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Golden Apple cover-m

My own cover design for the book I am completing for NaNoWriMo this month (Nov. 2018). It is based on the cover page of Atalanta Fugiens by Michael Maier.

Today is Nov. 1, 2018 and it is time to begin another year of NaNoWriMo: the National Novel Writing Month program that encourages writers to complete at least 50,000 words during November. I will be splitting my writing over four major projects. The first is to catch up and maintain these blog posts here at Elements Unearthed and at my other post: www.spacedoutclassroom.com, where I have been writing about activities and lessons in astronomy education. My second project is to write a series of lesson plans on STEAM education projects for chemistry classes, which I will report on and share here as well. My hope is to create a collection of 20-30 lesson plans that incorporate the arts and history and publish them through the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). My third project is to write and illustrate a series of young adult (8-14 year old) fact-based books on exploring the world (and beyond) written from the perspective of fictitious youngsters who experience these adventures. It will be largely based on my own travels. The final project is to complete the first novel in my Trinum Magicum series, which I started for NaNoWriMo last year. This blog will describe that project and other silver linings that came during my job hunt last year.

prague-castle-map

A map of the Hradcany, the castle hill in Prague with St. Vitus’ Cathedral. Most of my novel is based in Prague in 1609 during the time of Emperor Rudolf II.

Upon my return from the Teacher Research Data Conference in Washington, D.C., I was faced again with the challenges of my situation. Just two weeks before, I had been laid off from my teaching position at American Academy of Innovation because of budget problems, and now I had to pick up the pieces and somehow find a new position for myself when the school year was already well underway. My situation seemed pretty cloudy and dreary, but for every cloud there are silver linings. Mine came in the shape of unexpected opportunities to fulfill two of my Bucket List items: to be in a community theater production (more on this in the next post) and to start my long-planned Trinum Magicum book series.

maier_emblem_6-s

A photograph of Emblem 6 of Atalanta Fugiens, written by Michael Maier and illustrated with engravings by Mathias Merian. The book’s central mystery involves this book, which was perhaps one of the first attempts at multimedia, as it contains illustrations, poems, epigrams, and fugues.

For the first few weeks of October, my priority was to get all of my materials, books, filing cabinets, and papers from AAI put away into my house, as they were all stacked up in my carport exposed to the elements. I had to build a bookshelf, clean out rooms in my house and workshop, and do a lot of sorting and packing, but I finally found a spot for everything. Then I took some time to plan out my goals for the coming weeks as I looked for work. I had to make at least four contacts per week to maintain my unemployment benefits, so that was the top priority. I signed up for quite a few job seeking aggregate sites, went for interviews at Workforce Services, filled out a lot of paperwork, and started applying for jobs.

Prague castle

An illustration of what Prague looked like around 1609. The main Hradcany was on a hill with a steep wall in front. St. Vitus’ Cathedral had only been completed to the transept – the nave wasn’t completed until the 20th Century.

One job opening was for an informal science education director at Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City, which I thought was an ideal job for me (and me for them). 35 people applied, and I was one of the five chosen for interviews. The interview went well, but I could tell that I didn’t have enough large-scale grant experience for what they wanted. They hired another person who had worked as an educator at a planetarium before and whom I had actually met before at The Leonardo museum in Salt Lake. It was disappointing on top of all the other disappointments, but at least I came close (although close only counts in hand grenades, atom bombs, and horseshoes).

st-vituss-cathedral-map

St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague as it exists today. At the time of my book, the Choir and Altar and Transept with towers were completed but the Nave was not (until 20th Century), so the cathedral had a truncated appearance.

Feeling down on myself for not getting this job that had seemed so right, I walked to a local bookstore to browse articles on job seeking and just to take my mind off my problems for a while. I picked up a copy of Writers Magazine, and it had an article about a program that encourages people to write novels, a kind of community tracking project called NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in the 30 days of November. It was the fourth week in October when I read this, and I checked out the website and decided to go for it. After all, I finally had the time to complete another item on my Bucket List.

Carbboard model of Prague

A cardboard model of Prague built in the 1820s-1830s by a man named Langwell. You can see that St. Vitus’ Cathedral is truncated and incomplete, and that the Hradcany castle complex overlooked the old city (Mala Stana) and Vltava River.

I had an idea for a novel that had been simmering in my head for eight years, ever since I spent the summer in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. It would be a time travel adventure into the history of chemistry as the protagonists searched for clues to an ancient mystery involving that remarkable book by Michael Maier called Atalanta Fugiens. I started doing research into Maier and the history of the book, and found that he had written it shortly after leaving the service of the Emperor Rudolf II of Prague, so I started researching the Emperor as well. He was a remarkable person living in an incredible city and time, full of many story possibilities including the kunstkammer (Cabinet of Curiosities) he collected, the Voynich Manuscript, the Devil’s Bible, enough artists and alchemists and scientists (Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Anselmo de Boodt, John Dee, Elizabeth Weston, and many others) to provide a rich cast of characters, and backed up by the intrigue of the events leading up to the 30 Years War. And there was that whole business about the Golem of Prague, too. Great stuff!

Prague_Hoefnagel_

Prague as drawn by Hoefnagel from the early 17th Century.

So I built a plot up, the first book in a series (I hope), and on November 1st started in on writing the novel. This was my second such attempt, the first being a novella competition sponsored by Tor.com in 2015 where I wrote a 39,000 word novella called Dead Stone Lions in about two weeks. That experience was remarkable in that the story wrote itself – minor characters would take on a life of their own and show up as major story points, and ideas just popped into my head as I wrote it, a process that is often referred to as discovery writing. I barely finished in time and had no time for editing, so of course the novella was rejected. But at least I got a first draft done, and will edit it at some future time.

Prague in 1606

A drawing of Prague in 1606 showing the Charles Bridge across the Vltava River.

For the NaNoWriMo novel, which I titled The Golden Apple, the protagonists discover that Atalanta Fugiens is actually a time machine of sorts. By singing the fugues in the book in three voices (Atalanta, Hippomenes, and the Golden Apple) while holding a crystal, they are able to travel to Prague to the Court of Rudolf II and find themselves in the middle of the machinations of Matthias, the brother of Rudolf who is gradually taking control of the Holy Roman Empire and the Habsburg dynasty. Here is a synopsis I wrote for the book:

 

In the twisted streets of the Old City, a misshapen monster stomps its way through the fleeing crowd. Jeremy McGowan, science teacher and time traveler, is running for his life . . .

Golem_by_Philippe_Semeria

Since my novel is set in Prague in 1609, I have to include a Golem or two. Rabbi Loew, the supposed creator of the Golem of Prague, lived until October 1609.

His fellowship at the Nexus Foundation was supposed to be an escape from the constant reminders of his lost love, not an escape from the legendary Golem of Prague. When he stumbles upon a secret hidden in a remarkable book, Jeremy embarks on a journey with science historians Ankha Zalinski and Benjamin Johnson to the court of Emperor Rudolf II of Bohemia. They hope to solve an ancient puzzle: as a child, Ankha memorized a poem handed down through millennia from her ancestors. It speaks of a Golden Apple, which may be the key to unlocking incredible power.

