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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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woad-stained-pict-warriors-john-white-bm

Pict warriors painted blue with woad pigment. With their blue skin and red hair and mustaches, these warriors must have intimidated even the Romans.

While we were researching dyes for our dyeing lab, I came upon the history of woad, a plant that produces a blue dye used by Europeans for millennia before indigo was imported. It originated somewhere in the steppes north of Asia Minor and was grown, traded, and transplanted all across Europe until it reached Germany, France, and England. During the time of the Romans, warriors from one tribe of Britons would dye or tattoo themselves with woad in elaborate patterns to frighten their enemies. The Romans called them Picts because of the pictures they drew on themselves.

woadballs

Balls of woad. In England, woad leaves were crushed and rolled into balls, then allowed to ferment to precipitate the blue indigotin dye.

During the Renaissance, woad trading and dyeing made whole towns wealthy. In England, many acres were planted to woad. The leaves were harvested and mashed, then rolled into balls and allowed to ferment in a shed. The fermentation allowed the indigotin dye molecule to precipitate out of the plant leaves. The process smelled rather awful, and laws were passed banning any woad dyeworks within two miles of a town.

woad_mill_1752

An illustration of a woad mill in France. The leaves were gathered, crushed mechanically, formed into balls, and allowed to ferment. It was a smelly process, done in the country away from cities.

The other major source of blue dye before synthetics were invented was the indigo plant, which is native to warm and humid climates. Different cultures worldwide have invented their own methods of extracting the indigotin dye from the plants. Japanese dyers would allow the indigo leaves to ferment in a vat to remove oxygen. In India, the leaves were also soaked in vats then treaded by humans to mash the indigo and release the pigment, which was dried and pressed into cakes. Once indigo became known in Europe, it replaced woad as the choice for blue dye because the indigo plant has more indigotin and is therefore cheaper to produce. One wealthy indigo trader, Heinrich Schliemann, used his wealth to explore the ancient site of Troy. Another, Percival Lowell, used his family’s indigo wealth to build the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona to look for life on Mars. Levi Strauss used indigo to dye his original blue denim pants. As you can see, it’s had an impact on history.

woad-shades-031

Young woad plants, with yarn dyed using the extracted indigotin pigment.

As part of my research, I discovered something completely unexpected: dyers had imported woad to Utah in the early 1900s and tried to grow it here. Since it originated in a high desert environment, it did well in Utah’s climate. In fact, it did too well. It got away from the dyer’s fields and went wild, growing all over the western United States. It is now considered to be a Class 3 Invasive Weed, which means it is almost out of control. The only way to prevent it from spreading further is to pull up the plants before they go to seed.

woad-plant-2

A woad plant, growing in the southwest corner of Salt Lake Valley in Utah. Dyers brought woad to Utah in the early 1900s and it got away from them.

I memorized the characteristics of woad plants, knowing I would want to try to find some and take my students on a “Woad Twip.” Woad has dark green leaves with a white vein. These leaves are clustered at the base of the plant. It sends up tall flower spikes with yellow flower clusters in the late spring. By fall, the flowers become brownish-red pendular seed pods with many small black seeds.

woad-plant-3

More woad growing in Salt Lake Valley. I discovered this by accident while collecting late rabbitbrush blossoms. The seed pods can contain hundreds of thousands of seeds in a single clump of plants, and can spread quickly.

By mid October the rabbitbrush blossoms were beginning to fade. I needed to collect as much as I could for continued experiments, so I found a spot in the middle of Mountain View Corridor in southwestern Salt Lake Valley where the rabbitbrush blossoms were still bright, and I stopped there after school on a Friday. While I was out collecting the rabbitbrush blossoms, I noticed a plant I hadn’t seen before. It was woad! So I collected several bags full of leaves and some seed pods, with the idea of trying to grow some in my back yard.

woad-leaves

Cutting woad leaves to extract the indigotin dye.

My chemistry students cut the leaves into pieces and also separated out the seeds. We looked up the ancient process of woad extraction and found some websites that describe how it is still being done at small farms in England. The process involves quite a bit of chemistry. I am attaching a PDF file that describes the steps. Here it is:

woad-dyeing-process-s

whipping-woad

Whipping woad solution to add oxygen and precipitate the indigotin.

In summary, the indigotin dye in woad and indigo is a rather delicate molecule. Too much heat will destroy it, but some heat is needed to extract it from the leaves. The chopped leaves are steeped in water at 90° C for 10-15 minutes. The leaf fragments are strained out and the liquid has soda ash added to make the solution basic. To precipatate the indigotin, the solution must be whipped with an electric mixer for 15-20 minutes to add oxygen to the solution. The solution is poured into dishes and allowed to settle. The supernate is carefully poured or filtered off and the final pigment allowed to dry.

woad-settling-dishes

After adding soda ash and whipping the woad solution, we poured into dishes to allow the pigment to settle out. We then poured off the supernate.

We took it this far in chemistry class. Our next step will be to put the purified indigotin in a 50-60° bath and add some sodium hydrosulfite to the solution. This is a reducing agent that converts the blue indigotin into leuco (white) indigotin, which will dissolve in water and turn yellow-green. It takes about an hour of careful heating without stirring to do the conversion. While it is simmering (but not boiling), the fabric or yarn must be heated up in a bath with some soda ash. Once the solution turns yellow-green, the hot fabric or yarn can be carefully added without dripping or splashing. After about ten minutes, the dye has absorbed into the fabric but not yet bonded. When it is removed and exposed to the air, the fabric will turn from green to blue as the indigo converts from leuco back to blue indigo. As it precipitates out, it bonds with the fabric. Hopefully.

woad-pigment-settling

Woad dye pigment settling out on the bottom of our dishes. We poured off the supernate and dried out the final pigment.

I purchased some pure indigo from Dharma Trading Company and was in the middle of heating the dye bath with sodium hydrosulfite after school on Tuesday when our fire alarm went off – an exterior pipe in our fire suppression system had frozen and burst, so we had to evacuate the building. I quickly unplugged everything and left. It was the last day before Winter Break. I hope to return by tomorrow and continue the experiment. If it works with pure indigo, I will demonstrate the process in chemistry with our own woad pigment when we return from break. I’ll update this blog post then.

natural-dyes-andes

Andean people with naturally dyed alpaca yarn and clothing. The purples and reds come from cochineal, the oranges and yellows from tree bark, etc. All cultures have solved the problem of how to dye cloth; dyestuffs are found around the world.

