Learning Studio
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The Learning Studio hosts several different projects and offers a forum for wider community explorations in art, science, and technology.



Tinkering Studios are an on-going series of experiments on the Exploratorium's exhibition floor designed by Learning Studio staff and collaborating artists, scientists, and educators. Envisioned as a space for staff and visitors to work with one another on thought provoking, construction-based activities, the Tinkering Studio environment contains tools, materials, and starting points for a variety of experiments. The studio is temporarily constructed, open to the general public, and mediated by Exploratorium educators and floor staff. Recent Tinkering Studio topics have included Marble Machines, Wind Tubes, Cardboard Automata, and Light Distractions.

Open MAKE (2010)

On the last Saturday of each month from January through April, the Exploratorium will host a series of informal talks and activities designed to inspire your inner inventor. Featuring different themes and guest speakers each month, Open MAKE: A Program to Inspire Young Makers will introduce museum visitors to a variety of tinkering possibilities while encouraging middle and high school students to realize their own inventions in time for Maker Faire.

A collaboration between Pixar, Techshop, and the Learning Studio, the Young Makers program mentors middle and high school students in building projects that meld math and science with craft and creative inspiration. Each public Saturday program will feature different Makers and focus on a particular theme, such as circuit-based critters or playing with sound. By tinkering with familiar materials, such as cloth and wood, and not-so-familiar materials, such as zelt and conductive thread, students will problem-solve through a process of trial and error, gaining insights and skills to apply toward their own creations for Maker Faire.

In parallel, museum visitors will be given a chance to participate in drop-in tinkering activities that will reflect each month's theme, as well as meet and chat with the featured Makers and artists for each month.


Science for Monks is a program that provides hands-on science and math education to advanced scholars within the Tibetan monastic communities in India. The program stems from His Holiness the Dalai Lama's desire for the traditions of Western science and Eastern mental development to work together, and for Buddhists to understand the latest scientific findings.

As the first step in a continuing collaboration, the PIE institute hosted a ten-day workshop in Sarnath, India, with a group of about 30 monks who are participating in the program. Through hands-on activities and explorations, the monks investigated materials-based and real-world phenomena such as mechanical linkages, light reflection, and causality, while creating artistic contraptions as a way to process their knowledge.

More information on the Learning Studio blog


Design for Exploration is a Stanford University course taught in collaboration with the Exploratorium as part of what is hoped to be an ongoing partnership between the two institutions. Stanford professor John Edmark and Learning Studio collaborator Sebastian Martin have worked with 15 students, introducing them to concepts of inquiry-based science teaching, designing for interactivity, and rapid prototyping. Informed by a constrained palette of materials, and modeling their work on art pieces as well as science exhibits, students found inspiration for prototyping new projects and evolved them through many iterations.

More information on the class blog. Videos of the students' final creations are here.


Handcrafted Technologies is a residency program for artists working in interdisciplinary modes incorporating visual art, sculpture, design, textiles, installation, mechanical contraptions, and a wide range of electronic and digital media. Artists are in residence at the Exploratorium to explore a specific research project developed in collaboration with Learning Studio staff. When appropriate, artists will give lecture-demonstrations to general public audiences and participate in hands-on art and technology workshops with the general public, staff, and invited groups of educators.

Handcrafted Technologies is made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts.


Bob Miller worked in many capacities at the Exploratorium throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and in a brief personal memoir, he termed himself "an artist, inventor, science museum consultant and lecturer (on) light and vision." Bob was the first full-time staff as artist-in-residence from 1970 to 1977, and then as its associate director until 1988. "Bob Miller was a Renaissance man," said Dennis Bartels, the Exploratorium's executive director. "His work combined art and science and played with light and color, reflection and refraction, and he was responsible for creating some of the most stunning, as well as popular, exhibits at the Exploratorium, many of which still exist and which have been copied at science museums all over the world. Bob often said that the worst disease afflicting humankind is "hardening of the categories", our futile attempts to cram things into boxes, and keep them there. Boxes like "art" and "science", for example. These categories become blinders that prevent us from noticing: the weight of clouds, the colors of white, the light in shadows, the opportunities in obstacles. The Bob Miller Memorial Residency program was created to support the continued exploration of light, and light-related phenomena through the Learning Studio's Artist in Residence program.


Invisible Dynamics: The Science of a Sense of Place is an ongoing interdisciplinary research project, which explores the complex interplay of natural, built, and cultural systems in the San Francisco Bay Area. Project researchers come from the domains of art, design, cultural geography, cartography, information design, sociology, archeology, climatology, hydrology, ecology, marine sciences, and history.

Above all, Invisible Dynamics is an exploration of the nature of place; its aim is to reveal the underlying and often invisible factors that give a place its unique and varied character.


PIE INSTITUTE (2005-2008)

The PIE Institute continues the work of the PIE Network (below) by creating playful and inventive educational activities using science, art, and technology, and by sharing PIE ideas with a larger audience of educators in museums and other informal learning environments.

PIE Institute is made possible by the generous support of the National Science Foundation.



The Exploratorium arts team is using the research residencies as a platform to bridge artistic vision and program cooperation among the museum's three centers. Artists have been based in the Exploratorium Learning Studio. Their residencies have resulted in public installations and a concomitant evaluation of their public and institutional impact. Selections have reflected the diversity of California, as well as a diversity of artistic approaches.



E-TARP was series of four artists' residencies that focused on experimenting with a new generation of miniature programmable technologies in the realms of sound, film, kinetic sculpture, and activated environments. In the course of their investigations, the artists, chosen for their interest and demonstrated abilities to work with diverse audiences, also helped Learning Studio staff prototype hands-on art and technology public workshops.

E-TARP was made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts.

PIE (Playful and Inventive Exploration) NETWORK (2001-2004)

The PIE Network grew out of educational research led by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab. With support from the National Science Foundation, the Lifelong Kindergarten group developed the Cricket, a small programmable device. In 2000 educators from MIT and several museums formed the PIE Network and began to experiment with science and art activities using the Cricket and other new digital technologies.

PIE Network was made possible by the generous support of the National Science Foundation.

http://philo.exploratorium.edu/scrapbook (Exploratorium PIE Scrapbok)

http://www.pienetwork.org (PIE Network Website)


A Skill Swap is a hands-on staff workshop intended to share staff skills, hobbies, and interests.

Skill Swaps usually occur over an hour during lunch for about 12 participating staff members, and often involve Learning Studio collaborators.

Future Skill Swap Topics

· How to Wire a Lamp
· PIC Computer Programming
· Making Balloon Animals
· Using the Mac OS Terminal
· Catching and Pinning Bugs
· How to Make Sushi

Past Skill Swaps

· Soldering with Larry Shaw
· How to Splice a Rope (three ways) with Peter Richards
· Suminagashi (paper marbling) with Michelle Hublinka
· Making Blinky Bugs with Ken Murphy
· Polaroid Transfer with Karen Wilkinson
· Pinhole Photography with Modesto Tamez
· Cartooning with Steve Kearsley
· Knitting with Lori Lambertson
· Juggling with David Barker
· Water Play with Bernie Zubrowski
· How to Pick a Lock with Tim Hunkin
· Hyperbolic Crochet with Margaret Wertheim
· Magic Tricks with Luigi Anzivino
· Rose Propagation with Deb Bainum
· Plastic Fusing with Karen Wilkinson

Invisible Dynamics
Pie Institute
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