Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Progress on sabbatical themes and goals for 2011

Fall lingers on in Minnesota. We had about an inch of snow at our cabin last Thursday night, but by mid day Friday it was already gone. As much as I love snow, I am happy we do not have any because that means that I can still get on my bike. So how am I doing on my sabbatical themes? Let’s start with:

For me, recreation right now is all about the bike. I am nearing 1500 miles biked since June. To me that is unbelievable. I make it a habit to get out and exercise (outdoors) most everyday. Over the past month I exercised 28/30 days. Most of it: yes, you guessed it, biking. I write about my biking on my other blog, so I will not repeat what I write over there here. Suffice is to say that I am a cyclist. That was me tearing up the Lakes Trail on Saturday (60 degrees!) with a big smile on my face. You see, I adore being outside. I have found that biking is a great form of exercise for me. First, I have to pay attention to it and I can not multi-task. Yes, while I am biking, I am thinking and processing, but that is about it. No headphones, music or podcasts. Second: It isn't always easy either. Take yesterday: now that was a grueling ride. Cold. 30 degrees and hills. Hills. I do them. But they are not my favorite.

Rest: Most days I feel very rested. But there is more. Just like I cultivated new habits to get healthy, I cultivated habits to stay balanced. I struggle with balance. Being able to get in the “flow” is both a blessing and a curse. This flow allows me to see things through to completion. But the problem is that it is hard for me to turn it off. I am learning though. Over the past three weeks I spent the better part of my days holed up in my writing retreat: our cabin. Most days, I adhered to a 50 minute writing block with a 15 minute break. This break might be doing the dishes, walking our dog, doing some exercises or even reading the newspaper. I allowed myself to break away from the intense concentration necessary for me to write. It is a survival mechanism, too, because without those breaks I trigger my migraines. I am hoping that when I go back to my academic life in February that I will have the tenacity I have had during this late fall writing to set limits and to take breaks. For me that is my rest. Another thing, over the past many weeks I made it a practice to NOT work on the weekends. Not at all. Instead I enjoyed my family and spent a lot of time cultivating and becoming acquainted with my inner cook. Pizza or butternut squash soup anyone? How about some of my fantastic scones??

I am in major writing mode right now. I have to, the end of my sabbatical is closer every day. Both the papers that garnered my attention recently were presented at conferences earlier this year. The first one, related to the PD I am involved with in summers at the U, was really a very preliminary draft. I had not analyzed the 24 classroom teaching episodes, nor had I really thought hard about how this study advances the field. At times it was excruciating to write this paper. Just the sheer amount of data was a challenge to keep organized and at my fingertips. Four different theoretical frameworks shaped the research and the analysis. This research pushed the boundaries of what it means to do effective PD and what it mans to be an exemplary teacher through five assertions:

We assert that additional principles for effective science inquiry professional development include: 1) a definition or operationalization of and for scientific inquiry and 2) a culture of mentoring or coaching from scientists and expert science educators to teachers as they are learning and applying scientific inquiry. Adding these two dimensions to a PD framework that includes researched based PD guidelines published in recent years (Loucks-Horsley, Hewson, Love & Stiles: 2010; Jeanpierre, Oberhauser & Freeman, 2005; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman & Yoon, 2001) positions teacher participants to embrace three additional tenets of exemplary teaching. We assert that exemplary teachers of science 3) draw from their own emerging identity as scientist with their interactions with their students; 4) have high levels of cognition and student engagement in their classrooms; and 5) are confident teachers of science who do not fear uncertainty.

Although I am the primary writer this is a paper that is co-written with another scientist. She spent the entire weekend pouring over it and offering feedback although I have not seen her remarks yet. I can not tell you how much it means to hear her exclaim: “I really liked it!” This is someone who doles out positive feedback to those she works with sparingly. Nice.

The second paper involves the work I do with my students where they learn to use qualitative research methods and apply these methods to their teaching. This is a monumental task for them which is clear in my course evaluations. However, their learning about themselves as a teacher, albeit not until the end of the semester if not beyond, is exponential. This is the paper that I won an award for that I will accept in January. I am reshaping the theoretical frameworks and rewriting the methods and discussion sections. I hope to finish this today.

Reading: Well I admit since summer my reading for pleasure has dropped off. I bought the new Steve Jobs autobiography, although I do not allow myself to have it at the cabin where I am writing. It would keep me up and distracted from writing. Not good for me right now. Instead it is at my bedside in MPLS.