All cultures around the world have found ways to solve the problem of how to dye fabrics. They’ve found dyestuffs in plants, minerals, and animals; through continual experimentation they’ve realized that certain salts (mordants) will help make the dyes colorfast. The process of oxidizing, then reducing indigo must have taken a long time to discover. It amazes me that such a complicated process could be developed in many countries and cultures, each with their own way of accomplishing the same thing, and all to get a permanent blue dye.

 

nilda-and-acopia-women

Alpaca wool yarn dyed with cochineal.

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rabbitbrush-with-mountain

Rabbitbrush blossoming in October in the southwest corner of Salt Lake Valley, Utah.

In my STEAM it Up class at American Academy of Innovation, my students have conducted an inquiry lab that combines chemistry and technology with history and an ancient art form: dyeing cloth. I reported on a similar lab two years ago, but we have taken it much further and created an investigation that would work well for all chemistry classes without requiring too much equipment or expense. This activity fits in well with the NGSS dimension of science and engineering practices, as it allows students to identify variables, create experimental procedures, collect data, and report results in a fun and engaging way that incorporates art and the history of chemistry. Since dyestuffs are found around the world, there is also a global education component.

collecting-rabbitbrush

My STEAM it Up students collecting rabbitbrush blossoms near American Academy of Innovation (the bright orange building in the background).

We live in Utah, and there are a number of dyestuffs available that were used by Native Americans. Some materials, such as cochineal, were imported and traded for from as far away as modern day Mexico. Others are native to Utah, such as rubber rabbitbrush or Ericameria nauseosa. Our new school was built in a grassland area in the west side of Salt Lake Valley that was formerly used by Kennicott Copper Corporation (now Rio Tinto) as a mine and waste dump. After millions of dollars in cleanups, the site is now the new planned community of Daybreak, and our school is on the west edge near the South Jordan Trax Station. Since it is a former prairie, rabbitbrush grows around us in the empty lots right next to our school.

cutting-rabbitbrush-blossoms

Preparing rabbitbrush blossoms for dyeing.

I had read that marigold blossoms make a good dyestuff, so on the day of our first attempt, I snipped half the blossoms off my marigold flowerbed (which grew up from last year’s seeds). My students and I took a mini field trip about 50 yards from the school where rabbitbrush was growing. It was the end of September and the brush was just beginning to bloom with bright yellow flowers in clusters. We collected several buckets. The species name of nauseosa is well earned, as the smell is a bit nauseating (some students are more sensitive to it and can get itchy eyes, so be careful of this). We also had walnut shells, cochineal, and the marigold blossoms as our dyestuffs.

rabbitbrush-blossoms

Rabbitbrush blossoms ready for boiling in the dye bath.

Students teams of two each decided on a variable to test, such as the type and concentration of dyestuff; the type and concentration of mordant (a mordant is a metal salt such as sodium carbonate [washing soda] or alum powder [hydrated potassium aluminum sulfate]) that helps the dye bind with the fabric threads); the temperature and duration of the dye bath; and colorfastness (if the dye holds its color upon washing). They determined a procedure for testing their one variable while holding the rest constant. We then dyed small swatches of white terrycloth washcloths. A further variable could be the type of fabric used, but I only had the terrycloth for now. I hope to order some untreated cotton and wool yarn and dye them as well.

rabbitbrush-and-marigolds

Rabbitbrush and marigold blossoms ready for dyeing.

Our basic procedure was to boil two Pyrex dishes half full with water. To one the mordant was added, to the other the dyestuff. The cloth swatches were first boiled for 10 minutes or so (depending on the group’s procedure) in the mordant, then the swatch was added to the dye bath.

cooking-rabbitbrush

We soaked white terricloth pieces in a boiling alum solution (the mordant), then boiled them in the rabbitbrush dyebath.

The results were excellent, and we were careful to label all the swatches with Sharpie permanent markers so that we could make comparisons after. We cut the dyed swatches in half and I washed one half at home in my washing machine. Each swatch was scanned into my computer and the eyedropper tool in Adobe Photoshop (you could use the Gimp as well) was used to sample three places on each swatch and record the RGB values. We averaged the values, and compared them to see which combinations of variables gave the best results.

dyeing-with-cochineal

We also dyed terricloth swatches with cochineal and an alum mordant.

We also tried adding more than one dyestuff to the same bath (doesn’t work well) and overdyeing, that is, dye a swatch with one color, then put it in a different color. We also tried an ornamental plant that was growing around our school, which I call firebrush; it has green to pink-red leaves (older interior leaves are more green). The firebrush provided great pigment upon boiling, and turned the cloth a nice pink color, but when rinsed out, the color gradually changed to a medium green. I suspected it might be a pH indicator, so I dipped part of one green swatch in vinegar and found it turned bright pink again. Only those two colors – green when neutral, pink in an acid. But it is apparently a good indicator and a fairly colorfast dye.

first-swatches-2016

Our first dyed swatches, labeled with permanent marker. The left swatch is rabbitbrush, the second is marigolds, the third is cochineal without any pH modification, the fourth from left is cochineal with Cream of Tartar added, the last (right) swatch is cochineal with vinegar added.

As a further experiment, we tried adding Cream of Tartar or vinegar to the cochineal to see if we could turn it from magenta-burgundy to more of a bright red color or even orange, with mixed success. We got a bit more reddish color with Cream of Tartar, but never got to orange. Reading websites and other sources, I found that we need a stronger organic acid that wouldn’t dilute the dyebath, such as citric acid. To turn the cochineal more purplish, ammonia can be used. We also tried cochineal with rabbitbrush but still did not get an acceptable orange – just a salmon pinkish color. We need orange because our school colors are Innovation Orange (you can see our building from miles away, as the photos show) and Titanium (we are the Titans). We could also some other dyestuff, such as madder root, sandalwood, or safflower.

swatches-2016

Swatches from our dye experiments. The ones on the bottom are pieces that have been washed to test colorfastness. The brown swatches are from walnut shells and hulls soaked in water over several days. Other swatches test different types of mordants (alum versus soda ash versus Cream of Tartar) or different concentrations of dye.

We experimented for several weeks with different combinations and the students wrote up their final conclusions. Here is what we learned: The best mordant for rabbitbrush, marigolds, and cochineal is alum powder. Cream of Tartar tends to gladden (or lighten) the colors, whereas soda ash (sodium carbonate) tends to darken or sadden the colors. Cochineal was less colorfast than we expected based on previous experiments, and tended to bleed all over the other colors when washed. Walnut shells seemed to do best with soda ash as a mordant. Overdyeing was only partially successful; we were trying to get a good orange and never did. The marigolds didn’t make a good orange either – but did do a nice golden brown color. Walnut shells with rabbitbrush made a nice golden tan, but cochineal with rabbitbrush depended greatly on which was dyed first; the overdye tended to eliminate most of the first dye.

fireweed-results

The results of our experiment with firebrush, an ornamental shrub with green inner leaves and scarlet outer leaves and wicked thorns. The dyebath was bright pink, as in the swatch second to left, but when rinsed out it turned green as in the swatch second from right. I took a rinsed green swatch and dipped it in vinegar and the bottom turned pink again. Firebrush is apparently a pH indicator.