Emblem 1 color

The first emblem of Atalanta Fugiens, showing Boreas, the God of Winds. In 50 emblems and epigrams, with essays and fugues, Michael Maier laid out the steps needed to achieve the Inner Transformation required to make the Philosophers’ Stone.

Using the legend of Atalanta as their guide, the explorers become the Trinum Magicum, the three alchemical emblems of Paracelsus, on a perilous quest to the past. Pursued by clandestine agents of the Emperor’s brother, Matthias, and hounded by a dark entity from beyond history, they must grapple with the limits of their own humanity. With the aid of Johannes Kepler, Elizabeth Weston, Rabbi Loeb, and other brilliant scholars, they hope to find the Golden Apple, decipher the symbols of a strange manuscript, and prevent a war that will rip Europe apart.

Fire salamander emblem

One of the emblems in Atalanta Fugiens, showing a fire salamander. In some books, such as the copy in the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, the first ten emblems have been hand colored to enhance the value of the book.

In this unique tale of historical science fiction, what appears to be magic may simply be a technology beyond comprehension, if only the travelers can find it in time.

I made my goal, barely, with 50,380 words by November 30, although I had to write 7000 words that last day. Since then, I have taken the book on to over 68,000 words and it is now about halfway done. It is a different experience than Dead Stone Lions, as I’ve had to plot it out much more carefully and think through the details of the whole book series in order to lay a good foundation. It even required writing a long poem full of chemical history references. But it is certainly coming along. Now I need to get back to it, with the goal of finishing it up during this 2018 NaNoWriMo so I can edit and submit it by the end of the year. My goal is to write one of these each year. If I do succeed in finishing it, then in December I will work editing and finding an agent or a publisher that wants to print and market it.

Golden Apple progress chart

This is my progress chart through the month of Nov. 2017. I made my goal of 50,000 words just barely (by 380 words). It required a major sprint of 7000 words on the last day!

We see many space operas, biological science fiction, future tech explorations, and so on but chemistry science fiction is rare. I can only think of Asimov’s The God’s Themselves, which has some chemistry in it (radioactive tungsten, anyone?) but is also about physics, entropy, multiple universes, and space colonization. So I hope my book finds an untapped market, with its references to real alchemists and history and some fascinating mysteries to solve in a remarkable time and place.

NaNo-2017-Winner-Badge

My badge for making my goal of 50,000 words.

So there are seldom any challenges we face that do not have some benefits for us, including silver linings and opportunities that we may never have accepted if we weren’t in dire straits. These changes in direction are never voluntary, but they can be for our good. Sometimes you have to look for the windows that open up when the doors are closed in your face. Sometimes they find you, like these two opportunities that dropped in my lap. I am glad I had the courage to accept them.

Emblem 50 color

Emblem 50 from Atalanta Fugiens, another enigmatic symbol. Reading through the translations of the Latin and German epigrams and discourses doesn’t help all that much for understanding the book. Maier wrote in symbolic language that used many of the ideas behind Rosicrucianism. It will take me years to write all the books; maybe by the time I’m done I’ll have a clearer idea of what he was trying to say. Or maybe not . . .

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Capitol Bldg

I attended the Research Teacher Data Conference at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 13-15, 2017.

Oct. 13-15, 2017
Grand Hyatt Hotel, Washington, D.C.

One of the many ironies of being laid off at American Academy of Innovation is that I still had unfinished business as a teacher to attend to even if I wasn’t teaching any longer. The week before I left, I submitted a STEM Classroom Grant application to the Utah STEM Action Center asking for $1500 to pay for materials for our UAV workshop at the digital citizenship conference. I found out a few weeks later that the grant had been approved, but I have no idea if the money was ever received or used for its intended purposes.

Another holdover was my scheduled attendance at a Research Data Teacher Conference in Washington, D.C. on October 13-15, 2017 sponsored by the Society for Science and the Public, the people who administer the International Science and Engineering Fairs and the Regeneron Science Talent Search. I had heard about the conference and applied for the opportunity while I was still in Bali, Indonesia, then heard a few weeks into the school year that I had been accepted. The trip was all-expenses-paid and there were no out of pocket costs to deplete my non-existent income, so I decided to go ahead and take the trip as planned. They would even provide a $100 credit card to cover meal expenses while traveling. I had never been to D.C. in the fall, and this would get my mind off of my unemployment troubles and perhaps provide some good contacts and networking.

Grand Hyatt entrance

The Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C., site of our Research Teacher Data Conference.

I was scheduled to present with Cindy Rogers, a teacher from Texas I had never met, on the engineering design process. We e-mailed back and forth and put together a good presentation. I did the initial Powerpoint, with additions from Cindy. We would have the participants do the bridge building exercise I’ve done in my Innovation Design classes.

I took my normal flight, Delta 832, across the country and watched part of the movie Inferno with Tom Hanks based on the latest Dan Brown code-breaking thriller. We landed at Washington Reagan, coming in over the Potamac as usual for a steep and fast landing. I got my luggage at the baggage claim downstairs and met up with other arriving teachers at Baggage Claim 12. They had a shuttle bus all ready for us, and we stowed our bags underneath and climbed aboard. The best part of these programs is meeting teachers from around the country, and a lively discussion started as we drove across the Potamac to the Grand Hyatt hotel.

Hyatt interior court

Grand Hyatt Hotel interior courtyard

This was my fourth trip to D.C. in as many years, and I had lived and worked and visited here ever since I was in college, so I’ve gotten to know the city well. I was here just eight months ago for the Teachers for Global Classrooms symposium. This was my first time at the Grand Hyatt, however, and it is quite a hotel with a large inside atrium. I checked in at the main desk and took my bags to my room, which was around on the opposite side of the hotel from the bank of elevators.

We held an opening banquet downstairs from the main lobby and sat by geographical regions. There were two other teachers at my table from Utah, one named Enrique from West High School in Salt Lake City, the other was Charmaine from a charter school in St. George. There were about 200 teachers altogether, all paid for by donations from sponsors to the Society for Science and the Public. The main sponsor is now Regeneron. It used to be Intel, and long ago in my high school days it was sponsored by Westinghouse and was called the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, which I entered as a senior in high school with my project to make a system of methanol-air fuel cells. I did not make it in, but I did make it into the Utah Science Talent Search and won fourth place behind my friends Nicole Van der Heyden and Sven Berg. So this whole meeting felt to me as if I were coming full circle at last. My efforts as a high school science nerd were finally paying off.

Opening banquet

Opening Banquet for the Research Teacher Data Conference. Over 200 teachers were selected and provided an all expenses paid trip to the conference, including three of us from Utah.

Caitlin Sullivan welcomed us to the conference. The purpose of this meeting was to train and encourage like-minded middle and high school science teachers to promote and support students in their efforts to collect data and create science fair projects. We were to attend a series of workshop sessions over two days led by pairs of teachers, including the one led by Cindy and I. During and after the meal, I got to know the other teachers at the table. They were an interesting lot and people I wished I could work with at some future time. Not actually being a teacher at the moment was quite a hindrance for setting up collaborations, since I don’t have any students that their classes can team up with.

