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Archive for January, 2014

Walden School students at TImp Lodge near Sundance.

Walden School students at TImp Lodge near Sundance.

Each year in September we take all the students of Walden School of Liberal Arts up to Timp Lodge, a large cabin above Sundance Ski Resort owned and rented out by Brigham Young University. We rent it for a week and have the different grade levels take turns using it, with the high school using it for three days and two nights. We do this so that students can bond with teachers outside the regular classroom. By breaking up students in various workshops, we also hope to develop friendships between all the students and prevent cliques from forming. We do a variety of activities such as a 2-mile hike to Stewart Falls, workshops for the elementary students, a talent show, and a dance.

Walden School students inside Timp Lodge near Sundance.

Walden School students inside Timp Lodge near Sundance.

During our first day there, each teacher puts together a workshop that is both fun and educational. I had proposed to make Shrinky Dinks using the process I’d learned at the ASM materials science camp this summer, but not enough students signed up for it (I guess I need to come up with a better name . . .). One of our new part-time teachers, Austin, was trying to brainstorm some workshop ideas and I helped out, since he didn’t know what kinds of things would work. We came up with the idea of doing tie-dyed shirts. He had 30 students sign up, so I agreed to help out. Now why didn’t I think of that in the first place?

Wild turkeys at Timp Lodge near Sundance. And I'm not talking about students, either.

Wild turkeys at Timp Lodge near Sundance. And I’m not talking about students, either.

Since not all of the 30 could get around the tables and use the dye bottles at the same time, I came up with an additional idea to make marbled paper. I’ll describe this in my next post. But this time, lets talk tie-dye.

Hiking to Stewart Falls.

Hiking to Stewart Falls.

Austin purchased an assortment of standard Ritz dye colors and some plastic squirt bottles (such as used for catsup or mustard). We had the students bring their own shirts or other clothing items (some did socks, and one even did underwear), but we purchased extras for those who couldn’t bring their own. We also brought tubs and buckets for mixing the dye, plastic disposable tablecloths, large Ziploc bags, rubber bands, and washing soda as a mordant.

Squirt bottles full of fabric dye. We used yellow, orange, carmine, purple, blue, and cyan.

Squirt bottles full of fabric dye. We used yellow, orange, carmine, purple, blue, and cyan.

A mordant is a chemical that forms a coordination complex with the dye molecule so that it can attach permanently to the fabric substrate, such as wool or cotton fibers. As for any pigment, for the color to last, it must be insoluble in water, yet the dye itself must be soluble in water when first mixed. The mordant forms a “lake” (from the old Latin “lac” from which the word shellac is also derived) that makes the dye insoluble and permanent. The mordant is usually a metal ion salt that forms a base in solution, such as washing soda (sodium carbonate). Other common mordants used historically include urea, tannic acid, aluminum salts such as alum (aluminum phosphate), and even salt (sodium chloride). I would like to do this in a more controlled setting sometime to test the effectiveness of different types of mordants.

Method for making a bulls-eye pattern. The center is pulled up while the shirt is twisted slightly, then bound in sections by rubber bands and dyed.

Method for making a bulls-eye pattern. The center is pulled up while the shirt is twisted slightly, then bound in sections by rubber bands and dyed.

Our procedure was to mix the washing soda into a bucket of water and soak the T-shirts in it for several minutes. We then spread them out on the plastic tablecloths and folded them to produce one of several patterns. For example, you can make a spiral design by taking the center point and pinching the cloth, then twisting the whole shirt into a spiral and tying it together with rubber bands around the outside and across the center. The dyes are then squirted onto the rolled up shirt to form wedges of color, overlapping them to make gradients. We discovered that you get more color if you really saturate the dye in the wedges, going over them several times and even squirting some in between the cracks and ridges so that color gets down deep and leaves less white.

Ziploc bags full of dyed T-shirts. The dye was allowed to set before air drying.

Ziploc bags full of dyed T-shirts. The dye was allowed to set before air drying.

To make bulls-eyes, choose the center and pull it up while twisting to make a long rope, then attach rubber bands at intervals to hold the cloth together. Squirt different colors of dye between the rubber bands. Where the rubber bands are pinching the cloth together, less dye will penetrate and will leave white rings separating the bands of color.

Drying T-shirts at Timp Lodge.

Drying T-shirts at Timp Lodge.

To make tiger stripes, lay out the T-shirt face up, then drag your finger from one shoulder diagonally down to the opposite corner, creating a pleated fold that is then held together by rubber bands. Bands of dye color are squirted along it. To make a plaid pattern, take the tiger striped pattern and make a second set of accordion-style pleats.

