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Archive for February, 2017

mlk-monument

Martin Luther King, Jr. monument in Washington, D.C. He had a dream of a world without barriers or borders.

Over the next six months I’ll be writing a series of blog posts about a new adventure in my life. These posts won’t fit exactly into the parameters I originally set for this site, which were to tell the stories of the chemical elements. Yet I’ve reinvented this site more than once. It became a site about chemistry education, and I am now reporting on my efforts in STEAM education. I haven’t forgotten where I started, but I keep adding more subjects as my own career has expanded. Now I add one more subject area: global education.

My new adventure began in the spring of 2016 when I applied for a program created by the U. S. Department of State. It is a teacher exchange program called Teachers for Global Classrooms. Teachers from developing countries come to the United States to study English and learn our culture for up to six months, then return to their home countries to act as hosts for U. S. teachers. We travel there for 2-3 weeks to experience their culture and educational system.

indonesia-cohort

Part of the Indonesia cohort for the 2017 Teachers for Global Classrooms program. We will be traveling to Indonesia July 13-August 2, 2017.

76 teachers were selected, and I am pleased to say that I will be going to Indonesia for three weeks from mid-July to early August 2017. When I found out in December that Indonesia would be my destination, I was (and still am) very excited. It is part of the Ring of Fire, and has more active volcanoes (125 in all) than any other country. As an Earth Science teacher, this is a very cool opportunity. It has amazing biodiversity, and since it is on the equator, I will get to see the southern stars for the first time. As a student of world religions, I am excited to see how Indonesia’s diverse culture is able to blend Islam with Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity.

Now I’m not being a Pollyanna or Pie-in-the-Sky. I know the challenges. I lived for two years in southern Taiwan and know what it’s like to live in a tropical climate, speak a different language, and eat unaccustomed food. It won’t be easy, but that is the nature of adventure. Adventures are the parts of our lives that we tell stories about, the parts that define us.

tgc-sign

Sign for Teachers for Global Classrooms, a teacher exchange program of the U. S. Department of State. We met in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 16-18, 2017 to prepare for our international experiences.

We’ve been undergoing training in our online course in the fall and at our Symposium this past weekend in Washington, D.C. Part of our discussion has been on the types of stories we will tell about our experiences. We talked about the work of Dan P. McAdams concerning how we define ourselves by the stories we tell about ourselves. He divides these stories into two groups: Redemptive Tales and Contaminating Tales. Imagine that the same tragedy befalls two people. The first tells of the tragedy in terms of redemption – how the experience was difficult but ultimately transforming as the person overcame and transcended the experience. Such people are more likely to be generative, that is, they make positive contributions to society. The other person tells the story as a horrible experience that ruined their life and led to their downfall; the experience contaminated their life. Such people tend to be negative and draw from society instead of contributing to it. As McAdams put it in his introduction to his book The Redemptive Self: Stories Americans Live By (Oxford University Press: 2007):

Among the most eloquent tellers of redemptive stories are those midlife adults who are especially committed to their careers, their families, and making a positive difference in the world. These highly “generative” men and women embrace the negative things that happen to them, for it is by transforming the bad into good that they are able to move forward in life and ultimately leave something positive behind. Unconsciously, they find inspiration and sustenance in the rich store of redemptive tales that American culture offers.

As I write the stories of my experiences in Indonesia, I can choose to be redemptive (focusing on the lessons I learn, the great things that happen, the funny tales, the commonality of humanity, the beauty of the islands, etc.) or I can focus on contaminating people’s perceptions by focusing on the negative: the humidity, the bugs, the population, the traffic (I will be in Jakarta for over a week altogether, and I hear the traffic there is unbelievable), how I miss my family, poor sanitation, lack of personal space, etc. I can choose to be generative or destructive, positive or negative. My choice is to accentuate the good that I find; to build bridges instead of building walls.

mlk-quote

Quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from 1967. Our Teachers for Global Classrooms experience will promote the type of world perspective he describes.

Just this weekend President Trump spoke at a rally where he again attacked globalization and trade agreements such as NAFTA. He reiterated the plan to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants. I’ve walked along the Rio Grande River in Laredo, Texas and seen the discarded wet clothes of those who swam across the river. They bring dry clothes in a plastic garbage bag, then change to the dry clothes and discard the wet on the north bank as they leave the river. I can understand how many people are frustrated because they’ve been left behind by foreign competition, because they’re unskilled laborers that can be easily replaced by automation or cheaper labor oversees. Many people are experiencing a kind of global whiplash.