Church near hotel

Out to find some Matchbox cars, I walked past this church in the area near our hotel.

I realized on my way to D.C. that I had forgotten to pack some materials I needed for the activity the next day. I had tape and spaghetti and paper, but forgot gumdrops and Matchbox cars. I went out on a supply run, looking for a CVS pharmacy or other convenience store near the Hyatt. I found gummi worms at one place about two blocks from the hotel, and finally found some Matchbox cars at a convenience store near the main gate to China Town. It was just down the street from the hotel and next door to the Mongolian Barbeque place I had eaten at for the Einstein Fellowship interviews a year and a half ago. Now supplied for my presentation, I returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening in my room writing blog posts for my Indonesia trip.

The next day we had breakfast in the conference room and a video keynote address from the CEO and founder of Regeneron, who started out as a Science Talent Search winner himself. This company is creating new drugs and medical breakthroughs using the human genome data, and one of the themes of this conference is how to use Big Data. The main keynote speaker was Lisa Purcell, Senior Staff Scientist with Regneron, who discussed Innovating with Rigor. She talked about what rigorous science entails and how to foster it in our classes. Students need to gain inspiration from multiple sources, understand that the data they collect are the data but are open to interpretation, so the interpretation itself needs to be rigorous, and that they need to ask good questions. As teachers, our job is to find motivated students, stimulate innovative thinking, and promote science as a way of thinking. Teachers are the first line advocates for science. Impactful science is innovative, and good science must be rigorous.

Cindy Rogers presenting

Cindy Rogers presenting her portion of our presentation on Preparing Students for Engineering Projects. We had a good group of about 30 teachers in our session.

In Session 1, I attended Kate Travis’ session on Visualizing Science. She is an editor of Science News, and the session was fascinating. She started with one of the first infographics ever created, a map of a cholera epidemic in London that showed all the cases originated from the Broadstreet water pump. She showed a recent and much more sophisticated map of a MERS outbreak in South Korea that had 308 million data points with demographic data that showed super spreaders and airports as hubs of pandemics. She showed video timelapses of glacier retreats based on normalized tourist photos, skycrapers sprouting over cities, visualizations of human migrations, and even one scientist’s daily tracking of his gut bacteria for a year. One of the most fascinating was a collection of GPS location data from research buoys released into the ocean and tracked, which created animations clearly showing ocean gyres such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Another showed duration and speed of Category 5 hurricanes which is zoomable to individual storms, the area under the curve representing joules of energy produced or storm severity. One chart showed data on habitable exoplanets known to date.

Building bridge deck

Teachers in our session beginning to design and build their bridges. The purposes (specifications) were be 13 inches long and support the weight of a Matchbox car pushed across without the car falling into the Tacoma Narrows.

All these charts were zoomable and interactive, and she shared some online software for building such datasets, including StoryMapper, Tableau, and Google Charts. Now I need to check these out and learn how to use them, a big project in itself.

The workshop I chose for Session 2 was Research with Limited Resources by Mark Vondracek and Catherine Nolan. They said that Science Talent Search has 500-600 applicants per year, which is a lot, but many of them come from the same schools. There are 30,000 public high schools. Where are the students from the other 29,500+ schools? Most schools simply don’t have much training or budget for big science projects, but there are many types of projects that don’t require expensive equipment or where data are available online.

Mark spoke of three realms of student STEM research at small schools without extensive equipment: experimental, computational, and online Big Data. They shared a website: http://basement-science.blogspot.com. He talked about projects his students do, such as studying how liquids flow when poured from a higher position. They spread out in a laminar flow pattern for a few centimeters, but it quickly turns turbulent for reasons that are not well understood. They study fracture patterns in dropped apples, use online astrophysics data, NOAA climate data, and data from Fermilab, CERN, and other research labs.

Laying out bridge

Teachers in our session laying out the design of their bridges.

Catherine spoke of how she instills experimental rigor into her students’ projects. She focuses on extensive background research, because one must be educated to make an educated guess. They use online journal sources, keep research journals, and are trained to ask critical questions of the articles they read. Since not all professional science journals are freely available, she partners with universities to allow her students to use their journal access. Her students use Python, GDL-GNU, DS9, and other free resources to unpack and analyze data sources. They use local data from the Forest Service, contact article authors directly, and work with local businesses to meet their research needs through student projects.

After lunch we had another plenary keynote speaker, Dr. Ruth Krumhasi of the Oceans of Data Institute. She started with EDC, which has been around since the Sputnik Era and had 1500 employees collecting scientific articles and data as a central clearinghouse. The ODI launched in 2015 as a way to teach data literacy tools. She spreads her time between two houses in Taos, NM and Nova Scotia and works remotely (nice if you can get it!) and works with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope that is being built in Chile to set up a data analysis pipeline, among other things.

Working on the deck

Teachers putting together the decks of their bridges for the engineering design challenge we gave them.

She talked about why we should teach how to use data. The reasons include a workforce imperative: many jobs now require data analysis skills such as accounting to track doctor effectiveness and forensic science to solve crimes; an educational imperative: big data requires a global perspective and awareness that aren’t being effectively taught (sounds familiar); and a social imperative: basic literacy now requires numeracy, or the ability to understand charts and graphs and interpret data. Those that can’t understand statistics will be controlled by those that can and who know how to manipulate data.

She spoke about how to teach data literacy through an acronym: CLIP: Complex – using multiple sources for data and multiple data sets; Large – abundant data, more than is needed to provide richness and show patterns; Interactive – to explore data, visualize it, break it down, and develop multiple interpretations; and Professional – collected with accuracy and reliability. She gave some examples and talked about the CODAP – common online data analysis platform.

We got da bridge

A teacher group after successfully navigating a Matchbox car over the Tacoma Narrows gorge. Tubby the Dog didn’t die this time!

Session 3 was my and Cindy’s presentation on the Engineering Design Process and the importance of collecting test data to analyze and inform revisions of projects. We each took about ten minutes. I described the engineering cycle and Cindy talked of projects she’s done to incorporate that cycle. We spent the bulk of the time on the challenge: to build a bridge that is 13 inches long made out of spaghetti noodles, gumdrops (or worms in this case), a short piece of masking tape, and one sheet of paper that can support a Matchbox car that is pushed across it. I showed the video of Galloping Gertie to set up the problem, then let them go for it. The solutions were diverse and the teachers enjoyed the hands-on activity. There were about 30 people in attendance, and it was well received. We could have used more time at the end to wrap up and tie in data usage more, but overall it was very successful.

For Session 4 I went to a workshop on Teachers as Researchers led by three teachers. They shared many opportunities out there to do original research, such as the RETs that I already knew about but some that I hadn’t. Two of them did biological research, but one did astrophysics research at the Solar Observatory at Kitt Peak in New Mexico.

Diego_Martinez

Diego Martinez, from the Delphian School in Oregon, who was one of the presenters I attended at the Research Teacher Data Conference. I first met Diego as a MAVEN Education Ambassador at Goddard Space Flight Center in 2015.

