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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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Trans-Pacifica, Part IV: Date Unknown

Interactive flight map

Interactive flight map of our approach to Sydney Airport.

Our alternate flight on our journey to Jakarta took off on time, departing at 10:50 pm from Gate 92 at San Francisco’s International Terminal. It will be a 14.5-hour flight to Sydney, Australia on one of United Airline’s newest Boeing 787 jets. We were able to upgrade to Economy Plus class for a little extra legroom. Mike said it could be measured in inch-hours – how may extra inches of legroom you get per hour. I said we should make this the Metric Unit of relief from discomfort.

It’s a beautiful airplane, and one with digital screens in the back of the seat, which allow you to choose and watch a wide variety of movies and TV shows. I finished watching the National Geographic “Mars” series and watched “Rogue One” as well as trying to get some sleep. My daughter’s pillow came in handy, or my bum would have been even more sore than it already is. When I couldn’t stand it any longer, I got up, used the bathroom, and stretched out my legs. I’m glad I went to the gym and worked my legs out well Wednesday morning.

Sydney flight economy class

The economy class section of our 777 to Sydney. Most passengers are looking at the interactive map as we approach Sydney airport. We followed a great circle route across the Pacific Ocean.

It was interesting to chart our progress. One of the apps showed the current position of the airplane on a world map, alternating between close and worldwide views, and giving constantly updated information on airspeed, wind speed, distance traveled, distance yet to go, and the current time at our destination. Our own current time was a bit relative. It also showed the night and day portions of the world map, and I saw how we were chasing the night, heading southwest. This was the longest night I’ve ever had – about 18 hours all told from sunset in San Francisco to sunrise in Sydney. But as fast as we were going (about 540 mph), the Earth rotates faster. At the equator, it rotates about 25,000 miles in 24 hours, or 1100 miles per hour. At Utah’s latitude, it is more like 700 mph (I worked it out once – a nice problem in geometry for students). That means that even though we were chasing the night, dawn would eventually catch us. I saw how the dawn terminator moved slowly across Utah and California, across the Pacific, gradually but inexorably running us down.

We crossed directly west of Hawaii and headed southwest to Brisbane, then down the coast to Sydney. At some point we crossed over the equator – my first time to the southern hemisphere. I look forward to seeing the Southern Cross for the first time. Isn’t there a song about that? At about the same time, we intersected the International Date Line and lost a day. We’ll get a day back going home, but I will never know Friday, July 14, 2017. Jakarta is 13 hours ahead of Utah, almost halfway around the world and in a different hemisphere entirely.

We arrived on schedule at Sydney, circling around to land from the south as dawn began to brighten a pink-orange eastern sky. We checked our carry-ons through the International terminal and are now waiting for our flight: Garuda Air 714 out of Gate 50 to Jakarta at 11:00, if everything goes well.

Mike looks at map

Mike (center) following our progress on the interactive map.

I tried to talk with a retired law professor from Beijing who is flying with her daughter and two grandsons to Boston. My Mandarin Chinese is rusty, but we made ourselves understood. She has been to Taiwan before, where I lived for two years, and even visited Ah Li Shan there. I’ve been to Ah Li Shan and seen the sunrise over the mountains. It is a thought-provoking coincidence that two people from such distant places and backgrounds could have our lives intersect in these interesting ways. I once wrote a blog post about this – how as teachers we hope to be understood most of the time by our students, but how all individuals live in separate worlds that only intersect occasionally, and trying to communicate through these intersections is like trying to teach someone from another planet. My post is located here: Riding the Shadow Line.

How can I hope to intersect and communicate with students in Borneo, when we are from such different worlds? That is why my guiding question is to look for the commonalities between us, and science will be one such intersection. The laws of science are universal, and many of the words and processes are also universal. I hope to find other intersections, other points of common ground.

Sydney pre dawn

My first view of Australia from Sydney Airport.

Here’s hoping our flight today goes well and we arrive in Jakarta as scheduled. After our adventures over the last day, I won’t take that for granted any more. But then, this whole trip will be one adventure after another. They say adventures are what happen when things don’t go as planned. And they won’t, especially traveling to an unknown place to work with unknown people. Bring the adventure on! More stories to tell!