But the solution isn’t to retreat into isolationism, nationalism, or “America First” jingoism. Every time we’ve tried this, we’ve regretted it. We didn’t want to get involved in World War I because it was “over there” and not our problem. Until it was, and millions died. We didn’t want to get involved in another war in 1939-41, until it rose up and bit us in Pearl Harbor, and then it cost us millions of additional lives. Now we talk of retreating from the UN, re-establishing trade tariffs, and putting limitations on immigration. This will be a bad day for us; historians will say this is where we failed as a country when our mandate was to move forward and embrace the future, not try to hide from it.

So here I am becoming part of a program that promotes global awareness and competence, that aims at peace through mutual understanding, and that strives for better education through teaching 21st Century Skills of collaboration, creativity, and communication. Never has there been a greater need. I realize that Pres. Trump is merely the figurehead at the top of a larger American problem; it is the people who are dispossessed, afraid, underemployed, and unprepared for the reality of the new global economy that have elected Trump and that are cheering him on. Scared people are easily manipulated, undereducated people are easily deceived, and people without information literacy tend to accept whatever they’re told without thinking critically about it. We’ve been thinking these skills are going to be crucial for the next generation. We were wrong. They are crucial NOW. We have already failed to properly educate yesterday’s children who are today’s adults and voters. Now we have a populist president elected out of fear, not hope.

eleanor-roosevelt

Statue of Eleanor Roosevelt, our first ambassador to the United Nations, at the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C. She promoted the type of global competence we still need today.

I realize that the last two paragraphs are negative and pessimistic in tone. But I want you to know the rationale for why I am doing this and what my theme will be for these blogs. I hope to promote global bridges of understanding to combat the “othering” and nationalism that seem to be sweeping the world. I choose to have a hopeful view of the future, where humanity will celebrate its commonalities instead of differences, where collaboration and cooperation will work to build relationships and capabilities instead of breaking them apart. Ultimately, I wish to see us become a multi-planet species, where borders are no longer important and barriers to progress are torn down. I want a world where we work together to solve mutual, global problems instead of pointing fingers and doing nothing (or denying they exist).

So these will be the stories I will tell as I embark on this adventure. Please join me! Help me build a few bridges.

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dyed-yarn-balls

Dyed merino wool yarn using natural dyes. Top left: Rabbitbrush. Top right: Cochineal treated with ammonia. Bottom right: Indigo. Bottom center: Cochineal treated with citric acid. Bottom left: Madder root.

As a follow up to our inquiry lab to develop the best formulas for dyeing cloth with natural dyestuffs, I ordered some Kona 100% merino wool yarn and several yards of untreated cotton fabric from Dharma Trading Company along with indigo, cochineal, sandalwood, and madder root dye powders, and some mordants and other chemicals needed for these dyes.

As we finished up before Winter Break, I started testing these dyes and experimenting with variables to get an initial feel for how well the yarn and cotton work. My first test was rabbitbrush, as I had collected boxes of flowers before the color completely faded in October. I simmered a skein of yarn in aluminum sulfate (alum) powder as a mordant for an hour while boiling the rabbitbrush blossoms, then transferred the hot yarn into the dye bath. It accepted the color nicely.

Next came madder root. I used the same mordant bath and prepared a dye bath by soaking the madder root bits directly in hot water and letting it simmer while the yarn was in the mordant bath, then filtered the madder solution through a sieve before dyeing the yarn. The color did transfer, but was lighter than I had expected but a very nice light salmon orange. I used the same solution for about two feet of the cotton, but it turned out even lighter. Increasing the concentration of the dye bath didn’t seem to help.

cochineal-dyeing

Dyeing With Cochineal: The dye bath is bottom left. I crushed the cochineal shells in a mortar and pestle, then placed them in the sieve (top center) and boiled in the hot water. The yarn is simmered in the mordant (alum powder – to the right), then simmered in the dye bath, then rinsed out (in the sink in center).

With some confidence that the wool yarn was working well, I crushed some cochineal shells in a mortar and pestle and placed them in a sieve and the sieve into boiling water to make the dye bath. This was to prevent the shells from sticking to the yarn, which would have been hard to get off. I wanted to make a multi-colored skein, so I dyed part of the skein in plain cochineal, then added citric acid to the dye bath which made it turn bright red – the citric acid worked much better than the vinegar or tartaric acids had. It made a skein that varied from deep red to burgundy color. The color stuck to the yarn extremely well.

orange-cochineal

Dyeing cotton cloth in cochineal treated with citric acid (orange) and ammonia (red to purple). Unfortunately, these colors were not colorfast. Upon rinsing, they changed back to neutral pink.