Session 5 was called Out of Your League: Harvesting Student Persistence. One of the teachers looked familiar, and I finally placed him – Diego Martinez from the MAVEN Education Ambassadors program two years ago. He was in Alamosa, Colorado (which I traveled through last summer) but is now at the Delphian School in Sheridan, Oregon near Lincoln City. It is one of the oldest charter schools in the country, and talking with him afterwards, it sounded like a great place to teach. He invited me to come visit the school sometime. Since then, I’ve seen that he was chosen as for the 2018 Alan Shepard Technology in Education Award by the Space Foundation and Astronauts Memorial Fund (see https://www.spacefoundation.org/news/science-teacher-diego-martinez-2018-recipient-alan-shepard-technology-education-award). The bio that was posted with the award states that he has done some incredible things in two years he has been at the Delphian School.

Their presentation was on how to get students to persist when they are unfamiliar with their subject matter, including getting them to understand the vocabulary of the subject by circling and looking up any unknown words in their background research. As they become conversant in the language of the subject, they will be better able to understand the subject. They demonstrated the problem of dealing with unfamiliar material by having groups analyze random pages from the Zoom book for 30 seconds and then try to organize them all – they showed a boat on a bus on a street on a stamp where contextual clues were absent to get a sense of scale, and how hard this was to do without references. This is how students look at an unfamiliar subject – they have no context from which to understand it.

On our way to dinner

Teachers at the Research Data Conference on their way to dinner in Washington, D.C.

We met together in the main banquet hall and Caitlin finished up the day by talking about how to use I Wonder journals to get students to ask questions, then gradually build in more rigor and depth with time such as starting with basic questions, then deeper questions with research, asking experts, etc. until they develop a great research question. She wondered if one could open up a sample of air bottled inside a 7-11 or a Panera Bread and still be able to recognize the smell. The question became how one would collect the air – walk through the store with a sweater on?

We divided into groups and walked together to an Italian restaurant nearby. We had about 50 people in the group, but they were ready for us and had seats all arranged. I tried to sit by people I hadn’t yet spoken to, and talked with a lady next to me that had done an internship developing lesson materials. When I told her I had actually used those materials in my own classes, she was pleased to find out her work was still out there.

Capitol and Wash align

Alignment of the Capitol and the Washington Monument on our tour of D.C. on Oct. 14, 2017.

After dinner we walked back to the Grand Hyatt and had some time to change, then those that were interested met in the lobby where two buses took us to see some of the monuments around the Mall. We stopped at the World War II and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorials. I was able to get better photos of them now that I have a nicer camera. Then we bused across the street to the Korean War Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. A group of high school students were there for a party associated with their prom without much supervision, and they were a bit noisy but not really acting out too badly – it’s hard to get too active in formal wear. Some of the teachers with us complained. That tells me they must have very quiet students if this small amount of noise bothered them. Maybe they felt that the students were being too irreverent at such a hallowed spot, but if I lived in the D.C. area, I would probably take these sites for granted, too.

King Memorial

Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. It was nice to have a better camera this time.

I was getting pretty tired by this point and I had been to all of these sites before, and was becoming weary of socializing. As good as this day had been, I still just wanted to get back to the hotel.

On Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 I got ready and went down to an excellent breakfast served in the main banquet room of the Grand Hyatt. I had taken my time packing up and getting out of my room, then checking my luggage at the front desk, and was one of the last to arrive for breakfast. While I finished eating I listened as Maya Amjira, CEO of the Society for Science and the Public, addressed us. She was an STS alumnus herself, with a project on duckweed growth. Then Allie Stifel, Director of STS described the program to us. Having submitted my own science fair project as a candidate for the Science Talent Search back as a senior in high school, it was interesting to see the program from the other side. 13 Nobel Prize winners started out in STS, including Kip Thorne. It is a direct apply program – you don’t have to go through qualifying fairs like ISEF. She went through the requirements and deadlines, the prizes for winners (I did win Fourth Place in the Utah STS, but never got close to the national STS).

Lincoln statue

Statue of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

We then divided up for sessions and I went to one by Joanne Barrett from Out of Doors Academy in Florida on Using Technology in Research. She spoke of the role of teachers to help scaffold the data that students use and how to teach critical thinking. Technology makes finding and analyzing data easy, but that doesn’t mean the students know what to do with it or what it all means. She went over some online tools for data analysis and citation management that I wasn’t aware of before and some tools such as Wolfram Alpha and MathLab that I’ve heard of but need to learn. Gwen Jefferson of Rialto, CA talked about using handheld devices and types of projects her students have done and how she’s managed the data reporting and abstract requirements of projects.

WWII fountain and Wash Mon

World War II memorial and Washington Monument.

This was the last session that I have notes for; I remember going to one other but can’t remember the topic. It had been a busy two days and I was dragging by the end. There wasn’t really a final session for all of the teachers together to summarize the experience, so we were free to make our ways home. We had scheduled buses back to the airport, and mine was a bit later than others, so I got my luggage from the front desk and put it in the belly of the bus when it first arrived. I had some time to hang out before the bus left, so I went for a short walk around the area – down toward China Town, where I found a courtyard with colorful vines growing overhead and interestingly painted animal statues.

Returning to the hotel, I climbed aboard the bus and waited for 15 minutes before it left. As other teachers got on, I talked with them and encouraged them to apply for the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, which several said they would look into. I guess that I am an evangelist for the program now.

Fall vines and colorful camels

Fall vines and colorful camels, in a courtyard near the entrance to Chinatown in Washington, D.C.

I took a few more photos of the Capitol Building and other monuments on our way back to the Reagan Airport. I was there in plenty of time, as my usual flight wasn’t until 5:20, so I checked my bag and walked to the terminal and ate a good hamburger there. I had to be careful about the amount of money I spent, given that I have no income. I wanted to have some extra per diem left over on the $100 credit card we were given to cover meals.

I walked through Security without problem and waited at the gate, the same one I’ve used for the last several trips to D.C. I had about an hour to wait, and tried to read Most Likely to Succeed but kept dozing off. Finally my flight boarded and I had an uneventful trip back to Utah.

Jefferson Memorial

A decent photo of the Jefferson Memorial as we drove past on our way back to the airport.

There are so many things I would like to try out that I learned at this conference, but will have to wait until I have students again. When I do get re-hired, I hope it is in a place where we can learn some of these possibilities. In the meantime, I have good notes. As much as I think my students have been doing these things, I’ve found there is so much more to discover, a whole level of effort above anything I thought was possible. I feel like a rank amateur compared to some of the teachers I’ve met this weekend.

Dr King gazing out

Dr. King gazing out across the Tidal Basin.

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The previous 80 or so posts have focused on global education and my extraordinary adventure teaching and traveling in Indonesia. I wrote those blogs as one document while I was on the exchange program itself, filling in the details when I returned home so that I could post everything in chronological order and keep a coherent story thread throughout.

 I am doing that again with stories and adventures that have happened to me since. And much has happened, but since I don’t really know what the end of the story is yet, I won’t actually post these tales until I have a definite conclusion. I apologize for the gap in posting this will cause, but it will be better thought out this way.

