If Monks Are Learning Hands-on Science…

Mike Petrich and Karen Wilkinson of San Francisco’s Exploratorium‘s Learning Studio have a choice assignment this month. They are visiting a monastery in Sarnath, India, helping organize hands-on science workshops for Tibetan Buddhist monks.

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Mike and Karen who run the Learning Studio program at the Exploratorium were brought to India by a program called Science for Monks. On the Learning Studio blog, Mike and Karen talk about their first workshop on Cardboard Automata. In this workshop, the monks were shown an automata with its mechanism disguised and asked to design their own version, guessing at how the original worked.

We were definitely surprised by the gusto with which the monks took to the challenge. Their observations were methodical, precise, and varied, even creative (for example, it was not uncommon for them to hold up the box to their ear to try and determine, from the sound of the mechanism, whether there were gears involved or not). They made very well-thought-out drawings and schematics of possible mechanisms, and then defended their ideas with each other with great vigor.

I asked Mike and Karen to consider writing a Make article on their trip. Mike wrote to me: “It is quite an adventure, the first time the Tibetan leadership monks have used making as a part of their science learning.”

So if monks are learning hands-on science and making things, shouldn’t everyone, everywhere, regardless of age, nationality or religion?

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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

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