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Trans-Pacifica, Part III: Wednesday, July 13, 2017

After waiting in an excruciatingly slow line to get our alternate tickets, we had to work our way through Security again. We made it all the way through and discovered we had forgotten to empty our water bottles. I had completely forgotten, because I hadn’t thought I’d need to go through Security again. So I volunteered to go back out, dump out our bottles, and go back through. Fortunately, it was faster the second time

Alicia and Mike had gone on to Gate 92 for our 10:50 flight and had gotten some supper already. After plugging in my laptop to start re-charging it, I went upstairs and stood in line at a marketplace to get some fresh pizza. I was about to order when I heard someone calling “Dave! Dave!” I turned around and saw it was a former student of mine from Walden School named Libby. She graduated about four years ago, and has since finished her associate degree and is traveling to Bali through China to celebrate. Although I’m going to Bali, too, we won’t be there at the same time. She told me of others from the school that I had taught, and that she hopes to go on the one of the University of California schools and eventually get a law degree

It was great to see her, and what a coincidence to run into her here of all places, on her way to the same place I’m going. I got thinking about the influence I’ve had over 26 years of teaching, the number of students I’ve taught directly, the number I’ve impacted indirectly through workshops and other professional development activities I’ve done for their teachers, and how many people have read my blog posts and at least been slightly influenced. I tried to calculate this altogether and came up with somewhere between 750,000 and 1,000,000 people whose lives I’ve at least touched to a small degree, and thousands of people I’ve taught directly. This blog has been visited by hundreds of thousands of people itself, and my videos on YouTube have been seen by tens of thousands more. Now I’m traveling half way around the world in the hope that I can spread a bit of global perspective. Ultimately, however, it comes down to one student at a time, one day after another, one more chance to influence someone for good.

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Trans-Pacifica, Part II

Boarding 777

Passengers boarding the 777 for our flight to Narita, Japan on Thursday, July 13, 2017. This was my first time on a Boeing 777.

We flew into San Francisco International (SFO) over the south bay and landed, then taxied to our gate. Because we were late, the captain asked if those not in a hurry could wait to deplane until the rest of us had left. I hurried off the plane and asked a gate agent standing at the departure board how to get to the international terminal. She pointed the way, and I discovered that the agent in Salt Lake needed to come up with new definitions of what “just” and “around the corner” mean. It was quite a walk with my overloaded computer bag to find Gate 101, but I did it in about 20 minutes. As I descended the escalator into the gate area I saw Mike and Alicia, two other TC teachers, waiting in line to board. The flight was departing 15 minutes late, so I hadn’t needed to worry. Oh well.

We went through the boarding line and walked to the airplane. It is a brand new Boeing 777, and I have never seen a first class section like it. Each person has their own fully reclining seat with its own private compartment, counter, and computer screen. Not to mention slippers and other amenities. Perhaps someday I will be able to afford such seats, but not today. I found my seat (30D – just to the right of the left aisle) and put my camera in the overhead bin and my snack bag and computer bag below. Alicia was just behind me and Mike just ahead behind the bulkhead, where he has more leg room. Actually, the legroom here isn’t too bad – my knees don’t touch the seat ahead, which is much better than most domestic flights I’ve been on recently.

First class on 777

First class compartments on a Boeing 777. Each compartment has a reclining chair and is like a small sleeper car on a train. But these were not my seats.

Everyone finished boarding and 12:00 (our new departure time) came and went. This plane has a built-in mini-computer (similar to an iPad) in the back of the seat before us, so I scrolled through the directory and found the Mars series by National Geographic, which I’ve watched the first episode of back in February. I started watching the second episode. The captain came on the intercom to announce that the delay was because of a radio transponder that wasn’t working right and had to be fixed before we could depart. They were working on it and would keep us updated.

I finished the second episode and went on to the third. The captain came on to say they had called in a ground support team and that a flight from Korea had had the same problem this day. So if it’s a continuing and persistent problem over multiple aircraft, why hasn’t it been fixed? Or why don’t they know how to fix it?

Time dragged on while we sat there and sat there. The third episode moved on to the fourth. 1:00, then 2:00, then 3:00 came and went. They came on the intercom to announce that a team from Boeing was looking into the problem. They let passengers off the plane to get food. I didn’t leave the plane, but did get up to walk around and use the bathroom. It was clear we would miss our connecting flight from Narita to Jakarta. Mike was keeping Sarah apprised of our situation.

Finally, around 5:00, they announced that the radio was fixed but that they now had to replace some of the flight attendants because they would go into overtime if they remained on the flight. They started to reboard the plane, and about 6:00 we went through the safety briefing (United is trying to copy the light tone of the Delta videos) and pulled away from the gate.