David Black with fall colors

David Black enjoying the fall leaves behind Squaw Peak in late September 2017. Then the floor caved in . . .

Returning to American Academy of Innovation:

I had only two days at home to recover from jet lag before I had to report back to American Academy of Innovation for our teacher preparation and training days for Fall Semester 2017. Our school had grown over the summer, from about 220 students at the end of our first year to over 300 by the start of our second year, with the addition and replacement of a number of teachers. We would be re-working our project structure by separating out projects for middle school versus high school students. The middle school students would be in separate classes by gender. And we were adding to our Dell laptops and chrome books with all new Apple laptops, desktops, and iPads with new software, including the entire Adobe Creative Cloud and Autodesk Maya for 3D. I was extremely excited to hear of this, as it would turn my dreams of an innovative media design program into a reality. Much of what I had wanted to do the previous year was frustrated by inadequate computers and software.

Scott Jones eclipse

Scott Jones, Director of AAI, with students watching the Sept. 21, 2017 solar eclipse.

It took a couple of weeks into the school year to get the software installed and operational, but I then immediately set to work teaching the students Adobe Photoshop in two completely full classes. I wasn’t teaching middle school classes this year, but chemistry, earth systems, astronomy, and two sections of media design. We were planning on a school-wide project to host a digital citizenship conference workshop at AAI, and student teams were preparing demonstrations and sessions for the workshop. I was mentoring a team creating a racing course for UAVs and starting up a robotics club. All was looking good, and our new students were coming along nicely. I even received the long overdue chemistry lab tables that had been on order for almost a year.

Watching the eclipse

AAI students watching the 2017 solar eclipse. Little did I know that my teaching at AAI was about to be eclipsed.

For the solar eclipse on Sept. 21, we had glasses for most students and let the whole school out to watch. At our location in Salt Lake Valley, the eclipse was about 90%, and I got some good photos of it with my camera. A few days later, Shannon McConnell, the director of the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope Project (GAVRT) at JPL, stopped by my classroom and addressed interested students. She had been to Idaho to see the totality and had contacted me to see if I wanted her to stop in my school on her way back to southern California. I said yes, of course. She made a great presentation and we had a good group of students attend. It appeared that the school year was off to a great start.

Solar eclipse 2017

A photo of the solar eclipse. At our location in Salt Lake Valley, we reached about 90% of totality.

Then the floor caved in on me. We had projected having about 380 students for the year to justify the budget, teachers, computers, and other costs we were spending. At the first of October each year, the state of Utah sends auditors into the schools to get an accurate count of average daily attendance for final budgeting purposes. Due to a few families dropping out in September, instead of 380 students, we had 314. Suddenly, our budget had to be cut drastically. They couldn’t send back the new computers, so they decided to balance the budget by laying off teachers and staff and consolidating classes. I was called in on Thursday, Oct. 5 and told I would be one of the ones laid off. It was quite a shock!

Shannon McConnell in my class

Shannon McConnell, director of the GAVRT program at JPL, addressing my class.

Given all that I had done to lead the Project Based Learning program at the school, and all that I was contributing with global education and media design skills training, laying me off did not make sense from a strategic viewpoint. It did, however, make sense from a financial viewpoint – I was one of the most experienced teachers at the school and therefore one of the most expensive to employ. They could save more money getting rid of me than someone else. Since I was teaching higher-level classes, my class sizes were smaller and it would cause less disruption to students than if they laid off someone else. They needed to make a quick financial decision and they made it.

Shannon addressing class

Shannon McConnell talking to my students about NASA opportunities.

The school director agreed to write positive letters of recommendation, including for my application to the Albert Einstein fellowship program in Washington, D.C. which he did that night (as I was still employed for one more day). I had two days to pack up all my stuff and take it home. I didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye to many of my students; they found out on Monday when their classes were changed around and I was already gone.

Drone Races group

My group for the Digital Citizenship summit project. We were planning a UAV drone race event.

Staying Positive:

As with my blog posts about Indonesia, I am trying to stay positive in the stories that I tell and in my attitude toward my life in general. I looked at this as a chance to find something even better, but it was slow coming. I was 57 years old when they laid me off (and yes, there are legal issues about that) so it wasn’t easy finding a new job that would meet my salary requirements in the middle of a school year. I immediately set up accounts with many job search engines, the Department of Workforce Services, Indeed.com, and everywhere else I could think of.

Cameron Brown with drone

Cameron, the leader of the drone race group, with his quadcopter drone. The plan was to build a series of obstacles on our playing field, then have participants race drones through the course. We were well into the planning and building phase when I left AAI.

At first it was nice to have some time off to re-organize my life and my house, write my Indonesia blog posts, and work on some long-term bucket list items. I will write at more length about some of the silver linings my time of unemployment provided, but it was still a difficult time for me. You start questioning your worth, your competence, and your accomplishments when no one seems to care.

In between applying for jobs, I took the opportunity to enjoy the fall season. The colors in the mountains this year were incredible, the best I’d seen in many years. I took my youngest son on a trip up Hobble Creek Canyon to photograph the fall colors. As a whole family, we drove up to Squaw Peak overlooking the whole valley and the colors and view were amazing. I took walks with my wife, and I finally got the summer vacation I hadn’t had because of my trip to Indonesia.

Road to Squaw Peak-fall 2017

The road to Squaw Peak overlook with fall colors.

As the weeks dragged on and turned into months, I started looking at alternatives. My original plan was that this would be my last year of classroom teaching before I fulfilled an Einstein Fellowship or started a PhD program. I looked at starting my own business; I even took a class each Thursday night and got advice from the Small Business Development Center at Utah Valley University. I began to work on various science fact and lesson plan book projects again, and created a detailed plan of how to complete them to bring in some income. I even signed up for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) program to complete 50,000 words of a novel. It would be the first of my Trinum Magicum books, which I have been planning since my time in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation nine years ago. And I did it – I wrote 50,380 words in 30 days. I am about half way through the novel and just getting to the good part.

Provo Temple from Squaw Peak-fall

Utah Valley with a view toward Mt. Nebo from the Squaw Peak overlook: Fall 2017.

One surprising opportunity dropped in my lap in October. I walked onto a musical production of Miracle on 34th Street at the SCERA Playhouse here in Orem and was given four parts. We performed for two weeks in December and there is no way I could have done this if I had continued at AAI.

Goodbye to AAI:

Despite my ultimate success in the job hunt, I still miss American Academy of Innovation. It was (and is) a school with tremendous potential, if they can only get their financial act together. This wasn’t the first time they laid off teachers due to budget problems. Once is a stopgap emergency measure, but twice becomes a habit. Ultimately such a habit will undermine morale and any progress the school hopes to make. I miss many of the students, who were among the best I’ve ever taught. I miss the project-based learning environment and the chance to teach my STEAM it Up, 3D animation, and media design classes. I miss working with the teachers there, but my new colleagues are fantastic too. Some things I don’t miss – the long commute, the high percentage of disrespectful and overly entitled students, and the uncertain budget with its unfulfilled promises.