I then took the same cochineal bath (it was quite strong) and added ammonia to turn it from red to purple, again making a variegated skein. I divided the bath in two and had part of the skein simmer in the purple, part in a pot with more citric acid added back. I think I diluted it too much. Part of the skein between the two pots didn’t get much dye and remained a lavender color. The final skein varied nicely from lavender to burgundy to magenta to purple. The cotton swatch I tried was left in the citric acid side (which was now orange) over a weekend and it looked nicely orange when I took it out, but the differences in color washed out when I rinsed them – the pH neutralized. I need to figure out a way to set the color in cotton, maybe by not rinsing it before placing it in a drier. The wool yarn retained the varied colors nicely upon rinsing and washing in the laundry.

dyed-skeins-2

Skeins of dyed yarn before untangling. Some skeins were dyed a solid color, others were variegated.

Then I tried the tricky one – indigo. I had purchased the sodium hydrosulfite, used to reduce the blue indigo to the leuco state where it dissolves and penetrates the cloth. I followed the suggested steps from my research, but ran out of time to finish the process as a fire system sprinkler pipe burst outside the school and we had to evacuate while the fire department came to fix it. I turned off the hot plate quickly and grabbed my stuff, because it was the end of the day before Winter Break. I didn’t want to wait for the all clear, so I just went home. It took me a few days to get back to school, what with preparing for Christmas and shopping, cleaning, and cooking sugar cookies with my sons, etc. The yarn and cotton had been soaking for days. By the time I rinsed everything out, the cloth and yarn were a deep blue. I think I used to much indigo powder – this stuff is strong. The cloth washed out to a light blue and after washing the yarn, it faded as well but had a nice variegated color scheme.

After Winter Break and during the start of my second semester STEAM class, we tried out one more skein dyed with walnut shells and marigold flowers. I had some marigold blossoms I picked off my flower patch right after the first deep freeze in December and had dried them out. It died the wool a golden yellow, but I tried variegating the skein using walnut shells and hulls, but the brown color washed out to an ugly tan in both the cotton and the wool yarn. A student brought in black walnuts, but the result was the same after several attempts. I tried concentrated madder dye on part of the skein, but it didn’t work well, either. I think the marigold prevents other dyes from overdyeing. Perhaps other mordants would work for the walnut. It never got as dark as I expected. So the marigold skein is my least favorite – kind of a dirty yellow. More experimentation is needed here.

failed-experiment

Experimenting with marigold dye (middle), madder root (right), and walnut shells (left). If the colors had remained this intense, it would have been OK. But the walnut shell and madder rinsed out and were much lighter upon washing.

I met Katie Wirthin, an education specialist from the Natural History Museum of Utah, when I was presenting my STEAM session at the NSTA STEM Forum in Denver last summer, and she asked if I was interested in teaching a workshop at the museum this year. We had communicated back and forth all fall, and once I finally had my Teachers for Global Classrooms online class done (more on this in a later series of posts), I was able to teach a workshop at NHMU. The week I was scheduled to teach it to about 23 teachers, they had a power outage and had to postpone the class for a week. The next week only eight people came, but it turned out well. Katie had gotten all the materials and as usual I tried to do too much in the two hours. We did marbled paper, iron gall ink (except I forgot to bring the tea bags – they were able to scrounge some green tea in their cafeteria which actually worked far better than the regular brown tea – you could really see the black pigment form). The final activity was dyeing cloth – we used terry cloth swatches, and it worked well but we ran out of time. She still has much of the supplies left, as it was designed for more people. We will probably run the workshop again on a Saturday for three hours.

dyeing-with-sandalwod

A student dyeing a swatch with sandalwood dye using a tin (II) chloride mordant. Notice the dark orange color.

Now that I have six skeins of yarn dyed, my wife has untangled it all and rolled it into balls so she can crochet a sweater from it. I’m not sure if I want the marigold color or not, but experimentation is part of this process. It might be an epically ugly sweater, but I don’t care. I will wear it proudly.

spinach-dye

Some green dye extracted from spinach leaves.

My STEAM students are beginning the lab again, and one student is using sandalwood for the first time. She used tin (II) chloride as a mordant, and the color turned a deep orangish brown, so as soon as I get more skeins of merino wool yarn, I will dye one with sandalwood. Another one is using spinach leaves for a green dye, and we’ll see how that goes. We need to order elderberry plants or leaves for another green color (it might take a while to grow the trees), and logwood for purple to black. There is still so much to experiment on before I post the final recipes. We still have to figure out how to improve the walnut shell dye. But we’ve learned a great deal so far, and I’ll report on my second semester class in a few weeks as we continue to experiment. This is what inquiry is all about.

yarn-balls-2

The skeins untangled and rolled into balls for crochet. My wife will make me a sweater from these. The cotton swatches will be turned into a patchwork quilt of our school logo.

dyed-skeins-of-yarn

Skeins of dyed merino wool yarn. Clockwise from top left: Cochineal treated with citric acid (red), rabbitbrush (yellow), indigo (blue), cochineal treated with ammonia (purples), and madder root (orange).

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