But our troubles weren’t over. Our taxi to the runway was delayed, and when we finally got close to taking off, the captain came on again – most apologetically, and said that the flight crew had timed out because of the delay. If we had taken off immediately, they would have been able to reach Narita just under the new regulated maximum flight times for flight crews. They had no choice but to taxi back to the gate and replace the flight crew.

So we turned around and headed back to the gate. The little indicator showing our plane on the map and our route across the Pacific had stayed in exactly the same place for six hours. Now the plane turned around but still didn’t move. It took us 15 minutes to return to the gate and another 15 minutes for United to find someone to extend the jetway. They were going to have a replacement crew standing by, but just before they got the door open they announced that the flight had been cancelled and we would be rebooked for a flight at 7:30 in the morning to Narita.

I am reporting this just as it happened but leaving out the groans and exclamations of disbelief that attended each of these announcements. It was past 7:00 before we got off the plane after going nowhere for seven hours. I realize that these problems were not entirely United’s fault (as compared with my experience getting to Omaha two years ago). But they could have managed the situation better. Knowing the flight attendants and flight crew were getting close to timing out, they could have replaced them before we taxied out to the runway instead of taking the chance.

Stuck in SFO

Alicia and Mike, fellow teachers going to Indonesia. We are stuck in a stationary line at the customer service desk waiting for alternate flights when our flight to Japan was canceled.

We walked to the customer service desk, which was outside of security, and found ourselves in the same sort of extremely slow line I’d experienced two years ago. Canceling a flight isn’t an uncommon problem, so it surprises me that it takes the agents over ten minutes to handle each customer given all flights are available online now. I know getting luggage off of one plane and onto another is also a challenge, but there should be a better system. The agent didn’t seem to know exactly what to do and had to call several people. They need more training and faster systems. Here you have customers that have already been inconvenienced (a euphemism if there ever was one) and are already upset. Then you make them wait an hour in a line that doesn’t seem to be moving (the first class passengers were done before we even got moving forward). It’s not a great way to insure repeat business. They could at least have pulled more agents up to use all of the available kiosks. But no. While waiting in the slow lane, I found an outlet near the front kiosk and charged up my computer partially again.

THe slow line

United did provide us with drinks and snacks while we waited in the slow line for alternate flights. We are almost to the front after 45 minutes.

We finally got to the front and they found an alternate flight to Jakarta through Sydney, Australia, leaving later that night at 10:50. They checked our baggage claim tickets to make sure our luggage would be transferred to the new flight and issued new boarding passes. Our final leg from Sydney to Jakarta would be with Delta airlines through Garuda air, so we got a voucher for that flight but would need to get boarding passes at the gate in Sydney. They also gave us $20 in meal vouchers.

I tried all day to keep a calm perspective and positive attitude to all of this. At least we didn’t have to go to a hotel and get up early, recheck our bags, and go through security early in the morning. This way we had about two and a half hours before we needed to board and could get a meal in the airport. And I get to see Australia from the air as we fly over it tomorrow. I am trying to develop a kind of Zen attitude about travel. We’ll get there eventually, and this way, we’ve got another interesting story to tell. But I will not willingly travel on United Airlines ever again. Enough is enough.

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Salt Lake skyline

The Salt Lake City skyline as seen from the airport, July 13, 2017.

Here I go on another adventure – I’m heading west, then south, on my way to Jakarta, Indonesia. I’ve been chosen for the Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) program sponsored by the U. S. State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs. About 75 teachers out of 500 applicants were selected to travel to six countries: Indonesia, Senegal, Morocco, India, Columbia, and the Philippines. It is a teacher exchange program, in that teachers from developing countries are chosen to study English and education theory at colleges in the U.S. for up to one semester or five months, then return to their own schools to act as hosts for two American teachers.

I will be working with Muhammad Nazaruddin, who teaches English at SMA Negeri 1 Mandastana, or Mandastana Public High School # 1. This school is located in southern Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, near the city of Banjarmasin. I am also working with Craig Hendricks of Indianapolis who teaches six grade STEM classes. We’ll be observing classes, teaching of American culture and STEM related lessons, and conducting a professional development session on technology integration for teachers from throughout southern Borneo. While in Kalimantan, we’ll get to see batik making, visit an actual diamond mine (wohoo!), see an island sanctuary for proboscis monkeys, visit the famous floating markets, and get to know a part of the world I never dreamed I would ever see. Me? This guy from a Podunk town in western Utah get to visit the rain forest and wilds of Borneo? No way! Yet, here I go.

