« Translate a Poem into Code? | Main | It's official, Moock endorses SEPY »

Learning made easy: Tivo and PBS Telecourses

Learn science and more at home! I find that I value my Tivo more and more the longer I have it. I have it programmed with a keyword search for science and education, set to record automatically. I've been thrilled to find that it has recently recorded a collection of three programs, each offered as a series in science education.

The Mechanical Universe and Beyond

This introductory, college level Physics edcuation program was developed at CalTech. Its a series of 52 episodes, 30 minutes each, starting with topics in the 15th century and ending the current period with quantum theory. The first four episodes were serendipitously recorded last night, and I watch them today. They provide the context and history surrounding the development of new ideas in physics, rather than just covering pure physics. For instance, the first four episodes paint a portrait of Issac Newton as a bitter miser, driven, and ending up mad. The physics lessons are clear, though, and the math is provided in equations and demonstration. Its been many years since I've had calculus, but watching the development of the first two theorems in calculus resulted in several a ha! moments. A great series.

Learning Science Through Inquiry

This is an 8 part workshop intended to help science teachers with grade school and middle school science education. Since I'm not a science teacher, I found this one a little bit dry, but there were some lessons that sunk in that perhaps I'll have the chance to employ when my wife and I have kids.

Beyond Human

I haven't watched this one yet, but it looks to be very interesting. Its a two part series on robotics, computing, and bioengineering. The companion website makes it seem very Kurzweil-esque.

You can find more education programs through PBS Campus and PBS Adult Learning Service. The Annenburg/CPB project's website has many offerings for free, online educational programs with video, such as this program on The Brain.

I plan to build a telecourse archive using my Tivo's DVD burner, but if your Tivo doesn't have a burner, check out TivoToGo which allows you to copy programs to computers on your home network, for burning there.

-Steven Erat


A lot of the computer graphics for The Mechanical Universe was developed by Dr. James Blinn at JPL. He was a pioneer in texture mapping, a procedure that adds realism to the rendering of planets, asteroids, moons, etc. in the JPL simulations of things like the Voyager planetary fly-bys in the 80s and 90s.

The dynamic graphical representations of formulas and functions make it much easier to understand than just as grapics on a dead-tree text.

Finally, I believe that these videos are also available via streaming server from a website associated with Annenburg-CPB.

I'm going to say something that I probably shouldn't. :)

I was around while the Mechanical Universe (and its text) were being developed at Caltech. It was used in my classes. Now, sometimes that was a good thing, but other times it wasn't. It's certainly no substitute for a good lecturer up there who can answer questions or judge the mood of the students. They were trying hard to develop the "and Beyond" portion while I was there -- and I found it a very difficult way to learn quantum. (I finally gave up on learning quantum from the physicists and retook it with the chemists.)

I see that they have made an adaptation for high school students, and I'm wondering how that is/was received.

I'll go hide in my corner now.