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Tibetan Monastic Science Leaders

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Reflecting on Becoming Science Teachers – December 2009

When the monks teach other monks, they frequently assign someone from the group to document the class with photographs and video. After teaching the monks that taught reviews the photographs and video with members of the group. "…while I was watching from when I taught, I noticed that my voice was a bit low, and the topic was quite big, and the students didn't get time to ask the question, so I noticed that I should be careful on this that, and so on." The group also recognized that many of them have a common problem, their speaking voices are very low. In addition to the video and photographs, on many occasions they have a member from the group observing and taking notes during the lesson, noting any ideas for improvements, "I note down the short comings like you know talking too fast and not (properly) listening to what the (students) are asking."

Teaching Science in Translator Course – August-December, 2009

In 2009, Sera Monastery launched a new project called a translation workshop, a 3-year long course with 25 monks. Students in the program meet 6 days a week for 1 .5 hrs per day. The monastery requested the group to teach, so the group met and agreed to taking on a weekly science day with the students, every Saturday. The group divided into teams of two and each Saturday a different team takes a turn teaching. For curriculum, they decided to go through the book by Dalai Lama, "The Universe in a Single Atom", an account of his personal encounters and reflections on science. The classes utilizes both the English and Tibetan translation of the book. Although, since it's a translators course, students prefer using the English, and the Tibetan version is used as a reference when there is doubt about meaning. They use the book as a guide for introducing scientific ideas and findings that support the text. According to the group "we go through the text and where we feel we can enter into scientific education, where we find a key concepts about biology or physics, we just cross into the subject." For example when a discussion of biology came-up, "we stopped to discuss what is meant by the study of biology, and give some examples of categories of life, and what does life mean from a scientific viewpoint."

The group meets every Friday to do the work of the group and prepare for class with translator course. The team responsible for teaching reviews the text and prepares a lesson. The person(s) going to teach will come with his preparation and others the rest listen and share ideas that might help in implementing the lesson. "So we meet on Friday just to make preparation and help the person who is going to teach, and there is somewhat like a rehearsal presentation by the person who is going to teach in class and we support him with some feedbacks"

"While we are teaching it's a sort of reminding us what we have learnt before and to teach other we have to make very sure we understand. So this is one of the advantage and also we really enjoy that." "When we get together and discuss about how should we teach and work through the material, it really helps and we learn a lot from this discussion."

So far the translation class has been a very successful experience for the group, and they are hoping to continue this work for a long time. They want to start incorporating experiments and activities in their science classes, but require more materials to make this happen. "When we come across some scientific ideas in the universe in single atom, maybe we can show the small and demonstrate some small experiment, such as an electronic microscope, to show them bacteria and cells"

Helping Others Prepare Science Exhibitions – July-August, 2009

The group was invited to help other monk students from the Science Meets Dharma program. This gave them a chance to both help the students prepare exhibits and also to teach classes providing scientific background to the different topics chosen by the younger monks. Themes of the exhibition were: origins of the universe, origins of life, the brain (vision, memory, and structure), chemistry, and the environment – with a focus on pollution. They started meeting with the monks preparing the science exhibition one month before the exhibition. They divided themselves among the different themes to provide coaching and support for the monks during the preparation of the exhibits. On August 15, 2009, about 1000 monks attended the exhibition at Sera Monastery. The group documented their work with the younger monks by taking photographs during the preparation and on the day of the exhibition.

Success at Dharamshala Science Exhibition – June, 2009

The group returned home after a successful science exhibition in Dharamshala.

"Since coming back from science exhibition I think most of my colleagues are more encouraged to meet now. They found out that team work is very important, so now it is easier for us to plan meetings, we are mostly, all of us, very actively involved." Ngawang Norbu

Science Rooms at Local Monastery – 2009

In 2009 Sera Monastery took steps towards establishing a science department, two dedicated science education rooms were set-up, one for each colleges (Mey and Jey) at Sera Monastery.

"Because this is an early stage, now we are trying to be very careful, so we are able to continue for a long time, we are trying to set-up shelves, books, and we have some stuff from earlier workshops."

One room is a good sized and will work well for meetings and teaching, however the other is quite small, 10 by 9 (feet?). The monastery offered to help put in furniture, but the group decided to wait. The administration understands the room is too small and they are working together to find a better room. The monks feel the monastery has become very supportive of them and more generally science education for monks.

"I'm looking forward to set-up a stable science meeting room. For our groups back in monastery and I'm hoping that we can open that for anybody who is interested in science like you know set up some short (programs), …some books, mostly illustrated ones with lots of pictures, …It's very useful in the monastery because they are very fresh in the science, they can learn from the pictures and… charts and things like that and I think those are very useful"
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