Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Today I began to construct a giant artistic periodic table.  It uses prints from a project by 96 artists.

The idea is to stick the squares onto fabric and use wooden poles to hang it beside my regular periodic table.  So far it is massive 2.5 meters by 1.6 meters.  There were 118 little cards to be sorted into the correct positions.  I got my year 10 class to sort them.  Initially nothing happened as they had not a clue what was happening.  I wanted them to sort it out themselves so I gave very little help.  After 2 minutes a wave understanding passed through them and it was all sorted.  It was quite difficult to know what some of the elements were.  When it is finished they will feel as if they were a little part of the project.*

Tungsten is my favourite.   It has the symbol W which was its old word – Wolfram.  this was because tin miners hated it.  If tungsten was present when they were trying to extract tin, the tin would dissolve in the tungsten and became stolen.  Like a wolf steals sheep.

*of course I scrambled the symbols as soon as the class left, so that the next class could also “feel as if they were a little part of the project”.

It all started very well in the morning.  I arranged the cover, eat my porridge and finished off a set of reports.  All before the school day began.  From that moment on it all kind of went a bit strange.  As always, it began with the dreaded computers.  They started hanging and freezing (not particularly unusual behaviour for the system).  Then ‘my documents’ disappeared, that’s bad.  So a quick call to c2k got them alerted to the problem and all was well in 30 or so minutes.

About an hour later one of the servers died, leaving many of the computers completely unusable.  It’s hard to teach when you have no board to write on (interactive whiteboard , no normal whiteboard or blackboard).  Not impossible, but hard.  A couple of hours later the system was hobbling along (with a few limitations).

Then the old technology failed….fire.  I went to use the Bunsen burners and they died after 5 Bunsens were lit.  This is all part of an ongoing saga which involved a recent “upgrade” to our gas switching boxes.  It was all supposed to be settled and sorted last week.  Apparently the fitters even tested it all thoroughly using our Bunsens.  The Practical lesson ended and I resorted to the mantra of many generations of science teachers; “this is what should have happened”. 

Later on I gave it another go and broke out all the Bunsens.  It worked!  It turns out that the system does not like me turning on the Bunsens in quick succession.  I have to be patient.  Some of the other scientists are still not convinced and we are planning a Bunsen burner marathon.  Tomorrow we will try all the Bunsens in all the chemistry rooms at the same time.  I’m not taking any bets.

At the end of the day I decided to do some art/science.  I am making an arty periodic table using the prints from here.  To mount the elements I am using glue on hung fabric.  As I was merrily gluing the lights began to flicker. Then the power failed in exactly the way it happens in the movies…… dim….dim…….clunk….clunk… whirring down…….low level emergency lights slowly flicker on through the building.  Thoughts raced through my mind, mainly; “we are under attack…..zombies”.  I watch too much TV.

After about half an hour the power returned and my glue gun began to warm up again.  Just in time for my phone to ring.  A colleague was in the car park; “can you come and help me?  My car won’t start”.