A final variable is to test different fabrics. I ordered more dyes, including madder and indigo, from Dharma Trading Company in November as well as untreated merino wool yarn and cotton cloth, with more alum powder and citric acid. Adding the citric acid to the cochineal did indeed turn it red (and eventually orange). Adding ammonia turned it purple. It worked wonderfully on the untreated wool yarn; I dipped one end in the regular cochineal and the other end in the cochineal with citric acid and got a beautiful variegated red to burgundy-crimson skein that held its color well upon rinsing and washing. The cotton cloth didn’t hold as well; I make the cloth purple to orange and even let it set overnight in the dyebath, but upon rinsing all the cloth turned back to a light magenta. The rabbitbrush made a nice soft yellow for the merino wool yarn.

cochineal-dyed-yarn

Merino wool yarn dyed with cochineal. I varied the pH by adding citric acid to get the brighter red colors, and dyed one end of the skein with regular cochineal and the other end with citric acid treated cochineal to produce variegated yarn. Now to crochet it into a sweater . . .

My wife is amazing at crocheting, and my ultimate STEAM art product will be for her to use our naturally dyed merino yarn to create a sweater and a beanie. I also want use the dyed pieces of cotton to make a quilt in the shape of our school logo. I know several professional quilters who can do this for us. If the cotton isn’t accepting the dyes, then I must experiment further. Perhaps I didn’t soak the cloth in the mordant bath long enough. I am still experimenting with getting blue colors from woad and indigo, but more on this in a later post.

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aai-video-frameIn my last post, I said goodbye to Walden School of Liberal Arts after teaching there for six eventful years. My original plan was to spend a year in Washington, D.C. as an Einstein Fellow, but despite making it to the final round, I was not chosen. My Plan B was to go back to school for a PhD, but even though I was accepted to the STEM Education program at the University of Kentucky, I deferred for at least a year so that I could earn up more money for the move. I interviewed at four schools and received two offers, and accepted the offer at American Academy of Innovation.

aai-charter-school-rendering-s

Illustration of American Academy of Innovation

It is a brand new charter school with a mission for project-based learning, stem education, and international partnerships. They started building it in January and the contractors were still putting in finishing touches as we met for the first time as a faculty on August 15, 2016. Our Director is Scott Jones, who has a great deal of experience directing and working in charter school environments. The teachers have been hired from all around, some from Texas, the East and West Coasts, and several from Utah, Idaho, and Alaska. It appears to be a highly creative group of teachers.

aai-innovation-orange

Innovation Orange: American Academy of Innovation on my first day there.

We took a tour of the building and saw what it will look like in the next two weeks – except for my science room. It hasn’t been finished, partly because of last minute changes to the water and gas lines, partly so that they can get my input. I have since designed the lab, with four student stations, a fume hood and teacher demo desk, and lots of cupboards for storage. As I am writing this (November 14, 2016), the contractors are building in the lab stations – hooray! – and I am teaching out of the library.

faculty-touring-school

Faculty of American Academy of Innovation touring the school; August 2016.

For our first two weeks we met as faculty to prepare and plan. We revised the school’s vision and mission statements. Here are the new ones:

The Vision of American Academy of Innovation is to empower the individual mind to improve the world.

Our mission statement:innovation-defl-a

The American Academy of Innovation combines academic fundamentals; career, technology, and 21st Century skills with international and community partnerships through project-based learning to ignite an innovative mindset within the individual and society.

I most like that our overall goals are to ignite an innovative mindset and to empower the individual to improve the world. I have attended many educator conference sessions on Problem-Based Learning (PBL), so I volunteered to share what I’ve learned with the rest of the faculty and to go through the eight characteristics of PBL, working through a potential large-scale problem as an example. I chose an expedition to Mars (which I’ve used as an example all summer at meetings for potential parents and students). Other teachers volunteered to share their expertise, so we trained each other. Scott also brought in some experts from other charter schools to talk about how we will implement special education and organizational culture. We took time to plan out what our first few days would be like as we started training our new students toward project/problem-based learning.

aai-lobby-august-2016

Lobby of American Academy of Innovation; August 2016. We still had much work to do putting together tables, chairs, desks, and filing cabinets.

In addition to holding daily meetings, we helped to put together chairs, desks, filing cabinets, and other furniture. Parents and students came in to help, and by the time the first two weeks were over, the school was shaping up and ready for occupancy.

first-day-of-school

AAI students meeting in our gym for introductions on the first day of school; August 31, 2016.

On August 29, we held our first day with students at the school. These first two days were to be an orientation to get the students excited about being here and help them get to know us and each other. Some had come from neighborhood schools and knew each other before, but some had come from charter schools or homeschooling. We met in our new gymnasium, and discovered immediately that the acoustics in there are terrible. It is basically a hollow concrete shell, so sound bounces all over the place and the small portable PA system wasn’t up to the job. After introducing the staff, we divided the students into groups and had them rotate through four sessions each day for the first two days.

marble-roll-1

Marble rolling group activity. Students use the pool noodles as channels to roll marbles from a starting line into a bucket. It takes teamwork and problem-solving skills.

My groups were about problem solving. Our first day I did the activity of using swimming noodles cut in half to roll marbles from a starting point into a bucket. As the noodles were short, they had to develop teamwork to move the marble along without dropping it. It was interesting to see leadership beginning to emerge from some of the students. Most of the small groups were eventually successful. It was a lot of fun.

marble-roll-2

Rolling marbles into a bucket as a group problem-solving activity.

Our second day, I ran an activity to make a simple paper helicopter based on Da Vinci’s helix machine. Students were asked to use inquiry to vary the shape of the basic helicopter and try different things. After experimenting and testing in a classroom, I had them drop the helicopters off our balcony in the main lobby and tried to photograph and videotape the results.

helicopter-drop

Testing our paper helicopters. What you get depends on what you’re testing.

Other groups toured the school, took polls for what our new mascot and school colors would be, and many other things. Overall I think we managed to convey a sense of excitement, innovation, and inquiry to the students.

making-marbled-paper

Making marbled paper. Oil paints are diluted with mineral spirits, then dropped into a metal pan with an inch of water in them. The oil/spirits mixture floats on top and can be lifted off by lying a piece of sketch paper on top.