Fall colors back of Squaw Peak

Fall colors on the back of Squaw Peak.

I am getting almost the same rate of pay, and my commute is one half what it was before and in the opposite direction of traffic. I leave at the same time as before and get home by 3:30 each afternoon when I was just getting out of my last period class at AAI and not getting home until 6:00 or even 7:00. I have my homework all graded by the end of each day, so there is not much take-home work for me now. I have time to work on other projects in the evenings or do fun things with my children. So there are silver linings galore to my being laid off. It was a hard but valuable experience.

Hobble Creek golden trees-2017

Golden cottonwoods in Hobble Creek Canyon

I am a firm believer that when a door closes, one should start looking for windows to open up. They truly have. Onward and upward!

Fall colors on Timp

Fall colors on Mt. Timpanogas: Fall 2017

Hobble Creek-fall 2017

Maples and oaks in Hobble Creek Canyon

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Jakarta Day 8: Monday, July 31, 2017

Sticky notes

One of our activities was to write down our guiding questions on a large poster paper, then write sticky notes to add observations or suggestions to each other’s questions based on our own experiences in the field.

Now that we had completed our field teaching experience and had returned to Jakarta, it was time for reflection and evaluation. What had we learned from all of this? How will this impact our teaching going forward? How will we answer the guiding questions we chose at the beginning of this experience?

We met in a conference room near the elevators on the second floor after having breakfast. It was nice having the larger buffet at the Le Meridien Hotel.

We started by reflecting on our guiding questions through writing them up and conducting a gallery stroll. My own question was: How do different human cultures approach the common problems or needs of humanity? This is a very general question, so I further defined it through some sub-questions:

1 – How do we solve the need for materials (for shelter, food, clothing, transportation, etc.)?

2 – How do we solve the need for self-expression (through art, humor, play, etc.)?

3 – How do we solve the need to understand the universe and its mysteries (through science and religion)?

Let’s look at each of these as I have answered them so far. I will add more and create final reflections after my five day extension, where I will be exploring these ideas further.

Question 1: How do we solve the need for materials (for shelter, food, clothing, transportation, etc.)?

Sasirangan swatches

We saw how humans have a desire to decorate and design through art. We we don’t need to dye cloth, but all cultures do it as these samples of sasirangan testify.

This has been an ongoing quest of mine over the last ten years as I have created the Elements Unearthed project and this website. I have explored how the chemical elements and materials were discovered, how they are made, how they are mined, refined, and turned into finished products. I continued this project while in Indonesia, although more will come later this week. I’ve brought my students along for the ride.

I took students to record video of a tour of Novatek, a synthetic diamond manufacturing company in south Provo, Utah. I had an adult student at the time that worked there and organized the tour. He acted as our tour guide and explained the history of how Tracy Hall invented the process at Bell Labs. He showed us how graphic dust is compressed and heated to form industrial diamonds for oil drills. He showed us the tetrahedral press I had seen in operation as a high school student. My students turned the footage into a short video that is on this website under the Videos tab.

Dyeing green cloth

Dyeing cloth green to make Borneo sasirangan.

But that was only part of the story. Now I have been to the Cempaka diamond mines to see have natural diamonds are recovered from deposits laid down millions of years ago. I have written about it on this blog site, and my chemistry students will turn the photos and videos into a final product for YouTube.

Dyed cloth

Dyed cloth hanging up to dry in Banjarmasin at the sasirangan factory, although it won’t dry very well in this rainstorm.

Through my batik class in Jakarta and seeing the sasirangan made in Banjarmasin, I have continued to research how fabrics and dyes are used for make clothing, following up on what we’ve been doing in my chemistry and STEAM it Up classes. This will also continue later this week.

This is all to say that this question is still being answered and will continue to be. My quest to understand materials isn’t over yet.

Question 2: How do we solve the need for self-expression (through art, humor, play, etc.)?

This is probably the most culturally unique question, as every culture has its own methods of self-expression. However, there are some common threads that I have observed here in Indonesia compared with American or western culture. We all have a need to self-express, despite it taking different forms.

Batik pattern

A batik pattern ready for dyeing. The wax (called malam and a brownish-yellow color) is applied to a penciled pattern on both sides of the cloth, then the cloth is dyed leaving the dyed portion white.

All cultures and people have a sense of the beautiful. The batik I’ve seen at the Museum Tekstil Jakarta and the sasirangan in Banjarmasin is beautiful to me, even though I don’t understand the origin of the patterns. We all have a love for colors and textures, and although the details change with culture, this love is ubiquitous in all societies.

Nikki and Jen doing batik

Nikki and Jennifer practicing batik. The small wax pen, or canting, is held at a 45 degree angle to apply the wax resist. This is definitely an art form and takes great practice.

All cultures include physical art (painting, carving, sculpture, fabrics), music, dance, puppetry, drama, etc. These take uniquely beautiful forms in different cultures – for example, the gamelon orchestras popular here that use percussion instruments, xylophones, cymbals, and drums. This might not be your particular taste in art, but the more you research its history and meaning, the more interesting it becomes. I didn’t much care for Beijing Opera in Taiwan, but that is because I didn’t understand its symbolism and history. The more we study other cultures, the richer our appreciation of their art becomes. Yet despite the differences, I am amazed at the similarities. I can enjoy and recognize harmonies and melodies from a traditional Banjarese band without ever having heard one before.

Traditional band

Traditional Borneo band in the lobby of the Swiss Belhotel in Banjarmasin.

Another form of self-expression is in the stories and jokes we tell that describe and explain the human condition. I found the Indonesian people to be ready with a smile and a joke, to be a humorous and kind people and the sort of people I would like to hang out with if I could understand their language better. We might have different beliefs and life experiences, but we are more alike than different, and we have the same goals and desires in life.

I often think that the best thing that could happen to humanity would be to meet a truly alien intelligent species, whether they are hostile, friendly, or indifferent. Seeing that we are all humans, all brothers and sisters in a very real sense, would unite us more effectively than any international movement ever could.

Question 3: How do we solve the need to understand the universe and its mysteries (through science and religion)?

I saw directly from my experience teaching science and engineering lessons in Banjarmasin that science and math are the truly universal languages. I was afraid of a communication breakdown as I attempted to teach my lessons, but with the help of Nazar’s excellent English and our universal understanding of scientific principles that the students were able to understand. I was able to teach them despite cultural and language barriers.

Laying down planets

Laying out the planet rings for the human orrery activity.

This was the question I most wanted to explore, knowing that I would be going to a largely Muslim country. I tried to observe the daily lives of my host teacher and his family as well as the people around us – the other teachers at our school, the people we met daily, the students at the schools we visited, etc.

I am a Christian. I have studied world religions and lived for two years as a missionary in Taiwan, where I experienced the religious practices of the people (and myself) every day. I have been to Israel and Jerusalem where I saw Judaism and Islam practiced. But this was the first time I saw Islam closely and on a daily basis, and try to build some bridges of understanding.

Buddha-s

A statue of the Amita Buddha at the Fwo Gwang Shan monastery near PingTung, Taiwan.