And now for my other themes for 2011:
Downsizing: Personally, I am downsized almost 40 pounds. That is an incredible achievement. As I alluded to above, I believe the discipline that I cultivated to downsize physically will spread into other parts of my life.

I continue to go through the remaining items in our basement from both my parents. I also made the decision that my grandmother’s china, the ones that survived the fire, will be passed on to the offspring of my mother’s brother, Jill and her family. The sheer fact that it all survived, almost all intact, is impetus to pass it on. I lovingly cared for it for over 35 years. We celebrated many special events including Thanksgiving, Christmas and special anniversaries using that china. Time to share it with someone else in the family.

Organization: Well, I continue to aspire to be organized. For one: I keep all my writing stuff in my study and not scattered throughout the house like was my practice in the past. Downsizing helps with organization. My goal is to downsize enough yet this year that keeping organized will be a snap. I can do it!

Finally, balance: well I wrote about this one above, too. I aspire to be more balanced. Over my sabbatical I have come to terms with the tensions of balance or lack of it: flow/passion/diligence/persistence/inspiration and the flip side: migraines and exclusion. Just as I have come out on top with my healthy habits, I am convinced I will come up on top and develop methods (like I am ) of keeping more or less a balanced life.

Finally, as I ruminate over where I am in my sabbatical and in my life I have come to the conclusion that I have so far led a full and privileged life. I am fortunate. In a year that included many life changing events, I can still say I am privileged and fortunate. Thanks for reading and TTFN, Michele

Monday, October 3, 2011

Stepping out of the box

Sharon wrote a great blog post today about stepping out of the box or experiencing life differently than you usually do. Today I did just that in several ways.

First, I like to iron. Yep, I know that seems so antiquated, but, I do. I also like to do dishes and laundry in general. With ironing it is more about the pressed lines of the clothes, but I also love the sound of the steam swirling. Well, today was a beautiful fall day in Minnesota. One of my tasks on my "to do" list was to iron. Here is how I did both:
Nothing like being outside on a warm fall day experiencing an ordinary task in a new way.

If you read my other blog you know that I am a Minnesota Lynx basketball fan. Hubby and I took 4 of our grandbabies to the game last night. It was a nail biter. I am not sure how other WNBA games are, but the MN Lynx games are entertaining and incredibly fan and kid friendly. I like to get there early so I can watch the team warm up. So, we were all sitting watching the women stretch and practice when a couple of Lynx officials come up the aisle to ask if any of the kids wanted to be a kid captain. Nani, 8, and Hann 4 both shook their heads “yes.” I had no idea what a kid captain was, but they are chosen at every game. They go out on the floor with the captains from both teams to meet the referees and gather other pregame information. While they are rubbing elbows with the players and referees their images are projected on the big screen jumbo-tron and of course this is all taking place in a sports venue with about 15, 000 people.
I was thrilled that Nani said “yes.” Hann is a risk taker, even at 4, but Nani, not so much. But there they both stood, smiling ear to ear, sporting new t-shirts and an autographed basketball. At the ripe age of 8, Nani, stepped out of her comfort zone and by doing so cultivated her own courage, a firmer belief in herself, and a growing self awareness of what can unfold when one steps out of our own little worlds and tries something different. It was a beautiful life moment and I am glad I was there.

I think when I look back at this year, I will see that I made tremendous progress in my own physical downsizing. I have had the gift of time with my sabbatical. The gift of time to take care of me physically and as you will see emotionally, too. I blog about my physical downsizing on my other blog. I won’t repeat what I write over there here, but suffice is to say that the gift of time has been remarkable for me in terms of focusing on who I am and where I am going.

Like many people, I need to downsize or de-clutter my living spaces. When my parents passed away, I inherited their personal belongings, including their old scrapbooks, photos, letters, and personal papers. Last week, I started to tackle some of the boxes hovering in our basement, including my parents' boxes. One of my mother’s boxes contained some old family photo albums and scrapbooks. Unfortunately, most of the old pictures contain people and places that are not even slightly familiar to me. But not this one: I new right away that that picture was my mom when she was a young child.
I am guessing she was about 3 or so. As I continued going through the pictures, I came across this picture of my mom in 2005 with my lovely daughter on her wedding day.
Between those two pictures there had been a life time. My mother’s lifetime. My mother. My very own mother. My emotions spilled over as I ruminated about the life that had been and was no longer. I looked at that picture of that little girl and saw such promise. A whole world just waiting to be explored and discovered. A smart little girl, too.