On Wednesday, August 31 we held our first regular classes. We have four periods per day on an A-B schedule; each class is 90 minutes long. I’m used to 70 minutes, so I have to pace myself. Our school day starts at 8:30 and ends at 3:30 with 50-minute lunches, so it is a longer day than I’m used to. My schedule for A days is to teach 3D Modeling during first period to about 25 students (good numbers – I’ve been talking this up all summer). We didn’t have computers to work with at first, so I had to do preparatory things such as going through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain activities and teaching orthographic and perspective drawing skills. Second period I have STEAM it Up, with only eight students (students didn’t quite understand what this class would be about, but that’s OK – a smaller group will be more mobile and experimental). My third period class is chemistry, again a challenge to begin with since I had an empty room and no sinks or lab stations. I started with six demonstrations using household chemicals and had them make observations. I had 12 students but this has grown to 16. My 4th period class is 8th Grade Science to about 20 students. I decided since the new SEEd standards are being implemented fully next year, we might as well implement them now at AAI. We created marbled paper on the first day.

astro-levels-activity

Astronomy activity to determine the correct order of levels of magnitude in the universe. It starts with multiverse at the top and ends at quarks at the bottom.

On B days (Tuesdays, Thursdays, and alternating Fridays) I have the following schedule: First period (B1) is astronomy to 7-8 grades. I began with my scale of the universe activity to arrange strips of paper in the right order from largest to smallest scale. This helps me see what they already know visually while providing a setting for the class. Second period is Innovation Design, basically my MYP Design class again for 7-8 grade students. We began with the bridge building activity that I modified from Wendi Lawrence’s spaghetti tower design challenge. Even with 90-minute classes, the student groups didn’t get as far as I would have liked, with only one truly successful group. I can see we have some work here, partly because the students don’t know each other and aren’t used to working together. My B3 class is 8th grade science again, and then I had a prep period B4.

the-big-sit-down

The big sit down: all our students lined up, then sat down using the student behind as a chair. I kind of worked . . .

Part way into September, one of our teachers, who is from China, found out he had a conflict with his Visa (he had not renewed it), and so was unable to work for the rest of the semester. We found substitute math teachers for his math classes, but no one to fill in for his two computer science classes. I volunteered to give up my prep on B4 to teach the computer science class. It has been a challenge teaching straight through every day without a prep period, especially trying to stay up on grades. Because of our lack of computers, we had to have the students pair up. He started with Scratch, so I was able to transition the students over to my own way of doing things without totally replacing his structure. I also want to implement using AppLab after Scratch, then move on to Python.

building-bridges

Bridge building design challenge for my Innovation Design class. They must span 12 inches and make a bridge strong enough for a Matchbox car to be pushed across. They are given 30 pieces of spaghetti, 10 small gumdrops, and one sheet of paper.

When you add to this that I now have a 45-minute one way commute it can be exhausting. Much of my after school time has been spent in weekly faculty meetings or designing my science lab or putting together the order for initial equipment, lab supplies, and chemicals. We purchased 27 Dell laptop computers, so I’ve also needed to spend time getting software installed including Daz3D Bryce, Stellarium, Gimp, Sculptris, Blender, and others as well as getting the 3D printer up and running. I come home and crash each evening. But slowly, day-by-day, we are making progress and the students are beginning to develop 21st Century skills for collaboration, communication, and creativity. It was a rocky start, but we are almost ready to implement the Big Project.

pouring-sidewalk

Our school was still under construction during the teacher planning weeks in August, but by the time students started we were ready. Except for my science lab, which was completed in November.

We identified four possible Big Projects as a faculty and had the students vote on which one they preferred. My descriptions were as neutral as possible because I didn’t want to be accused of influencing the vote. Except, of course, I may have sweetened the well by using an example of a Mars expedition during our summer meetings. The vote was to do a Mars expedition or Mars exploration theme for our project. I will report on this more in my http://Spacedoutclassroom.com blog.

science-room-august-2016

My science lab at the beginning of the school year. A white board and projector, but that’s about all. It looks much nicer now!

I’ve never worked so hard, and my health is probably suffering as a result. I’m not as young as I once was, and some days I truly feel it, but it has been an incredible ride so far. Over Winter Break I will be reporting on all that we have done in my classes on my two blog sites, so stay tuned.

right-side-of-brain

My 3D students on the first day of school. By this time we had chairs, but no tables or desks. So we handed out clipboards to each student. Here they are doing an drawing lesson where they turn a photograph upside down and draw what they see instead of drawing a face. They do a better job this way.

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Walden HS fall 2015

Walden School of Liberal Arts; Fall 2015.

In 2010, I was looking for a teaching job after taking a year off to work on business profile videos. The video projects had been fun and rewarding, but not lucrative, and I missed being in the classroom. I looked through the usual ads, and then the unusual ones, and found a teaching job description on Craig’s List for a local charter school. It was named Walden School of Liberal Arts, and I had passed it many times without realizing it was a school. I’d thought it was a retirement home.

I started teaching science and technology classes that fall. I decided to teach there for five years and give my best shot at implementing integrated STEAM education and project-based learning.

Walden Elem-MS fall 2015

Walden School of Liberal Arts elementary and middle school building; Fall 2015.

Now, six years later and after many successful student projects, I am leaving Walden to teach at a new charter school in Salt Lake Valley. This hasn’t been an easy decision. I have come to truly appreciate the students and the other teachers at Walden and the freedom I’ve had to experiment. The projects I’ve described in this blog would never have happened at a more traditional public school. I’ve been able to train up a cadre of students who now have excellent STEAM skills and are capable of accomplishing great things. But I have to look at what my goals were for coming here, and I can honestly say I’ve done what I set out to do. There have been obstacles to overcome, but these limits have forced me to be more creative and have probably helped, not hindered.

South Fork

Walden School’s 2016 graduation was held at a ranch in South Fork of Provo Canyon.

I was invited to speak at our 2016 graduation, and I chose the topic of “Dare Mighty Things” based on the famous speak by Teddy Roosevelt entitled “The Man in the Arena.” It was definitely bittersweet to be saying goodbye to the school as well as to the students that I’ve worked with for six years.

Mighty things sign

A sign in the lobby of the Administration Building 180 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; March 2016.

My New School:

My new school, American Academy of Innovation, is built on the model of students as innovators, creators, makers, and inventors. It will follow a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) structure and include international and local business and university collaborations and career and technical education as well as STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education. It should be the ideal situation to implement and perfect the projects I already pioneered at Walden, in an environment that will be more suited to cross-curricular integration. I will also be receiving a substantial pay raise, which certainly helps. It is a brand new school, and I will get in on the ground floor of establishing a culture of innovation and creativity, of academic excellence, and scientific inquiry.

