Students in AP50, an introductory applied physics course at Harvard’s engineering school, prepare an epic prank. For credit!

This Harvard Gazette article describes an undergrad course in applied physics at the university’s engineering school that sounds like a blast. The course, taught by Professor Eric Mazur, is significantly more interactive than your standard physics class. Instead of listening to lectures, students take part in challenging group projects that require them to learn underlying physics concepts in order to complete the work (one example given in the article: studying elasticity in order to build a highly accurate catapult); instead of a textbook, they use a collaborative online text; and instead of traditional exams, they work in groups to come up with a single answer to a given question. 

This reminds me, tangentially, of the idea of an “authentic audience” motivating students to improve their writing (which was described in the “Twitter is making kids smarter” article we posted about last week). In both cases, the concept being taught is not presented as an end in itself (“learn this because you need to.”) Instead, students are given an inherently attractive goal to work toward, and the concepts are learned on the way to the goal. In one case, that goal is writing for an authentic audience. In this Harvard class, the goal is launching stuff from a catapult, or opening a safe with a laser cutter. (They do that in the class, too.) Professor Mazur compares this teaching style to a “Trojan horse”: the teaching is almost snuck into the work.

What do you think about this approach? Is learning more effective when students are motivated in this way? Teachers - have you had any successes, or challenges, in leading your students in open-ended projects like these? Do tell. 

- Spencer (

Are those solar systems? Is the whole thing a giant space station? OR A BRAIN???

From Edtech magazine, a map of education… in a time period subsequent to the present (it’s the future, guys). Learn about “disintermediation” and look forward to a time when you can have small cubes hovering between your hands. This very cool map organizes real and speculative technologies into categories based on how they could be used in the classroom. 

If you had access to reactive furniture or neuroimaging, how would you use them in your classroom? Let us know!

This is what we think of when we hear the word “forum,” I guess?

Some reports on a forum held last week at Teachers College in New York City in which leading NYC mayoral candidates were asked about their positions on education, and arts education in particular:

And videos of the conference here:


The consensus seems to be that the candidates spoke earnestly about the importance of arts ed, and many told personal stories about what the arts have meant to them, but few were willing to commit to specific new policies.

Readers: do you think arts education is an issue mayors and other officials should address? How? Are there any ways to encourage politicians to get specific?

Ask a Kid!

Another awesome entry in our “Ask a Kid!” series -

We asked kids what they thought education would be like in the future. This student believes that technology in the classroom will allow for more ambitious learning goals, and is also excited for an excellent new mode of transportation: 

I imagine that in the future education will use a lot of technology. I picture all items are blue: our pencils, boxes, pens, and boards Everything will be made out of glass, and work like a touch screen. Our education will be more advanced so 5th graders will learn what 8th graders study now. Instead of paper, we’ll have glass that you can type on like a computer. When we go on field trips, we’ll go through a magical tunnel to end up at our location. This is how I picture my education in the future


- Giselle, from Los Angeles

What’s good arts education worth?

New York mayoral candidates were unwilling in their forum last week to commit to specific arts education policies. On the other hand/coast, possible good news out LA: the school district there is doubling its arts budget and training teachers in many subjects in arts integration:

Have you had any great experiences with arts integrated into other subjects, as a student or as a teacher? Share please!
Use Arts Integration to Enhance Common Core

These days, integration in any area, be it STEM or the arts, seems to be the buzzword to curriculum designers everywhere. There are so many resources floating around out there with the claim of integrating content areas. Yet, true integration is often difficult to find.

What does integration really mean?  

Can the implementation of Common Core lend freedom to teachers to bring arts back into the classroom and expand their reach? 

“Integration is not simply combining two or more contents together. It is an approach to teaching which includes intentional identification of naturally aligned standards, taught authentically alongside meaningful assessments which take both content areas to a whole new level.”


How do you integrate the arts into your classroom?  What is your history with the arts and how does it influence how you view your classroom on a daily basis?