Feb / 09
04 Feb / 09
When facilitating construction-based activities like the chain reaction, we often speculate about the learner's thinking and progression of ideas. We make assumptions about their decisions, new ideas, and problem solving techniques through their words, and the artifacts that they create. Because of the language barrier, this workshop proved more difficult for us to assess their thinking trajectory, so we captured each group's process through a series of still photos.
We shared some of these pics with two monks that had worked together on their chain reaction contraption, and talked with them about their process while reviewing the images. Geshe Thupten and Geshe Yeshi collaborated on an ingenious mechanism that started the entire chain reaction: it was simple, but very effective. A pulley system, powered by a slow-moving motor: the lid of a pot functioned as a cam, and a hand-braided string as the belt. As the motor turned, the belt pushed a mallet forward, which eventually knocked over the domino blocks that terminated their portion of the chain reaction.
Karen conducted the interview, and part of what made it so successful was showing them photographs we had taken during the workshop, and asking them about specific parts of their work, at first. In the (partial) transcription below, KW stands for Karen Wilkinson, GT is Geshe Thupten (left in this photo), and GY is Geshe Yeshi (right). The monks were translated by our interpreter.
KW: I was curious: this was the first idea I saw you try, can you tell me a little bit about what you were thinking then?
GT, then GY: At the beginning, at this stage we didn't have any particular set up in our mind, but we were finding [...] what things we can make on this table surface. We can use that block for their ultimate end. And so we tried to do that in various ways. So, before we used this one, we also used marbles, but these two boards... they [the marbles] are too small or too light to knock [them] down, so ultimately we had to take another way.
KW: The wheel had two rubber bands [...] before. Why did you change it? It was like this...
GY, then GT: Before we tried to... we used this without the rubber to rotate it, but we found that it is too slippery, and that the string goes up and down, and so in order to improve that we put these two rubber [bands], and then we tried it once or twice. At that time again we found that the two rubber bands, the blue one and the red one, are too thin, they can't quite hold the string in the required place. So, again, we had to change this rubber band to a thicker one.
KW: How did you get from the idea of this... to this?
GT: When we tried it once we faced a problem, so in order to prevent that, we had to find another way.
GY: Before we used [...] the string, [...] we used some rubber bands, and even though it can move, it is too slow and it's not so strong, so we thought of using a string, but the original string was too thin, and so we had to make a larger one. And so we managed by ourselves.
KW: I was very surprised when I saw that, that is was twisted!
GY: And rubber ones are also much more slippery.
KW: So, when the string crossed, why did you have to do it that way?
GT, with GY interjecting: This also came after a particular problem. We had an argument about this, whether to put this or not, because when we don't have this one over here [the strings crossing], the string goes straight from [a] larger angle, sort of, and so it's more slippery, and so it falls off. It even goes out of this yellow ring. And so we put it this way, and so it is much tighter, and so it can't slip either way.
KW: So one more question. I want to know about this, the ending, this part? When did you decide that this is what you wanted to have?
GY, then GT: Right from the beginning, we were concerned about how to knock down that block. [...] During the construction of the whole model we kept thinking about what kind of object we can use to knock [...] it. So after we put the string... first, we put only this one [the dowel], and it was not so strong, because it's too small and sometimes it goes out of the way, it can't hit. So we came up with this idea [of using a bobbin as a sleeve for the dowel]. Also we put this "hat" [the rounded wooden ball at the end], so it quite bigger, and easily hit, and also not so slippery, and it's got some weight, and so it can easily knock down that one.
KW: And what is the clothespin? Why did you need to have that?
Both: Even after we used this one, after we used the string, there was [...] one more problem. It's too heavy, and it goes up and down.
Now moving on from talking about specific photographs to a more general conversation
KW: Do you remember saying that? So, do you still feel that way, after what you've made?
GY [laughing]: So, right from the beginning we said this is like... we are supposed to be scientist, like science students? And so this is the first science project we are doing, [...] and so we said it's very important we should make something easy and that is scientific.
GT: Even though I was interested in making some complicated models, I was concerned about the short period of time, and so right from the beginning I thought that it's difficult to put different things in the middle, and so in order to cover the space we used the long rope. [...] We are happy to have all these kinds of equipment and facilities so that we can make our own kind of model.
Before, [...] we have been taught about the kinds of different models, and different machines, but this is the first time we actually looked at the design and made it ourselves.
KW: Ha! So what do you mean? You studied mechanisms, but haven't built them? Like, in books? Or, how?
GT: Yeah, normally what we learn is from books, and other translations from the teachers. But this time, first we heard a description of cams and cam followers, and after that not only did we actually see it by ourselves, but we also made it, and we have seen how these cams are moving and working. So, looking at these things now I have some kind of clue that [...] other machines that we are used to see must have these kinds of structure inside.
I'm also feeling kind of concerned, or kind of worried, because now I feel that I will find it very interesting to make things, and I fear that I might end up spending my time making these sort of models in the monastery, and so I won't have time to study the theoretical part.
KW: Oh, uh-oh! [laughs] That would be a problem! [Laughs]
GT: So, from my side, I will try to split the time between making things and the theoretical part, and also a variety of thoughts on how to make these things.
GY: Basically, I am a lazy person regarding making things, and I don't have much experience about making these kinds of models, making things by hand, but [...] during this workshop I came to realize that it's very important, in scientific studies, to have more questions and do practical things by yourself.
Before, during the previous science classes, and other conversations, I heard that the moonlight is the reflection of the sun's rays, but even though I heard this, I didn't like that very much, because I can't believe that, it can't convince me properly. But after working with this Mylar and all these reflections, now I am very much convinced that yeah, the light that comes from the moon can be that of the sun.
So, by looking at the works that you have done and all the responses that you take, all the care that you have taken for this workshop, it also gives us encouragement to work harder.