AAI 3D logo

Logo for American Academy of Innovation. I created this 3D animated version for a video I created in June to explain the school’s name.

For the last two weeks we have been meeting daily as a new faculty, deciding on the details of our vision, mission statement, principles and core values, policies, etc. I’ve gotten to know the other teachers, and they are as talented and creative a group of educators as I have ever worked with. We had an official open house in the new school on Aug. 18, and I met many of the parents and students I will be teaching. If this is any indication, it will be an amazing year.

AAI under construction

American Academy of Innovation under construction; July 2016.

I will be teaching chemistry again (which I did not teach this last year as I was asked to teach the new IB Design courses instead). I will also have an elective course called STEAM it Up, which will basically be to take all the fun stuff I’ve done in my Wintersession and Chemistry classes from the STEM-Arts Alliance grants and turn it into a full semester class to explore the integration of arts and history with STEM. It will be a creative, making, totally project-based class. I will recreate and improve several of the projects we did two years ago, including making homemade iron-gall ink, experimenting with natural dyes to make tie-dyed shirts, creating marbled end paper and Shrinky-dinks, designing jewelry from etched and corroded copper and brass, building Steampunk costumes and sculptures, etc. I hope to add a few more projects, such as making blueprint T-shirts; collecting, polishing, and setting minerals to make jewelry; and others. As I have done before (but not as often as I had hoped at Walden), I will establish an end-of-year STEAM Showcase where students will display their work, give mini-lessons, and this time even have a fashion show to let parents see the costumes, shirts, and jewelry they will make.

Since PBL requires students to present and demonstrate their learning to an audience as a summative assessment, it fits right in with my plans. And this time I anticipate getting other teachers involved, such as art, history, and English as my students also create posters, draw illustrations, program games, and write lessons, scripts, and blog posts. Because I haven’t been teaching chemistry actively this last year, I haven’t been keeping this blog site up to data; now you will see many more student contributions and more frequent posts.

I also plan to move ever more to a flipped classroom model. Our periods will be 80 minutes long, and we are expected to only use the first 20-30 minutes for direct instruction and content; the remaining 50-60 minutes are for students to collaborate and build projects that solve the problems we pose. As to how many problems we will present in a year and what those problems will be, we’ll decide that in the next two weeks.

Washington Monument

Washington Monument; March 2016.

Plans A Through E:

Going back to teaching this coming year wasn’t my first choice. I had several tiers of plans in place, and returning to teaching was Plan D. Plan A was to be chosen as an Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow and spend this next year working for one of the Federal agencies in Washington, D.C. I applied this last fall and made it to the semi-finals round, which meant being flown to D.C. for three days of tours and interviews in early March. I interviewed with NASA, the National Science Foundation (a computer science initiative), and the Department of Energy. I was not selected, even though I thought two of the three interviews went very well. So scratch Plan A.

Me by Library of Congress

David Black in front of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; March 2016.

Plan B was to go back to graduate school and fulfill a PhD in Science Education. I took the GRE in April and was accepted into the STEM Education PhD program at the University of Kentucky, but because of my late application, no more research/teaching fellowships were available. I am barely scraping by with my current teaching salary (combined with some awards and video projects on the side), so I do not have the money to move to Kentucky now. I have asked for a one-year deferment, and have accepted the job at American Academy of Innovation where I can save up enough money to move to Kentucky next summer. Or, if AAI works out well, I will simply stay there. It’s a matter of either doing Problem-Based Learning or learning about Problem-Based Learning; I’ve always preferred to actually do something.

Air and Space mural

Mural inside the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.; March 2016. Our hotel was the Holiday Inn just one block south of this museum, so of course I spent some time there, as always.

The Return of The Elusive Atom:

By the way, Plan C was to leave classroom teaching and start up an educational content design firm. I’ve wanted to do this for years, and even attempted it in 2009-2010 when I did business videos for clients. There are a series of Ed Tech start-up programs around the country called Accelerators, where chosen education companies are provided office space and seed money to get their product ready for marketing, then investors provide start-up venture capital to finance the new company in exchange for a piece of the action. One of these Accelerators is in Salt Lake City, and it looks promising. Certainly I have enough ideas. The problem is getting them into a finished enough form to apply to the Ed Tech Accelerator program, then finding the time for 12 weeks to solely focus on my products. I also need to have a partner or partners, which is another problem. So far, it’s just been me. But in anticipation of this possibility, I have finally completed editing the front of my old Elusive Atom poster that has sat in limbo on my computer for years. I started it in 1995. I finished the hand painted version in 2002. And this summer I finally completed fixing the digital version. It looks good. Now I need to do the backside text and line art, and I’m ready to print out sample copies to market.

EA poster small

Finished front of the Elusive Atom poster. Now I need to work on the back side, mini-posters, and timeline, then print and market it.

While at the STEM Forum and Expo in Denver, I talked with the new product managers from both Flinn and Nasco, and will try to work with them to make the poster a reality. I also plan to repurpose the illustrations into a timeline and a series of mini-posters on each scientist from the poster, such as Mendeleev or Jabir Ibn Hayyan. I found it fun to get into Photoshop deeply again.

Writing a Novella:

Plan E is a long shot, but something I’m quite proud of. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at writing science fiction, and have several good (I think, anyway) ideas. I read last summer that Tor Publishing is starting an initiative to look for new authors to write novellas for their line of e-books. They announced in May that a new round of stories would be accepted, completely unsolicited, on the topics of cyber punk, future thriller, time travel, and other science fiction tropes (not fantasy this time). That’s my chance! So I spent two solid weeks in June working on writing up a book I’ve wanted to do since at least 1995. It’s called Dead Stone Lions, and I had thought about the plot for years. It hits about all of their possible subgenres. I took a couple of days to brainstorm and outline, then started writing. Once I got into it a chapter or two, the writing took on a life of its own. Weird things started happening – new characters appeared, or old characters did unexpected things, and I had no idea where these threads would lead. Then later in the book, these plot points somehow circled back around and became significant, when I hadn’t planned it that way at all. Like the self-aware computer called ISAAC (after Isaac Asimov, for two important reasons) or the protagonist’s brother’s subplot.

The deadline was the end of June, and I finished the first draft late in the evening of June 30th. It came in at 41,580 words, and I had to pare it down to under 40,000 to make Tor’s definition of a novella. So I pared and compressed and edited for several more hours, finally posting the story at about 5:00 am on July 1 at 39,979 words. I was worried that I might be too late, but the submission site was still up. I didn’t dare check for two months what the status of my submission was, because it was such an accomplishment to just get it done. I know it needs further editing but I’ve let it go for two months on purpose to let the ideas ferment a bit longer, then come back with fresh eyes. However, last Thursday (Aug. 25) I received a short e-mail from Tor.com saying that my novella “did not meet their needs.” Well, that’s not a surprise. So now I am a rejected first-time writer. I certainly am in good company.

