Although I was a “fuzzy major” in college, I love science and particularly love learning about theoretical physics. This can likely be attributed to my outstanding physics teacher at Manhattan High School, Ron Curtain. Even though I fared rather poorly grade-wise in freshman physics at USAFA, I enjoyed reading books like “The Tao of Physics” and “The Dancing Wu Li Masters” later in college. Those books are certainly a far-cry from a standard physics textbook, but they do offer a glimpse into scientific ideas and theories to which I only had a cursory “formal” introduction in school.

My son, who is now 12, loves to watch NOVA specials on our home DVR. We particularly like watching episodes together about theoretical physics topics including dark matter, the origins of the universe, etc. It’s absolutely phenomenal that the explosion of television programming as well as our digital learning landscape online affords us so many chances to expand our knowledge on topics of interest like these. On past summer trips, we’ve enjoyed listening to “Science Friday” podcasts, NOVA ScienceNOW podcasts, and others. Who cares that his science curriculum at school has never touched these subjects with any notable depth?! That hasn’t stopped us from learning about these topics and discussing them together at length.

Now, I’m excited to learn we have even more high-quality, free resources on theoretical physics to enjoy together. This evening, thanks to a delicious share by Dennis O’Connor, I learned Stanford University has published a free course series to both YouTube and iTunes titled, “Modern Physics: The Theoretical Minimum,” taught by Leonard Susskind. One example of these available free courses by Dr. Susskind is “Quantum Mechanics (Winter 2008.”) All ten lectures from the course are available via this YouTube playlist. At the start of this lecture, Dr. Susskind explains what “continuing education” is at Stanford as the context for this lecture series.

The Open Culture blog’s list of free physics courses is superb, and includes courses from other universities in addition to Stanford. The eleven minute video, “Understanding String Theory” from Harvard is one I will share with my son this week. It is unbelievable that anyone with an Internet-capable computer, a high-speed Internet connection, and a local network policy which permits access to these video websites (certainly NOT the case in all our K-12 schools, I’m afraid) can enjoy access to these videos and more like them.

I’ll be sharing a session on April 7th at the Iowa 1:1 Institute titled, “OER: Open Educational Resources – Learn what the open content movement means for 1:1 schools (free digital curriculum.)” When I was in Hangzhou, China this past November, I was very interested to learn staff members at some of their largest universities are tasked to compile hotlists of videos like these which can be integrated into Chinese courses offered both online and face-to-face. I don’t think we’ve hardly begun to tap into the potential value of video content like this in our own colleges and universities, much less our K-12 schools.

Thankfully that shortcoming does not have to stop us from learning @ home. :-) I think it is superb Stanford makes these videos available NOT ONLY via iTunesU, but also via YouTube. Access at any price to some of the best minds at a university like Stanford is a remarkable gift. Who wold think that price, or the cost of admission, would be digital connectivity? Add this to my previous list of reasons all our colleges and universities should have 1:1 programs TODAY.

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  • http://social.coxlucia.com Luseea

    I am passionate about amateur physics; and you’re right, physics learned at the school and basic college level is not as exciting as what is available now on TV and in the Stanford YouTube Channel, — a favorite.

    As a family, we record and save via TIVO the NOVA, Michio Kaku’s and ASU physics programs. We share books on the Masters and unusual ones like “Physics for Future Presidents” as well as scientific magazines.

    Physics is both a palpable and spiritual science.
    Have enjoyed your blog immensely. Thanks for your generosity.

    And before I forget: Go Blues! Go Falcons!

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