Posts Tagged ‘globalization’


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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This is a somewhat random post on a few things I’ve been working on the past two weeks. Now that the NSF grant is submitted, I can return to editing episodes in preparation for finally setting up an iTunes site. I’ve been working on transcribing Dr. Eric Scerri’s interview so that I can edit it and send him a “good parts” version along with the complete interview. (By the way, I saw Theo Gray’s new book on the elements in Barnes & Noble the other day, and its beautifully photographed and engagingly written. Check it out!) In between, I’m creating some drawings of Greek philosophers for the segments on Greek matter theories. I’ve completed the line art versions of Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, and Plato. They were drawn with pencil, then inked in and scanned, then cleaned up in Adobe Photoshop. I still have to add color. Here are samples:

Drawing of Heraclitus


Heraclitus was the philosopher who said that you can’t step in the same river twice, because both the river and you have changed. Parmenides and Zeno were of the Eleatic school that argued logically that change and motion were impossible. Zeno’s famous Achilles and the Tortoise paradox is still a difficult test for students of logic. And of course we all know about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Each of them affected subsequent matter theories, including Aristotle and Democritus, and therefore influenced modern atomic theory as well.

Zeno drawing

Zeno of Elea

Plato drawing

Plato of Athens

I’ve also gone through all my electronic files scattered over several hard drives just to take inventory and see what’s already done so that I don’t re-create files and duplicate effort. One piece of work I came across was a script for part of an episode of a mini-series that I proposed to the Sloan Foundation and to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting back in 2007-08. Sloan responded negatively without even taking the time to read the proposal. CPB at least looked it over, said the idea had merit, but declined due to having plenty of material related to the elements already in the pipeline. It was at that point that I reinvented this project as a series of podcast episodes; I wouldn’t have to worry about the limited airtimes and economics of scarcity of broadcast channels, but could put the finished material where anyone could access it for free. If you want to learn more about these issues, there are two great books I heartily recommend: First, read Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, which talks about the flattening of the global economy and many of the issues that have become so huge lately. Then, after you’ve gotten the general background, read Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, which discusses the new economics of abundance that the Internet provides. Both books figure heavily in my grant application. I’ve even created animations and graphics to show how their ideas apply to science education.

Boson the Clown

Boson the Clown, the Quantum Quipster

The script I came across was meant to be part of an hour-long segment on the history of atomic theory and was a section on subatomic particles and their interactions, one of the most difficult subjects to teach. Several years ago, while teaching chemistry at Provo Canyon School, we came to the unit on atomic theory and I took my students through the Standard Model of Particles and Interactions, one of the great iconic models of science that ranks up there with the Periodic Table of the Elements. The terminology of that model is rather hard and strange (literally – most people have never heard of strange quarks, but there they are) and so when we finished the unit and it came time for the test, I decided as an extra credit question to have the students come up with some type of pun or joke based on subatomic physics. They wound up spending more time on that question than the rest of the test combined, and the results were pretty good. Here’s an example: “A pion took a trip down under and walked in front of a kangaroo. Do you know what happened? He got lepton!” or an equally bad groaner: “A neutron walks into a bar and asks the bartender, ‘How much for a drink?’ The bartender says, ‘For you, there’s no charge!’ ”

Storyboard of Boson the Clown

Boson the Clown storyboard frame

Yes, I know, they’re bad. But it brought me to an interesting idea that wouldn’t go away. I envisioned a subatomic particle telling these jokes as a stand-up routine, and suddenly the whole thing popped into my head fully formed. The particle’s name is Boson the Clown, and he’s telling these jokes to an audience of electrons in an atom and as he does so, he throws photon balls at them which makes them vibrate and get excited until they jump up to higher balconies of the comedy club – they quantum leap – and that this would make a good illustration (if with a somewhat warped sense of humor) of how bosons work to aid energy interactions between particles. The name of the club is the Atomic Comic Club, and I’ve written an entire script of the scene which I hope to animate in 3D at some point. I’ve done some sample models over the years just to try to visualize what he’d look like, riding a unicycle on a wavy path in a Feynman diagram tossing photon balls at electrons. I’m including the script of the scene here, just in case you’d like to read it and make comments or tell me I’ve finally flipped.


Eventually perhaps the footage that we’ve taken for The Elements Unearthed can be re-edited into a mini-series for PBS as I originally planned (as well as a book, games, on-line materials, lesson plans, posters, etc.) but that will be after we’ve completed the first several phases of the project and have about 100 episodes posted. For now, I’ve got to get back to my editing so that you can finally see what I’ve been talking about all this time.

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