I hope to announce some day that I am a published author, both for science fact and educational pedagogy, and for science fiction. Some day, once I’ve gotten a few sales under my belt, I hope to tackle a series of books called Trinum Magicum, about a science teacher who discovers the third use of the Philosopher’s Stone. It will bring in all the research I did at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in 2009, when the plot for this series first started percolating in my brain.

DOE seal

The seal of the Department of Energy. I spent two days in their building interviewing for three possible Einstein Fellowships, but didn’t get selected for any. So much for Plan A . . .

The End of a Dry Spell:

I had quite a dry spell this last year, applying for several STEM related awards but receiving none. The failure of Plan A was just the last in a long line of unsuccessful applications. But things have picked up since. In May, I found out I was selected by the U.S. Department of State as a Teacher for Global Classrooms fellow, and will complete an online course this fall, then attend a training workshop in Washington, D.C. in February. I will travel with 11-12 other teachers to one of six possible countries for a 2-3 week period, beginning in late February through August 2017. We will learn about the culture of the country and their educational system. I don’t know which country yet, but this year the teachers went to Morocco, Georgia, Brazil, Senegal, India, and the Philippines. My personal choice would be Morocco – I’ve always wanted to go there since seeing Casablanca and The Road to Morocco (OK, maybe not the best representation of actual Morocco, but it was fun). I would enjoy visiting any of them.

Me with beard 2016

I decided to grow a beard over the summer. How did all the salt get into the pepper?

Half-beard

Then it got itchy and I decided to shave it off. Well, partially, anyway . . .

In July, I opened up a letter that had been sitting in my stack of mail and a check for $1200 fell out. Kind of a nice surprise! I have been selected as the Earth Science Teacher of the Year by the Utah Geological Association. I attended a nice luncheon several weeks ago to receive the official award, and also attended their annual picnic on August 13. The best part for me is the possible contacts this award will bring and how we can get some expert geologists involved at our school.

Awards

Some awards I have received. The Utah Geological Association Teacher of the Year Award is the one at bottom left.

I attended some professional development opportunities in June and July, including the annual Utah IT Education Conference, where I presented on 3D printing. I also attended the STEM Best Practices conference sponsored by the Utah STEM Action Center. I was able to talk with Dr. Tami Goetz a few times – she remembered me from two years ago when I attended some STEM education workshops in Salt Lake. I hope to apply for a grant from them soon. I also ran into a friend who now runs STEM partnership programs for Utah Valley University.

Denver plaza

Civic Center plaza in downtown Denver; July 2016.

July 27-29 I traveled to Denver to present three sessions at the NSTA STEM Forum and Expo. I sent in three proposals hoping one would be selected, and all three were (compared with the annual NSTA conference, where I sent in three proposals and none of them were selected). The Denver forum was very busy for me, but very rewarding. I presented to about 90 people altogether, which is the best turnout I’ve ever had for sessions. My session on 3D printing tips had at least 45 people in it. I had supper with a group of STEAM educators, which I hope will pay off in contacts and future opportunities. I could truly say, as in the song Home and Dry by Gerry Rafferty:

Denver capitol

The Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver; July 2016.

I feel tired, but I feel good,
‘Cause I’ve done everything I said I would . . .

Frisco camp

I did my trip to Denver on the cheap, camping on the way there and back and staying in the least expensive hostel I could find while in Denver. We purchased a new tent this summer and this is my camp near Frisco, Colorado.

The first week in August I took my family on vacation to visit my wife’s sister and brother, who both live in Oregon. We stayed five days on the Oregon coast, in Rockaway Beach and in Waldport. Then we took several days to explore the Columbia River Gorge and the Oregon Trail. I took many photos, saw some amazing geology and even a few grey whales.

Me at Twin Rocks

David Black at Twin Rocks near Rockaway Beach, Oregon; August 2016.

A Summary of Six Years:

Before I could start at AAI, I had to finish up and move out of Walden School of Liberal Arts. Since I had decided this would be my last year at Walden clear back in May 2015, and I wasn’t going to be teaching chemistry, I took the opportunity to move most of my chemistry materials and papers home at the start of the 2015-16 school year. I moved my astronomy materials over to the middle school since I was teaching 6th Grade Science second semester, which is mostly astronomy. I kept it all contained, so it was easy enough to take that home as well at the start of summer.

Me at Frisco Lake

David Black near Frisco, Colorado; July 2016.

Twin Rocks reflection

Twin Rocks at Rockaway Beach, Oregon; August 2016.

But my materials in the computer lab at the high school took some time. Since the building at AAI was not ready yet, and I didn’t want to have to move things home, then move them to AAI in two steps, I asked if I could wait until the very end of summer to clean out at Walden, which the director agreed to. Once I returned from my family vacation to Oregon, I spent the second week in August getting my materials cleaned out, my printouts and posters off the wall, and the iMac desktop computers cleaned off. I saved all the files I had made over six years onto a 3 TB portable hard drive.

Yaquina Lighthouse

Yaquina Head lighthouse near Newport, Oregon; August 2016.

Over the rest of the summer (and since last fall, really) I have been working on putting together a printed binder of all the projects we’ve done at Walden (and others at MATC and before). It started as a supplemental file for the Allen Distinguished Educator Award and was expanded for my trip to Washington, D.C. for the Einstein Fellowship interviews. I’ve added pages for our Deep Space Expedition to southern California in March, and filled in more pages on other projects, trips, awards, and events. I added section caption pages and tabs. There is still much more I could add, but the binder is as full as I dare make it. It came in handy as I’ve presented at open houses for AAI. In the process of creating it, I organized all my Walden work and files onto the new hard drive. I’ve needed to do this for years.

Ecola State Park view

View south from Ecola State Park, Oregon; August 2016.

The Adventure Continues:

So there you have it – catching you up on where I am. I wanted to write this summary to explain what’s been happening, but I will write more detailed posts on each of these events as I have time. My commute to AAI will be 45 minutes if I drive and 90 minutes if I take the light rail system, which I hope to do most of the time. It will give me lots of time to write these blogs and stay up on grading.

Sunset seagull 1

I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull again while on our trip to the Oregon Coast.

There is still so much to do. I need to complete the transcriptions of Dr. Graham’s interview on Greek philosophy, then revise the script and complete the movie. I have many videos from my Elements Unearthed explorations that need to be done, and educational products to design, books to write, computer programming languages to learn and computer games to create, and time gets ever shorter. This next year will be an amazing adventure. I hope you join me.