Plaid, spots, and spiral patterns.

Plaid, spots, and spiral patterns.

We had enough T-shirts that I tried several different patterns to see which were best. I liked all the results, especially the tiger stripes. I think I would create a gradient of colors (say yellow through orange to red) across an unfolded shirt, then fold it and make a second set of colors (blues and greens). That way, interesting color combinations would result and there wouldn’t be any undyed white areas. Or I could do two different patterns on each shirt, letting them dry in between. I will have to do more experimentation.

Tie-dyed shirts showing different patterns.

Tie-dyed shirts showing different patterns.

After applying the dye, the students sealed the shirts in Ziploc bags for several hours to allow the dye to set, then gently washed the soda out. They then let the shirts dry completely in the sun. I told them the color would be fast (permanent) if they heat set it by running the shirt through a drier before washing it. It remains to be seen just how color fast our T-shirts are. The ones I’ve made have held up pretty well.

Fall 2014 tie dye samples

A sampler of shirts, socks, and scarves dyed in my 2014 Timp Lodge workshop.

We had T-shirts drying all over the place on the Lodge’s railings and many turned out quite well. For the next several days after we returned from Timp Lodge we had quite the tie-dye fashion show as students wore their shirts to school. We’ve had the reputation of being “that hippie school” in the past, so I suppose this helps verify our image.

Star shirt

Yours truly wearing a star patterned shirt. I’m running out of white T-shirts, so I’ve been using whatever I can for practice.

Update to Post for Fall, 2015: 

I have continued the tie dye class at our annual Timp Lodge retreat for three years now. Looking at the photos shown above, I can see we’ve made some progress. The main difference has been introducing a better type of dye. Instead of the Ritz dyes you buy at a grocery store, which create the weak colors seen above, I ordered Procion MX dyes from Dharma Trading Company and the results have been much more spectacular. I have even re-dyed some of the shirts from 2013 just to get better results.

Double spiral shirt

I found a nice long-sleeved white shirt at a local store and dyed it into a double-spiral pattern. It didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, but the colors are fun. You can see that the Procion MX dyes are much more intense than the standard Ritz colors.

I’ve learned how to make several advanced patterns, such as stars (you fold the shirt in an origami pattern similar to a paper airplane and tie it off using chopsticks and rubber bands), double spirals, and even Taoist Yin-Yang symbols, which involve sewing in lines of thread that can be pulled to gather the cloth in a specific pattern of S-curves and circles.

Dao shirt

I was attempting to make a Taoist Yin-Yang symbol by gathering the shirt along an S-shaped curve with two circles. It didn’t quite work, but the colors turned out well.

I have standardized the student samples by purchasing white wash cloths and towels for the students to use instead of relying on them to remember to bring T-shirts or whatever.

Becca spiral shirt

My wife, ‘Becca, wearing a standard spiral pattern I made for her. This one turned out nicely.

Towels

Some sample towels and dishcloths I did at Timp Lodge.

In other words, I have this fun art form down to practically a science. The only problem is that I now have so many tie dye items, its come to dominate my wardrobe! I even have tie-dyed socks and shorts.

Dao towell

This towel shows the Yin-Yang symbol pattern much more clearly, although I didn’t plan out the colors very well.

Spiral towell

A classic spiral pattern on a white towel.

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With the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, I’m pleased to announce the start of a new program in my classes at Walden School of Liberal Arts. I call it the STEM-Arts Alliance, and it’s an attempt to bring artistic expression and creativity into my STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) courses.

Receiving the award from CenturyLink Foundation.

Receiving the award from CenturyLink Foundation.

I have several reasons for doing this. First, I hope to broaden our students’ participation in upper-level science and technology courses. Given the size of our school, we could have more students taking courses such as chemistry, physics, astronomy, anatomy, and environmental science. We are a public charter school with a liberal arts emphasis, which means we get a high percentage of creative, passionate, out-of-the-box-thinking students. We need people like this to choose careers (or at least become more literate) in the sciences. My solution is to broaden the appeal of our science and technology courses by integrating the students’ strengths and interests. This is not to say I’m making my courses any less academic; it just means we’re using the arts as a continuing theme, by looking at the art of science, the science of art, and the history of both.

Second, I happen to love drawing and painting and rarely have time to do it. My artistic passion is somewhat satisfied by 3D animation and video production projects, but there’s just something about holding a paintbrush or an ink pen and seeing a project emerge from paper. I’ve been pulled in four different directions all my life; I seem to keep swinging between science, media design, history, and fine art. So I’m creating lesson plans and projects that incorporate all four of these areas, projects that are based around my own passions.