I’ve been preparing for this for over a year now, what with taking an online course, having medical exams, attending a symposium in Washington, D.C., packing and repacking, getting a passport renewal and visa, etc. Yesterday (Wednesday, July 12, 2017) I spent at the gym to work my legs out, as they tend to swell up when I travel. I took Jonathan and William to swimming lessons, got some brochures from the Utah Valley Visitors Bureau down at the convention center to give to students in Mandastana, bought last minute supplies, packed, cooked baked ziti for supper and egg/sausage muffins for breakfast, watched the Season 10 premiere of Smallville with Becca, sent the receipts for the STEM Action Center grant, charged up all my devices, got the Kindle up and running, gassed up the car, dropped off The Year of Living Dangerously  and an Indonesia travel video at the library, and prepared in every way I could think of. I am as ready for this as I can be.

I got to bed at 2:30 and had to get up this morning at 4:15 to make my flight. We got the boys up and into the car in their pajamas and left home at 5:30. Becca drove me to the airport as a pink to orange sunrise lightened over the Wasatch Mountains. She dropped me off at United Airlines at Terminal 1. I waited through the lines and got my bags checked and my boarding passes. Security was busy but fast, although they had to pat me down and look over my laptop thoroughly. Given the recent ban on laptops coming in to the Unites States, I’m relieved that I made it through so easily.

I arrived at Gate B9 with an hour to spare before boarding, so I worked on cleaning up photos of our recent trip to Four Corners for my presentation in Borneo, until I realized that I was late boarding the plane – but they hadn’t started to board yet. So I looked at the status board above the gate counter and it said the flight was delayed for “air traffic control” issues in San Francisco. It was supposed to depart at 8:15 but was delayed until 9:38. I had a three-hour layover so I was still good. I went back to cleaning up photos. Then I saw that the board now read that our departure would be at 10:05. I asked the gate agent if there would be a problem and she said I should still be fine, because the international terminal was “just around the corner” from our incoming gate, and I’ll have about 45 minutes to reach my flight to Narita, Japan, before it departs. She said they would look after me, but this is United Airlines and I’ve had problems with them before (I will eventually post about my trip to Omaha). I would have chosen a different airline, perhaps Singapore Air, to take me to Jakarta. But since this is a U. S. State Department program, we have to fly under the regulations of the Fly America Act and use an American carrier.

Boarding flight from SLC

Boarding our flight to San Francisco.

At about 9:00 it was announced that we had a window of opportunity to reach SFO through a lull in air control, so we quickly boarded the plane and got our seats for a 9:25 departure. I’m all for seizing an opportunity when we get it. We taxied out and took off, and I hoped to myself this would be the only glitch in my journey. If only. Little did I know that worse was yet to come.

I sat by Stan Jensen from Castledale. He’s traveling to the Bay Area to see his grandson in a baseball tournament. He knows Duane Merrill well – they even coached little league baseball together. This world keeps getting smaller. While boarding the plane, I spoke with two different families who were Chinese and was surprised that my Mandarin was understandable at all. One family was from the mainland and heading back to BeiJing. The other was from Taipei in Taiwan who now live and work in America. They are on a vacation to ShangHai. Things have changed in the 36 years since I lived in southern Taiwan, when there were no relations between the mainland and Taiwan and no one traveled between them. Now relations are almost normalized.

I took some time on the flight to start my notebook/journal from which I have taken these notes. As I thought of the title for this post, it occurred to me that I’ve been fortunate with the opportunities I’ve had as a science teacher. I’ve kept my ears open to hear about these programs, and I’ve been even more fortunate to be selected for quite a few of them. Other opportunities will come, if I can only open up the windows to find them.

When other teachers ask how I’ve managed to do all of these things, I’ve responded, “Because I applied for them.” That seams to be a flippant answer, but what I mean from it is that I’ve looked for opportunities consistently and opened the windows by applying and re-applying if necessary. I’ve made my own fortune, so to speak, and haven’t given up if something is important enough. It took applying four times, once per year, to finally get accepted as the Educator Facilitator for the NASA Explorer Schools program, and so many other opportunities have come because I refused to let that particular window close. Success breeds success, and participating in the TGC program will undoubtedly lead to further opportunities later on. So as I finish the first leg of a grand adventure, I know great things still lie ahead, in Indonesia and beyond, even if I don’t yet know what they will be.

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