Crown Point lookout

View from Crown Point overlooking the Columbia River Gorge; August 2016.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls on the Columbia River; August 2016. We got there just before sunset on a clear day with nice lighting.

Wakeena Falls

Wakeena Falls on the Columbia River; August 2016.

Heceta Head

Heceta Head lighthouse on the Oregon Coast; August 2016.

Sunset Seagull 2

Another seagull at sunset, this one at the beach near Waldport, Oregon; August 2016.

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Yours Truly in 3D

Yours truly in glorious 3D plastic. I modeled my head using Sculptris by Pixologic, then added the base in Daz3D Carrara. I had the printer set on the fastest speed and one shell, so the top of the base did not get covered very well.

3D printers have become all the rage in STEM classrooms. I’ve been salivating over them since they first became affordable for schools. We purchased one at Walden School just before Thanksgiving and I’ve kept it busy ever since. However, like any new technology, if I didn’t have a long-term plan for how to use it or a clear purpose in mind, it will be a new toy for a month or so and then sit idly in a corner gathering dust. They are great for someone who is willing to experiment to get print jobs to work consistently. I had quite a few failures at first, and still have them occasionally. The printers aren’t cheap and neither is the plastic. But with these caveats in mind, they can be truly useful additions to your STEM classes.

Lea - Camille with studs

Two of my MYP Design students printing out plastic snaps they designed.

I’ve taught 3D modeling classes for many years, and have incorporated 3D technologies into many of my science projects. I’ve written about several ways of doing this in previous blog posts, including the last post on modeling Greek philosophers in 3D. My students have become proficient at modeling any kind of object they need, so a 3D printer was the next logical step. Since I am teaching mostly engineering, computer science, and design classes this fall, we have need of a way for students to manufacture prototypes of their designs. For these reasons I convinced the powers that be to purchase a 3D printer.

All 3D prints

Some of the successful print jobs we’ve done so far. Most of the objects have been done as experiments to learn and test the workflow from 3D model to print.

After a lot of research, I decided to buy a Monoprice dual extruding printer – available for about $700. It came within three days of placing the order (woo-hoo!) and my IB Design Technology students had it assembled in about two minutes. Then came the process of learning how to use it to get consistently successful prints.

This isn’t as easy a process as some may think – if you have the notion that it’s like plugging in an ink jet printer and sending a print job from any software (in other words, plug and play) then you haven’t studied up enough on how these printers work.

Heraclitus failed

What happens when the model detaches from the print platform. It slid aside but continued to print, leaving the “spaghetti brains” hanging under the top of his head. The grid on the bottom is the raft. It also created scaffolding under the beard, which has been removed.

The process is called additive manufacturing and involves creating an object by extruding a thin plastic filament onto a flat print platform. The platform moves slowly downward (z-axis) as the extruder moves sideways and in and out (x and y-axes) to build one layer at a time. Think of using a hot glue gun to build up a contour map of a landform. For this all to happen, the 3D object must be split into layers by the printer’s software and a pathway generated for the extruding nozzle so that it lays down the filament without it getting tangled or dripping. This pathway/layer split is referred to as g-code.

Tyrian Purple 2

A model of a molecule of Tyrian Purple dye. This dye was extracted in the Phoenician city of Tyre on the coast of Palestine by crushing the shells of murex sea snails. One snail would produce only a drop of the dye. It was so expensive only the Roman nobility could afford to wear clothing dyed with this color, hence the phrase “born to the purple.” It is my favorite molecule. The large atoms on each end are bromine, which provides the burgundy/purple color.

 

To get the 3D model into a form that can be split into g-code, it must be saved or converted into an STL format. There are online converters for doing this. Of course, even before that, you have to know how to make the 3D objects in the first place unless you are content to simply print out someone else’s models, such as those found on Thingiverse or at the NASA 3D website. In that case, you aren’t realizing the potential of this device for modeling, engineering, and prototyping of student-created projects.

Sarah portrait

Student self-portrait. The head and hair were done in Sculptris, the base and text in Carrara. It then was exported as a 3DS file and converted to STL, then loaded in ReplicatorG to generate the g-code layers.

If this process sounds complicated, it is. But that’s not the half of it. If your models have overhanging parts, the printer will just create a lot of plastic “boogers” (see the failed print of Heraclitus and the “brains” hanging out of his disconnected skull to see what I mean). So the software creates supports or scaffolds to hold up the overhangs, which must then be removed and sanded down. The software also creates a raft or grid of plastic underneath the model to help it stick to the print plate. That is the grid you see under the failed Heraclitus.

Black plastic objects

Our printer allows objects to be printed with two colors at once. I haven’t attempted that yet, but here are some objects with black plastic. The D is part of my family’s cattle brand, the Lazy Bar D ranch.

There are many problems that can occur. If you print large, flat objects with square corners, then the plastic can cool too quickly with both sides exposed and the corners can peel up and curl. Although the print platforms are usually covered with a tacky tape such as Kaptan, you can still have print jobs come loose and start sliding around as the extruder nozzle moves. This is what happened with the failed Heraclitus – it did well up to his eyebrows, but the continued wiggling of the nozzle head caused the raft to break loose, so the printer continued the job off to the side as the model slid away in stages. Kind of cool looking, but the print wasted eight hours and some plastic. Now I have to start it over again and tape it down better.

Democritus and Aristotle prints

Printouts of Democritus and Aristotle. To provide better quality for the print, I created a sloped base with rounded edges to prevent curling. Both models were created using Make Human for the heads, then imported into Sculptris to add the hair, beards, and eyebrows. Finally, the models were brought into Carrara to add the bases and text before exporting as a 3DS file.

I have also had an issue with the workflow itself. To make Heraclitus (and Democritus and Aristotle) I started with a free program called Make Human, which allows one to set morph targets on a generic human figure to make the features look a particular way. I loaded in photos of the philosophers to use as referents. Then I exported the model as an OBJ and imported it into Sculptris, another free program done by Pixologic, the same company that does the leading character modeler Z-Brush. It works like a ball of clay that you push and pull into shape. I used it to add the hair, beards, and eyebrows. Then I exported it again as an OBJ and imported it into my full 3D modeler, called Carrara by Daz3D (but you could use Maya or Blender, etc.). In Carrara, I decapitated the head from the body using a Boolean command, then added the base and letters. I finally exported it as a 3DS model, converted it to STL using Online 3D Converter, then loaded it into the ReplicatorG software for generating the g-code. By the time I was done, this model had been through five different software packages.

