Luitpold Gymnasium, a secondary school in Munich now called the Albert-Einstein-Gymnasium:

At the Gymnasium a teacher once said to him that he, the teacher, would be much happier if the boy were not in his class. Einstein replied that he had done nothing wrong. The teacher answered, "Yes, that is true. But you sit there in the back row and smile, and that violates the feeling of respect that a teacher needs from his class."

The same teacher famously said that Einstein "would never get anywhere in life."

What bothered Einstein most about the Luitpold was its oppressive atmosphere. His sister Maja would later write:

"The military tone of the school, the systematic training in the worship of authority that was supposed to accustom pupils at an early age to military discipline, was also particularly unpleasant for the boy. He contemplated with dread that not-too-distant moment when he will have to don a soldier's uniform in order to fulfill his military obligations."

When he was sixteen, Einstein's parents moved to Italy to pursue a business venture. They told him to stay behind and finish school. But Einstein was desperate to join them in Italy before his seventeenth birthday. "According to the German citizenship laws," Maja explained, "a male citizen must not emigrate after his completed sixteenth year; otherwise, if he fails to report for military service, he is declared a deserter."

So Einstein found a way to get a doctor's permission to withdraw from the school on the pretext of "mental exhaustion," and fled to Italy without a diploma. Years later, in 1944, during the final days of World War II, the Luitpold Gymnasium was obliterated by Allied bombing. So we don't have a record of Einstein's grades there. But there is record of a principal at the school looking up Einstein's grades in 1929 to fact check a press report that Einstein had been a very bad student. Walter Sullivan writes about it in a 1984 piece in The New York Times:

With 1 as the highest grade and 6 the lowest, the principal reported, Einstein's marks in Greek, Latin and mathematics oscillated between 1 and 2 until, toward the end, he invariably scored 1 in math.

After he dropped out, Einstein's family enlisted a well-connected friend to persuade the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, or ETH, to let him take the entrance exam, even though he was only sixteen years old and had not graduated from high school. He scored brilliantly in physics and math, but poorly in other areas. The director of the ETH suggested he finish preparatory school in the town of Aarau, in the Swiss canton of Aargau. A diploma from the cantonal school would guarantee Einstein admission to the ETH.

At Aarau, Einstein was pleasantly surprised to find a liberal atmosphere in which independent thought was encouraged.  "When compared to six years' schooling at a German authoritarian gymnasium," he later said, "it made me clearly realize how much superior an education based on free action and personal responsibility is to one relying on outward authority."

In Einstein's first semester at Aarau, the school still used the old method of scoring from 1 to 6, with 1 as the highest grade. In the second semester the system was reversed, with 6 becoming the highest grade. Barry R. Parker talks about Einstein's first-semester grades in his book, Einstein: The Passions of a Scientist:

His grades over the first few months were: German, 2-3; French, 3-4; history, 1-2; mathematics, 1; physics, 1-2; natural history, 2-3; chemistry, 2-3; drawing, 2-3; and violin, 1. (The range is 1 to 6, with 1 being the highest.) Although none of the grades, with the exception of French, were considered poor, some of them were only average.

The school headmaster, Jost Winteler, who had welcomed Einstein into his home as a boarder and had become something of a surrogate father to him during his time at Aarau, was concerned that a young man as obviously brilliant as Albert was receiving average grades in so many courses. At Christmas in 1895, he mailed a report card to Einstein's parents. Hermann Einstein replied with warm thanks, but said he was not too worried. As Parker writes, Einstein's father said he was used to seeing a few "not-so-good grades along with very good ones."

In the next semester Einstein's grades improved, but were still mixed. As Toby Hendy of the Youtube channel Tibees shows in the video above, Einstein's final grades were excellent in math and physics, but closer to average in other areas.

Einstein's uneven academic performance continued at the ETH, as Hendy shows. By the third year his relationship with the head of the physics department, Heinrich Weber, began to deteriorate. Weber was offended by the young man's arrogance. "You're a clever boy, Einstein," said Weber. "An extremely clever boy. But you have one great fault. You'll never allow yourself to be told anything." Einstein was particularly frustrated that Weber refused to teach the groundbreaking electromagnetic theory of James Clerk Maxwell. He began spending less time in the classroom and more time reading up on current physics at home and in the cafes of Zurich.

Einstein increasingly focused his attention on physics, and neglected mathematics. He came to regret this. "It was not clear to me as a student," he later said, "that a more profound knowledge of the basic principles of physics was tied up with the most intricate mathematical methods."

Einstein's classmate Marcel Grossmann helped him by sharing his notes from the math lectures Einstein had skipped. When Einstein graduated, his conflict with Weber cost him the teaching job he had expected to receive. Grossmann eventually came to Einstein's rescue again, urging his father to help him secure a well-paid job as a clerk in the Swiss patent office. Many years later, when Grossmann died, Einstein wrote a letter to his widow that conveyed not only his sadness at an old friend's death, but also his bittersweet memories of life as a college student:

"Our days together come back to me. He a model student; I untidy and a daydreamer. He on excellent terms with the teachers and grasping everything easily; I aloof and discontented, not very popular. But we were good friends and our conversations over iced coffee at the Metropol every few weeks belong among my nicest memories."

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Netflix Makes Documentaries Free to Stream: Design, Politics, Sports, Sir David Attenborough & More

Many of us kept indoors by the COVID-19 pandemic for days — or rather weeks, or perhaps months — have been imbued with a new sense of wonder about our world. Specifically, we're wondering what's going on in it. At the same time as the global scientific community struggles to determine the nature of the new and still poorly understood virus taking lives and immobilizing economies, we hear digital word of consequent phenomena also previously unknown in our lifetimes: wild animals, for instance, making their way into the streets of major cities. We live, it turns out, in a stranger, more mysterious reality than we'd imagined. Fortunately, the internet makes it possible for us to start getting a grip on that reality here in our homes, not least through free streaming Netflix documentaries.

"In the Before Times, Netflix let teachers stream their programming in the classroom," writes Jason Kottke. With schools out of session, "Netflix has decided to put some of their educational programming on YouTube for free (full playlist here). For instance, they’ve put all 8 episodes of David Attenborough’s nature series Our Planet online in their entirety."




Released just last year, that Netflix debut of the highly respected natural historian and broadcaster covers in great visual detail — and, needless to say, with highly evocative narration — everywhere from forests and deserts to jungles and high seas. If as a starting point that all seems a bit epic, as they say, Netflix has also made free single-serving documentary shorts on subjects like the stock market, the exclamation point, and cricket (the British Empire sport, not the insect).

Those come from the series Explained, a collaboration between Netflix and Vox, a site known for its brief "explainer" videos on culture, science, and current events — one of which, on the coronavirus itself, we featured last month here on Open Culture. Netflix has also made free to stream on Youtube other series like Abstract, which looks at the art of design (and whose debut we featured here a few years ago), and Babies, a five-part journey into the life of the human infant. If you prefer a feature-length documentary experience to a daily view or a binge-watch, you'll also find on the playlist Ava DuVernay's 13th, Rachel Lears' Knock Down the House, and Jeff Orlowski's Chasing Coral. When the orders of "stay home" and "social-distance" come to an end, many of us will feel a stronger desire to explore and learn about the world than ever before — in part because of how much of the time indoors we've spent stoking our curiosity with documentaries like these. Access the playlist of documentaries here.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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