Award letter for the ING Unsung Heroes Award. It's always a good day when you receive one of these!

Award letter for the ING Unsung Heroes Award. It’s always a good day when you receive one of these!

Third, I hope to enhance the stories of science we’re telling by bringing my students’ artistic skills to bear on science topics. When I did some line drawings of Greek matter theorists (such as Thales, Parmenides, etc.) I found that they were frequently downloaded. Apparently, people are tired of finding only the few standard photos showing busts of Aristotle and his colleagues in some museum. Why not put myself (and my students) to work, creating new images in the cause of science education and fine art? I soon hope to complete the Greek Matter Theories videos I began four years ago, and I need more materials and images. Now I can do two things at once. I can draw illustrations of Aristotle or Democritus for the Greek videos while simultaneously teaching the chemistry of ink or paint pigments.

Fourth, our school is building up to become an International Baccalaureate (IB) school with a Middle Years Programme starting this year and growing to encompass 7-10 grades, with an additional Diploma Programme in our upper grades. The chemistry and technology courses are very much based on design projects and inquiry experiments while maintaining high academic standards. This is very much the model I have been working toward anyway, and my STEM-Arts Alliance should help my students transition into the IB chemistry and technology classes.

But to successfully implement my ideas, I needed funds and so I’ve been applying to every grant I can find. During this spring, I applied for five different programs, grants, or competitions, with three being due within two days of each other. True, it was made easier because all my proposals were similar, hoping that some would succeed. And they did! Two grants have come in. The first was $1250 from the CenturyLink Foundation. I received one of those large fake checks in May. I began purchasing equipment and supplies during the summer, including a GoPro camera, an audio recorder, a green screen, and a digitizing Bamboo tablet. These technologies will add to our ability to record video and audio, create digital images, and document what we’re doing in chemistry and astronomy in our two blog sites. We also purchased a new LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit so we could start an afterschool robotics club. Here is a link to the CenturyLink Award: http://www.centurylink.com/static/Pages/AboutUs/Community/Foundation/teachers.html.

Receiving the award from Steve Platt of ING Foundation.

Receiving the award from Steve Platt of ING Foundation.

My second success was $2000 for the ING Unsung Heroes Award. They provide two such awards per state, and I thought I had a pretty good chance of winning one. I’ve purchased a new color laser printer (so much better than using the ink jet) as well as chemicals and supplies for the various lessons and projects we’ll be doing this year. I received a second large fake check from Steve Platt of ING this fall, as well as a nice plaque. I am still purchasing materials through this grant. Here is a link to the awards page in case you want to apply yourself: http://ing.us/about-ing/responsibility/childrens-education/ing-unsung-heroes.

So far my students have worked on a number of different projects in several different classes and at Timp Lodge. They’ve accomplished the following:
1. We set up a summer media design class that culminated in organizing the video clips and recording green screen narration for the SOFIA video I’m putting together.
2. We made tie-dye shirts at Timp Lodge.
3. We made marbled paper using dilute oil paints floated on water (also at Timp Lodge). 4. Students edited the SOFIA videos and built 3D objects from SOFIA’s interior in the middle school Creative Computing classes.
5. Students created iron-gall ink in chemistry and used it to draw pen and ink illustrations of science history concepts.
6. We started the robotics club after school, and students have built a rover capable of picking up small objects and moving them to new locations.
7. Students turned periodic properties of the elements into 3D models.
8. They built paper Christmas tree ornaments representing chemical elements.
9. Students created homemade watercolor pigments and used them to make paintings of science history.
10. They wrote and narrated podcast scripts on astrobiology topics.

I’ll report in more detail on each of these in future posts. It seems that we’re still just getting started, but in reality we’ve been very busy and very successful already. All projects have a fine arts component, a technology component (all paintings are scanned and cleaned up in Photoshop), and a history component. We are literally creating modern versions of old formulas used in making art for thousands of years. And it feels great to have all my passions pulling in the same direction.

Most of these activities have been in chemistry class. I am starting there as an initial run through, testing the recipes I’ve found online so that I can perfect the processes for future classes. The chemistry students have done exceptionally, and they’ve proven to have excellent art skills on top of learning chemistry and experimenting with different formulas. I hope to set up a dedicated Science and Art class during our Intersession that will incorporate all these activities and hopefully more besides. I’ve written another grant to the Moss Foundation just to get an electric kiln to do Raku pottery. So far I haven’t received word, but should soon. I might do a second class for making junk sculpture out of found objects. It will be a combination of materials science, design, and engineering.

I’m having a lot of fun researching and designing these projects, and I hope you’ll have fun reading about them and trying them out yourselves.

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