Cow parts and snaps

Some student design projects printed out. The cow parts (head, legs, and tail) on the right are for a toy cow. The body of the cow had some issues printing, and the C-joints on the legs didn’t quite fit. The snaps on the left worked with the smallest positive size and the split hole configuration. The MYP Design students planned, created, modeled, and tested these prints. Now they need to make revisions. This is the engineering process.

This is a complicated process, and the model can fail anywhere along the way. I’ve had some trouble getting Carrara to export the models correctly – it says they are there, but have no data in them. I think these are models that have too many polygons, such as those where the entire head and hair are done from Sculptris. Using Make Human keeps the head model’s polygon count reasonable.

Mare Fecund printouts

Two printouts of Mare Fecunditatis on the Moon. I started with LOLA data from the Lunar Recon Orbiter mission, loaded it into Adobe Photoshop in Raw format, selected the section I wanted and loaded it into Daz3D Bryce as a grayscale height map, which turned it into a terrain object. I exported it as a 3DS file, added the base and letters in Carrara, and so on. The print on left was done at fastest print speed and didn’t fill in well. The one on right has two shells and reduced print speed, but still lacks detail. My next attempt will be at a 45° angle with supports underneath to gain the better resolution of the x and y-axes.

I’ve tried making 3D terrains of Mars and the Moon based on Mars Global Surveyor MOLA and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LOLA data. I load the grayscale heightmaps into Bryce (another Daz3D program), then export a 3DS file into Carrara to build a base and text. The final results have had issues with holes in the bottoms of craters, text that doesn’t show up well, and insufficient vertical exaggeration to see any details. I also had trouble with the first attempt to print this terrain (of Mare Fecunditatis on the Moon) because I only had one shell and had the printer on fastest nozzle extrusion speed and travel rate, so the top was not solid enough.

 

But . . . with all these problems, I am succeeding now more often than failing. That is what engineering is all about, after all – you have to learn how to fail until you succeed. I’ve tried a variety of different print jobs, found out the trouble spots and (mostly) how to correct for them, and I am ready to start printing out student projects now that we are approaching the end of the semester.

Hackathon 3D 4

Students learning 3D modeling using Sculptris at the Utah County Hackathon on Dec. 12, 2015, sponsored by 4-H.

 

 

On Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015, I presented a session at the Utah County Hackathon sponsored by the local 4-H Club. I took the 3D printer along as well as some laptop computers from my school and taught about 24 kids how to use Sculptris and how to do 3D printing. The session was a great success. There was a man named Colby there who had quite a bit of experience with 3D printing. He gave some advice that I will try out soon: First, I can get better resolution by standing my terrain models on their side. These printers have better resolution in x and y-axes than in the vertical z-axis. I just need to build some buttress supports to hold it up that can be removed later. He suggested using PEI (polyetherimide) tape, which becomes tacky when heated on the print platform, then less sticky when cool, so jobs won’t slip while printing but still come off cleanly when cooled down. He gave me some ideas for better temperature settings – I might have my platform temperature too high. There are still many experiments to try.

Hackathon studs and printer

3D printer and students learning Sculptris at the Utah County Hackathon, Dec. 12, 2015.

So, to summarize the lessons learned:
1.) Don’t expect a 3D printer to work perfectly right out of the box. There are a lot of tweaks to do, including calibration, print platform leveling, temperature adjustment, feedrate adjustment, etc, etc. to do before you will be consistently successful. Read up on the forums and ask lots of questions before deciding which printer to buy, and be prepared to experiment.
2.) Unless you are content with printing pre-created models, you should be ready to teach (or facilitate) your students learning how to do 3D modeling in the first place, and how to convert their models into the STL format needed for 3D printing. There are many fairly easy to learn 3D programs out there, including Sculptris, Sketch-Up, Tinkercad, and Make Human. Maya is also free for students and teachers, but the learning curve is steep. Blender is open source and free, but the interface is hard to learn even for experienced modelers.

Hackathon 3D 2

Students learning Sculptris at the Utah County Hackathon on Dec. 12, 2015. They are building alien heads. They enjoyed learning the program and seeing how to do 3D printing.

3.) Try to get a printer with a heated print platform and variable temperatures and extrusion rates. One size does not fit all jobs here, especially if you want to print with more than one type of plastic. ABS expands more when heated than PLA plastic, so it tends to curl more as it cools down. It also requires a higher nozzle temperature to melt it.

4.) Keep an eye on print jobs. My failed Heraclitus started out well, so I taped the edges and left it overnight to print. Somewhere around six hours into the job, it detached from the print plate and caused the fatal print defects shown. Print jobs also sometimes stop for no reason. You won’t be able to start them up from where they left off. It will just be wasted plastic. You must keep trying, and be patient.

Electroneg and Tyrian purple

Final printout of the Tyrian purple molecule. The black model is of the periodic table of elements, showing the property of electronegativity for each element. This was done by typing the values into a TXT file, then importing it into ImageJ software using Import-Text Image, then converting the grayscale image into a height map for Daz3D Bryce. From there, we used the same process as the 3D Moon models.

5.) Have a plan and a purpose for why you need a 3D printer. Otherwise they can be frustrating and ultimately unsatisfactory for you. If you haven’t integrated 3D data analysis or modeling into your classes already then a 3D printer will be useless for you. If you want some ideas how to do this, look at some of my other posts, such as this one on creating 3D models of periodic properties of the elements: https://elementsunearthed.com/2014/05/10/visualizing-periodic-properties-of-the-elements/ . Here is a photo of a 3D print job done from one such model, showing electronegativity, as well as a model of the molecule for Tyrian Purple dye.

6.) Some supplemental materials will help. Buy some Aqua Net Super Hold odorless hair spray (purple can) and spray it onto a paper towel, then rub it onto the tape on the print platform to improve the stickiness. Even with that, the jobs might still work loose. Some people use glue sticks or a gel adhesive. You will need a roll of Kaptan or PEI or blue painters tape to put on the platform if the tape starts to peel up.

Indi portrait

Student self-portrait using Sculptris and Carrara.

7.) Avoid large flat objects with sharp corners. They tend to curl up when cooling. If you build in supports, you can print up to a 45° angle without scaffolding, and therefore take advantage of the better resolution of the x and y-axes.

Good luck. Let me know what types of projects you attempt, and we can swap ideas. As you can see from the photos here, there are many possibilities for chemistry classes alone.

Hackathon 3D 1

Students working with modeling clay to learn the concept of 3D modeling. This is at the Utah County Hackathon on Dec. 12, 2015 at the Provo Library. The image on the screen is of the ReplicatorG software. It is printing my family’s cattle brand, the Lazy Bar D. Unfortunately, the bar wasn’t quite level with the bottom of the D in Carrara, so a raft wasn’t printed under it and it went at bit wobbly and timey-wimey.

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