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Posts Tagged ‘thales’

The Five Elements

The Five Elements

As I teach chemistry and astronomy again for the first time in several years, I’m having a lot of fun getting back into the physical sciences with all of the lab experiences I’d collected and developed over the years before I started teaching multimedia exclusively. I’ve also added a number of excellent activities that I picked up from my experiences with NASA and from various conferences and presentations. It’s also a lot of fun to start incorporating my expertise in media design and technology in ways I never could before, as well as the materials I collected at Chemical Heritage Foundation in 2009. For example, I just finished teaching a Keynote presentation on Greek matter theories that I put together myself using photos, drawings, illustrations, and 3D animations (mostly my own) and information collected at CHF. I have all the files stored on various hard drives that all hook into my Mac Powerbook (about four terabytes total). Some of the images I pulled off the Internet at school using our wireless router and Airport technology, and once the Keynote was finished, all I had to do was hook my laptop up to a projector and give the presentation (complete with animations and audio clips) using an infrared remote. Here’s the presentation, in Powerpoint format. If you want to use it, be my guest:

Greek_Matter_Theories

To me, all of this seems remarkable, even miraculous. And here I am writing about it on a Blog, publishing my experiences instantaneously where anyone in the world can read them, and even sharing the presentation itself. Yet I feel as if I’m only just scratching the surface of what these new technologies can do. That’s part of why I’ve been working on this Elements Unearthed project for the past several years; there are so many connections between science practitioners and students that can still be made and which I hope to develop, so many innovative methods of teaching that no one’s thought of yet. I’m a digital immigrant; my students are natives. I’m always playing catch up to what they’re already using daily.

Engraving of Democritus

Engraving of Democritus

So far this blog has been written entirely by me (David Black) since it debuted in Oct., 2008. Now that I’m teaching chemistry again I am turning over much of the posting to my students, who will be taking turns once per week adding information about the research project they are pursuing. They have chosen between an element (such as copper), a material (such as cement), a method of generating energy (such as solar power), or a time period from the history of chemistry (such as medieval European alchemy) and are compiling notes into an MS Word document with references.

With each post, they are to include about 500-800 words of writing in their own words culled from all of their research notes and include relevant images or diagrams. They are also producing a nicely laid out document such as a newsletter, poster, or brochure that will be converted to PDF format and linked to this blog for download. It may take a week or two for the first few student posts to contain these linked files, but they will come. My hope is that any chemistry teachers or students out there who are reading this blog will be able to download these linked files and use them in your own classrooms.

Plato and Aristotle

Plato and Aristotle, Detail from The School of Athens by Raphael

During second term, the students will be developing and practicing a hands-on demonstration that involves some property or aspect of their topic. We’ll present these demonstrations to the elementary classes at Walden (I’ve already met with the teachers to plan this out) and the students will also present them to each other for feedback. During third term, we’ll create a more extensive project from their topic: a detailed Powerpoint or Keynote presentation or a three-minute video or a computer game. They’ll present these in class again, then fourth term put all of this together for a back-to-school science night for the public and their parents and siblings. We’ll videotape these presentations and share them with you as well.

I’ve done all of these things before in various multimedia or chemistry classes, but this is the first time that technology and opportunity have combined to allow me to put it all together. I am still looking to build partnerships with local organizations (museums, mining associations, etc.) that will combine my students’ media skills with their content. I’ll still visit mining towns, take tours of museums, and continue to post about how technology can be used in the science classroom. I also plan on writing more grants and professional articles. I’ll continue to create longer format videos to go with the student short videos (the Tintic Mining District is up next after I make some changes to the beryllium videos).

This blog has certainly been successful in what I’ve intended it to be. Last month (September) was the best month so far with over 2700 visitors to the site. I’ve had over 23,500 visitors total, most of them this year. I would love to hear from any science teachers or students that have found this site useful.

I look forward to seeing what my students come up with as they post about their topics. I’m encouraging them to do more than just a list of properties, to dig deeper and talk about the unusual stories and histories of each element or material. And now, I am pleased to introduce my chemistry students’ blog posts . . . .