As I have found elsewhere, people of all faiths have much in common. The first is their faith itself, the desire to believe in something beyond themselves, a truth higher than themselves. Religions, if practiced purely, should teach people to do good and to be better citizens of the world. They should teach us to respect each other. It is only when people misinterpret their religions and see hate where they should see understanding that we get the extremists that cause so much damage.

Duomo-s

The cathedral and baptistry in Florence, Italy. The large dome (called the Duomo) dominates the skyline of the city and was designed by Brunelleschi.

This can happen in any religion. Back in the Middle Ages, the Crusaders were the terrorists of their day, slaughtering innocent people in the name of their supposed faith. In one horrible case, they killed Armenian Christians in Jerusalem just because they didn’t look like the sort of Christians they were used to. Whenever we start treating people in other cultures as “foreign” or “other” than ourselves, we start thinking of them as less than human, and it becomes all too easy to justify persecution or prejudice or worse.

This can only be overcome by understanding the others – getting to know them personally and seeing that we are more alike than different, that we have much in common. This trip to Indonesia has had that benefit for me, as I hoped it would. I tried to see all the people I met as potential friends if I could just learn how to communicate with them. We have common ground to build on.

Large temple-s

A large Buddhist temple in southern Taiwan.

This journey is not over, and I will continue to explore Buddhism and Hinduism as I travel to Yogyakarta and Bali later this week. I will report more fully on these ideas once my trip to Indonesia is over.

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Jakarta Day 7: Sunday, July 30, 2017

View from hotel

Traffic in Jakarta as seen from the Le Meridien Hotel. I had gotten used to clear skies and stars in Banjarmasin, and Jakarta seemed very crowded and smoggy now that I was back.

Our flight back to Jakarta was uneventful. We landed and pulled in toward the terminal building, but there was no room at the jetways so buses came and got us to the terminal. I was separated from Craig because the bus door closed right behind me, but we met again at the baggage claim. I got a luggage cart (I’m beginning to know where everything is in Terminal 3) and we got our bags. We were met by a taxi driver with our names on an iPad, and we walked with him up the elevator to the parking garage. Our ride had been arranged in advance by Sarah Sever. She’s really good at the details.

Walking to dinner

On our way to dinner after our return to Jakarta. We had a lot of stories to tell about our nine days in the field.

We drove back to the Le Meridién Hotel and got our new rooms. I’m on the 8th floor in room 820 this time. We had several hours before our reunion/welcome back dinner, so I laid down and tried to sleep but wasn’t very tired. Plus they were doing some construction work on a nearby room and it was noisy with hammers and buzz saws. I worked on these blog posts and uploaded photos. I went downstairs and got the TGC bag out of the Concierge room.

Walking to dinner 2

Another photo of us walking to dinner. We were anxious to talk and share our experiences now that we were back together.

At 5:00 we met in the lobby downstairs and were all excited to share our experiences. Matt and Doug were the last ones to arrive after another eight hour drive. They and some others had been to Borobudur yesterday with long drives, and another long drive today. My trip to Loksado didn’t seem so bad now.

Nikki Sarah Novianti

Nikki, Sarah, Novianti, and Anu at our Italian dinner.

We boarded a Pariwisata bus and traveled to an Italian restaurant. All the other teachers have been using an app called WhatsApp as they all have smart phones (except Anu and I) to communicate with each other and send photos while we’ve been on our field experiences. As they talked about some of the funny things they’ve been saying back and forth, I felt a bit left out of the loop, as I had known none of this. Yes, I do need to get a smart phone and join the revolution.

Group at dinner

Our cohort group at the Italian restaurant upon our return to Jakarta.

I had crab linguini and wasn’t expecting to have it actually stuffed into a crab shell. It was not quite as good as I had hoped, as it didn’t really taste very Italian to me. Matt’s birthday had been two days before, so we sang happy birthday and had cake. He got some black and white balloons.

The atmosphere was very relaxed and fun. I talked with Jenn who was sitting to my left. She is from northern Louisiana and actually knows the people who star in Duck Dynasty – they live just down the road, but their house is much nicer than the one shown in the show. I’ve never watched it, and have no desire to do so.

Crab linquini

My crab linguini. I wasn’t expecting it to come complete with crab shell, and was a bit more spicy than I thought.

We walked back through the lobby of the plaza where the restaurant is located and re-boarded the bus. Our trip back to the hotel was fairly short for Jakarta. Although I still didn’t feel like going to my room, I didn’t see anything else to do, so I called it a night.

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Borneo Day 10: Sunday, July 30, 2017

 

Breakfast buffet

The breakfast buffet at the Swiss Belhotel. I especially liked the fresh pineapple and bananas.

Our flight back to Jakarta was in the late morning, so we had some time. Nazar, his wife and daughters met us in the lobby and we packed up our bags after checking out of the hotel. I had to pay quite a bit for the two batches of laundry I’d sent out, but it was worth it. There are no self-serve Laundromats here.We drove out of town on Jalan A. Yani toward Banjarbaru and the airport. I’ve come to know this road and the businesses along it fairly well, as well as the city of Banjarmasin. This time we turned into the airport. We unloaded the car and I found a baggage cart while Nazar parked the car. We were there in plenty of time, so we found a bench to sit down and talk.

We talked about the possibilities of collaborating on future projects with the teachers and students at SMAN 1 Mandastana, and Nazar said we probably could, and he would be willing to relay requests to the science or other teachers. His daughter has become less shy over the week we have been here and asked us a few questions, including why we don’t always finish all of our rice when we eat. That one caught me by surprise and I hadn’t even considered it. Here, rice is the staple food whereas we consider it to be a filler, a starch to be eaten if we’re still hungry after the main food.

When it came time to head through security, I went to say goodbye but Nazar said he doesn’t believe in goodbye, only in “See you later” because it’s a small world and you never know.

It has been an amazing nine days in Borneo.

Mural in Jakarta airport

Interesting mural in the Jakarta airport on our way back from Banjarmasin. There are some whimsical paintings to see here.

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Borneo Day 9: Saturday, July 29, 2017

 

Pedicab and food cart

A pedicab and customer, with a food cart, on the streets of Banjarmasin. Notice also that traffic drives on the left side.

This was my last full day in Borneo and a day for catching up on sleep, resting, writing, uploading photos, more resting, and visiting the Duta Mall twice.

Pedicab load

A fully-loaded pedicab. I don’t think you can get anything else on this pedicab – the passenger is completely packed in. Notice the large load and side bags on the motorcycle in front. Many people only own a motorcycle and must carry produce and everything else on them. They become experts at balancing loads!

After getting in late last night from our trip to Loksado, we had no plans until 7:15 pm, so Craig and I slept in. It felt good to have an unstructured day. I started the process of uploading my photos and videos from my camera. I took over 450 photos and over 100 videos yesterday, and the hard drive space on my computer is getting thin, so I had to transfer most of my videos so far to my external hard drive and upload the photos and videos from my camera in five sets.

Pedicab passengers

A typical pedicab with passengers in Banjarmasin.

