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Posts Tagged ‘american academy of innovation’

rabbitbrush-with-mountain

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

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

collecting-rabbitbrush

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

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

cutting-rabbitbrush-blossoms

Preparing rabbitbrush blossoms for dyeing.

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

rabbitbrush-blossoms

Rabbitbrush blossoms ready for boiling in the dye bath.

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

rabbitbrush-and-marigolds

Rabbitbrush and marigold blossoms ready for dyeing.

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

cooking-rabbitbrush

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

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

dyeing-with-cochineal

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

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

first-swatches-2016

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

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

swatches-2016

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

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

fireweed-results

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

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

cochineal-dyed-yarn

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

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

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

aai-charter-school-rendering-s

Illustration of American Academy of Innovation

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

aai-innovation-orange

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

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

faculty-touring-school

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

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

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

Our mission statement:innovation-defl-a

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

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

aai-lobby-august-2016

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

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

first-day-of-school

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

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

marble-roll-1

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

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

marble-roll-2

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

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

helicopter-drop

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

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

making-marbled-paper

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

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

astro-levels-activity

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

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

the-big-sit-down

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

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

building-bridges

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

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

pouring-sidewalk

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

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

science-room-august-2016

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

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

right-side-of-brain

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

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Walden HS fall 2015

Walden School of Liberal Arts; Fall 2015.

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

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

Walden Elem-MS fall 2015

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

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

South Fork

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

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

Mighty things sign

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

My New School:

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

AAI 3D logo

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

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

AAI under construction

American Academy of Innovation under construction; July 2016.

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

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

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

Washington Monument

Washington Monument; March 2016.

Plans A Through E:

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

Me by Library of Congress

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

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

Air and Space mural

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

The Return of The Elusive Atom:

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

EA poster small

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

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

Writing a Novella:

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

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

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

DOE seal

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

The End of a Dry Spell:

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

Me with beard 2016

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

Half-beard

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

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

Awards

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

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

Denver plaza

Civic Center plaza in downtown Denver; July 2016.

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

Denver capitol

The Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver; July 2016.

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

Frisco camp

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

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

Me at Twin Rocks

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

A Summary of Six Years:

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

Me at Frisco Lake

David Black near Frisco, Colorado; July 2016.

Twin Rocks reflection

Twin Rocks at Rockaway Beach, Oregon; August 2016.

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

Yaquina Lighthouse

Yaquina Head lighthouse near Newport, Oregon; August 2016.

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

Ecola State Park view

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

The Adventure Continues:

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

Sunset seagull 1

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

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

Crown Point lookout

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

Multnomah Falls

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

Wakeena Falls

Wakeena Falls on the Columbia River; August 2016.

Heceta Head

Heceta Head lighthouse on the Oregon Coast; August 2016.

Sunset Seagull 2

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

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