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Thales of Miletus - illustration by David V. Black

Thales of Miletus - illustration by David V. Black

    I realize that the title of this post sounds a bit like the Lord of the Rings, but after three months in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation my research fellowship is ending. I am very thankful for the opportunity that I’ve had to be here, which was made possible by a grant from the American Section of the Société de Chimie Industrielle. My stay at CHF has been extremely productive, more so that I could possibly have hoped. In addition to acquiring over 7500 photos of books and archives here, I have taken the opportunity to visit nearby sites related to The Elements Unearthed project, such as the Lackawanna Coal Mine near Scranton, PA and the Sterling Hill Zinc Mine in New Jersey. I’ve interviewed Dr. Eric Scerri, a noted expert on the history of the periodic table (I will have samples of that interview on this post shortly) and I’ve photographed mineral and gem samples at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. I’ve also created some illustrations (here’s a new one of Thales that I drew by hand, then digitally colored) as well as animations and scripts for episodes. Not bad for only three months!

    Meanwhile time continues to fly by. These three months have been great to focus solely on this project, but now I need to head back to Utah and actually earn my keep again. I hope to gain further sponsorship of this project so that work can continue unabated; if not, I’ll continue to edit the footage on a part-time basis until funds do come in. Several episodes are nearing completion and should be done by the end of September, at which time I’ll finally officially create the iTunes podcast. A few segments will be uploaded to this blog and to YouTube over the next several weeks. I’m sorry for the delay, but decided to spend my time at CHF acquiring materials instead of editing them. I figure it will pay off in the end.

Table of Elements by Antoine Lavoisier

Table of Elements by Antoine Lavoisier

 

    This last week at CHF I have ran the curators ragged finding several obscure books that contain illustrations I’ve known about and have even drawn before for posters and other projects I’ve worked on, including Antoine Lavoisier’s Traite du Chimie, with his famous list of the then known elements (showing oxygen for the first time);

Glauber furnace

Glauber furnace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a diagram of a furnace by Johann Glauber in his De Furni Novi;

and illustrations of the Greek philosophers in the Nuremburg Chronicles (yes, CHF has a 1493 edition of this monumental work, an attempt to tell the entire history of the world). The illustrations are rather interesting because the same woodcuts are used several times and the ancient philosophers are dressed in 15th Century clothing. Not that anyone really knows what Empedocles looked like anyway . . . .

 

Illustration of Empedocles from Nuremburg Chronicles

Illustration of Empedocles from Nuremburg Chronicles

I also took some final photos of exhibits here at CHF. Even though I’ve looked at everything, I hadn’t read all the notations on the exhibits, and was a bit astonished to discover that a rather nondescript piece of pottery with glass objects sitting in it was rather familiar to me – none other than Joseph Priestley’s pneumatic trough, with which he tested the properties of air. This is one he probably had made in America after a mob had destroyed his lab in England and he emigrated here.

 

Joseph Priestley's pneumatic trough

Joseph Priestley's pneumatic trough

 

 

 

 

    Now, after fond farewells at CHF, I am busily packing up the minivan and getting ready to drive home tomorrow. I’ll take 6 1/2 days to get to Utah, stopping at several places related to this project, such as the Drake oil well in northwest Pennsylvania near Titusville; an interactive periodic table installation at DePauw University in Indiana; an interview with Theo Gray in Illinois; a tour of the Bonne Terre Lead Mine in Missouri; a salt mine in Hutchinson, Kansas; the Molly Kathleen Gold Mine in Cripple Creek, CO; and the mining museum in Leadville, CO. I’m also stopping at some historical sites such as Gettysburg National Military Park and Kirtland, Ohio. I’ll be camping most nights, and it will be a busy but fun trip, my own vacation before the hard work of editing all of this begins. By the time I return home, I should have enough material for at least 30 complete or partial podcast episodes. Wish me luck! My nest post should be very interesting!

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