STEAM Inspires Visit to Hancock Shaker Village

By Jasper Turner
Chair, Math Department

To go forward, it can be helpful to look backward.

On Monday, Nov. 6th, four Berkshire faculty members from the math and science departments braved the blustery fall elements to head up to Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA for a STEAM workshop. Since 1790, Hancock Shaker Village has endured as a testament to the ingenuity of the Shakers, a religious sect focused on building a Utopian society. Dedicated from its origin to innovation and sustainability, it was evident that the Shaker's mastered the concept of STEAM early on and the museum has maintained this focus.

After a tour of the grounds, including several illustrations of the Shaker's focus on constructing a sustainable community using technology, we stepped into our first activity of the day: learning how the Shakers harnessed water power through turbines to power an immense machine shop and laundry room. The museum recently reconstructed a replica of the original water turbine from Shaker plans and, to our amazement, the turbine powered an original Shaker table saw and lathe through an intricate belt, wheel, and gear system attached to the ceiling. It was like being inside a How Things Work diagram...the simplicity of the design belied the ingenuity used to create it.

From the machine shop, we visited the ice house, built into the side of the hill to ensure a cool lower level, where diagonal strips of wood ensured melting ice dripped down to the floor. We then headed into the round barn where we were able to admire the craftsmanship and discuss some of the benefits and pitfalls of such a unique design. Mr. Dalton was amazed by the simplicity of the Shaker's solution to distributing weight across the barn's rafters. After a head spinning workshop on the arithmetic behind using a hand loom to weave complicated patterns (including a quick lesson on inverse relationships), the group headed back to our original meeting space to share ideas and think about major takeaways to bring back to our classrooms.

Mr. Keefer was excited about the amplitude of a wave based on natural frequencies and is now eager to examine the potential effects of this amplification. We also talked about the ingenuity of using a mobius strip, the torque produced by the turbine and how to regulate that power, and the Shaker's focus on symmetry. As Mr. Keefer said, "people can be very inventive when their survival depends upon it." Mr. Amolo was impressed by the incredible work ethic demonstrated by the Shakers and the resulting ingenuity. Mr. Dalton took a 30,000 feet perspective and noted that as we struggle to identify ways to become a sustainable campus, it can be very helpful to look backward at what others have discovered before us. Beyond the STEAM connections, all four participants returned to Berkshire eager to share takeaways and to nurture our relationship with such an incredible resource.

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