Meanwhile, I took a shower, ate breakfast just before it ended at 9:55, and sent out my laundry (they came to my room to pick it up and delivered it crisp and clean later that afternoon). I wrote to my wife and sons to describe my trip and to promise photos that evening.

Bamboo load

Another example of an overloaded motorcycle. This one has a side cart attached loaded with bamboo.

Craig and I walked to the Duta Mall again to get lunch. It started out overcast, but by the time we got to the first intersection the sun was out and it was hot and humid. My sunburned face wasn’t happy, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I took some photos of pedicabs, bicycle-based restaurants (resto), and the small lanes that wound past masjid near the canals. I did this because I have been thinking the past few days about what photos I still need to take, of things that most people would find fascinating that I might not be noticing.

Canal and mosque

Canal, houses, and a mosque in Banjarmasin. They refer to this city as the Venice of Indonesia, and with over 50 canals and rivers, one can see why.

I’ve commented a few times in this series of blog posts that I’ve felt at home here in Indonesia. This is largely because I lived for two years in southern Taiwan as a missionary for the LDS Church (Mormons). This was 36 years ago (1979-1981) and Taiwan then was very much like Indonesia is now, except with lots more bicycles and no cell phones. The language was harder, as they used Chinese characters instead of Latin letters, but over two years I got to speak and read the language fairly well and felt comfortable living and teaching there. Taiwan had pedicabs, scooters, three-wheeled carts, ox carts, taxis, bicycles, street-side vendors with entire restaurants on their carts, and many more things that I’ve also seen here. So I got used to it; it was just how things were in Taiwan. Indonesia has felt familiar, like coming home after a long absence.

Selamat datang

Alleyway leading to a mosque along the canal. The says “Salamat Datang” which means “Welcome.”

But that means I’m not paying attention to what Americans would find remarkable or at least unusual about Indonesia. I want to build bridges of understanding, and I can’t do that by assuming people already understand or have accurate knowledge of this place. Understanding takes accurate information, so I’m trying to see with the eyes of someone who’s never been to the Orient before, instead of through the perceptual filters of my previous experiences. Today, as we walked to the mall, I tried to see Banjarmasin from fresh eyes and take photos that would help convey a true sense of this city to those who have never been to Indonesia.

Food cart

A typical food cart, pushed by hand along the streets. People will stop their motorcycles or cars to purchase snacks from these vendors. They are also built around bicycles or motorcycles to provide even better mobility. This one is selling amplang, a type of fish cracker popular here in Banjarmasin.

I realize that everyone looks at the world through perceptual filters; that these color all that we see, think, and do. We have few perceptions of Indonesians – mostly Americans don’t know very much about this country – and Indonesians certainly have both bad and good perceptions of Americans. I hope the students at SMAN 1 Mandastana no longer see us as the typical stereotyped ugly, obnoxious American tourists. I hope they see that we don’t all act and think like some of our national leaders; that some of us have open minds and hearts.

Duta Mall

The Duta Mall, with accompanying mosque, in Banjarmasin.

At the mall, we decided to eat hamburgers at A & W. The photos on the sign looked good, but the end result burgers were not quite the same. The bacon substitute was a bit chewy, but the overall flavor was good. I also had a mug of root beer without ice and curly fries (exactly like Arby’s). Then I had a chocolate shake for desert, which was basically a chocolate milk with soft serve ice cream added to the top like a chocolate float, but tasty.

I took some photos of stone lions to go with the cover of my great science fiction novel if I ever get it done and published. Back at our hotel after another hot and humid stroll, I stripped down and fell asleep on my bed as the air conditioner cooled off the room.

Dead Stone Lion

A stone lion guarding the entrance to the Duta Mall in Banjarmasin. I am writing a science fiction novel with the title “Dead Stone Lions.” It is a murder mystery time travel cyberpunk thriller that takes place mostly in Taiwan, hence the stone lions.

After an hour’s nap, I woke up and continued the photo uploading process. I looked up maps of the Loksado area and drew in our route. I put on my swimsuit and took a dip in the pool and read a bit of Most Likely to Succeed. They talked about how teaching students for a knowledge economy is now obsolete, a conclusion I came to a few years ago when I realized that all my precious content knowledge, acquired over years of hard study, was basically useless now that any student with a smart phone could access far more information than I knew with the swipe of a finger. The important thing now is teaching students what to do with the information that is now a free (and freely available) resource. But our school systems are still geared to the model of transmitting facts, not teaching students the critical thinking skills needed to make sense of the facts.

Duta dancer

Traditional dancer competing for the Miss/Mr. Duta Mall contest.

Indonesian schools seem to struggle with the same challenge, based on my observations of the chemistry class – the students did very well at listening and taking notes (with excellent handwriting), and the teacher did a great job of presenting and transmitting information. But they have little to no experience with how to use or apply that information, especially if they have never used the equipment and chemicals at their disposal or learned the process of scientific inquiry. We all have so far to go.

Dayak dancer

Dancer performing a traditional Dayak dance with machete and shield.

Back in my room, I finished uploading the photos. I transferred the best to my cleaned-up folder. There were 138 of them out of 450 – and many of the 450 were excellent as well. These were the ones that were good enough and unique enough to share.

David with Dayak

We posed with the dancer afterward. I don’t think he was really after my head – at least I hope not!

At 7:15 we were met in the lobby by Nazar and his family. The children wanted to eat American food, so we went back to the mall and ate supper at Pizza Hut, which was actually fairly close to the original even though the pepperoni wasn’t made from pork. Nazar said it would all be halal (the equivalent of Jewish kosher for Muslims). We had stroberi Fanta to drink. They presented us with gifts they had bought for us, including a woven bag for my wife, a boxed piece of sasirangan, a red-white-and-blue sasirangan patterned cap, a wooden Lok Baintan boat, fans, and keychains (including one of the bekantan monkey). Then, at Nazar’s wife’s insistence, they took us to a store in the mall and bought us batik shirts. Mine is brown and gold and very nice. Their generosity was amazing, as has been everything they’ve done for us on this visit. They have treated us as honored guests, and I hope someday to return the favor.

Buying batik

Nazar and wife purchasing batik shirts for Craig and I. Mine is the one hanging at the front of the rack, in browns and golds. This is an upscale printed batik chain found in malls throughout Indonesia.

There was a Miss/Mr. Duta Mall contest going on, and I videotaped a girl doing a traditional dance. A college-aged man dressed in Dayak costume performed a dance with wooden shield and machete sword, then agreed to take photos with us afterward. We drove back to the hotel and Craig presented Nazar’s family with gifts he had brought and we took final (almost) photos in the lobby.

Craig and David and Nazar family

Craig Hendrick and David Black with Muhammed Nazaruddin and family in the lobby of the Swiss Belhotel in Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, Indonesia.

I spent the rest of the evening cleaning up photos, sending the best of the best to Becca and the boys, and packing. I somehow managed to get all the gifts and my souvenir hats into my suitcases, including my still damp black shoes. I got to bed sometime around midnight.

Swiss Belhotel rainbow

Rainbow over the Swiss Belhotel in Banjarmasin at the end of our last full day in Borneo.

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