As I looked at the other picture of my daughter and my mother, I just kept thinking about how we never know what will become of our lives. I know my mother did not. My mother never realized her promise because she was challenged with both physical and mental health issues. I always say and believe in my heart that my mom did the best she could under the circumstances. There were times when her life spiraled relentlessly out of control. During one of those spirals, I stepped in, went to court and became her guardian. There is more, but I will not get into that here. As a result of this arrangement, my mother made Minnesota her home and the last 16 years of her life were stable and more normal than most of her other years. I don’t regret being her guardian. It was the right thing to do and I would do it again in a heart beat.

Looking at the pictures brought out some deep emotions and a clarity that are important to recognize. I never felt comfortable talking with my mom about her mental health issues, nor about being her guardian. I was simply afraid to talk with her about things that were so very personal. I am not sure now why I was so afraid, but I was. Looking back, I wished I had talked with a professional about this responsibility and my feelings. My mom also spent most of her adulthood as an obese woman. She suffered many physical challenges like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease because of her neglect of her health and of course the ever present obesity. I never talked with my mother about her obesity because I was afraid, too. Afraid that she would see herself in me, like I did in her. I became an obese woman in my forties. I was in denial about my own obesity so how could I even talk with my mom about hers.

Looking at those pictures and processing my feelings and my thoughts brought clarity, too. You see I realized while I looked at those pictures that facing our fears, although hard, is important and necessary for our own well being. You all know that adage: there is nothing to fear but fear itself. I lost out by not facing my fears head on. I missed the opportunity to learn from my mother what it was like being her; her own story of being physically and mentally challenged. Her own story. Maybe she never really felt challenged... I can no longer talk with my mother, but I can talk with other people about things that are difficult and painful. I can face my fears and have those courteous conversations with others. And I will.

For me stepping outside of the box is not only about doing and experiencing something differently, it is about facing something outside of your comfort zone. It is about facing your fears, acknowledging them, and moving forward. I am resolved to have those courageous conversations. It is about time. Better watch out!

Finally, and for my mother: thank-you, mom, for showing me other ways to become a better person. Thank-you, mom. I love you.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Balance (Flow), Reading and Conference

I write this post on the way to my last big conference of the year at the University of Exeter in England. It is the EARLI conference: European Association of Research on Learning and Instruction. They hold a conference only every other year. The conference coincides with the beginning of the academic year, which makes it impossible for me to attend usually. Now that I am sabbatical, I have the luxury of attending, plus I will be presenting two of my papers one in a formal paper session the other in a less formal, but, I think helpful round table format. My hubby is along, which will make for great companionship, plus he is the planner of all things fun.

One of my themes for my sabbatical year is balance. I struggle with maintaining balance in my life because I am one of those persons who is easily caught up in something that engages me. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (don’t ask me to pronounce his last name!) describes this state as Flow in a book of the same name. Flow is a “state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity.”

One of my areas of research is trying to understand the perspectives of students as they learn in science and mathematics. I try to uncover what motivates them, what is easy, what is hard, what they are thinking about as they study or do science and math, why it matters to them, and a whole host of other perspectives that they have. Generally speaking I try to understand this learning from students who have rich and diverse backgrounds because I am trying to understand how we really develop equity in science and math and achieve this noble idea that is advocated by many: science and mathematics for all. So, the students I listen to maybe labeled in various ways by their schools because they are “gifted,” or do not learn in ways that are more typical, or have behavioral demonstrations, etc. When I completed my thesis study, I worked with a group of nine students in a 7th grade science classroom. Last spring I was able to reconnect with 5 of those students in one on one interviews. Each student allowed me to see what mattered to them and what did not as they moved through the prescribed sequence of courses in science and or math in their secondary schools. It was fascinating to talk with them and later to pour over their words and ideas as I read and reread the transcripts.

The transcripts of our conversation become the data for this research. I combed through over 200 pages of interview transcripts as I analyzed the data. There were several fascinating results that will be part of one of my talks at the EARLI conference, including:
  • the difficulty that they all had with vocabulary, especially in science, and the various metacognitive mechanisms that they all developed to “get through” the readings or text found in science especially; none of the students enjoyed reading, either.
  • the influence of the Hmong parents and culture to do well in school and to get a good education and the pressure that is shouldered by said students, too because of their familial expectations. In the case of one Hmong student, she felt the presence of her deceased grandmother (her scent to be exact) when she struggled with a math problem or something else that was difficult. Her grandmother’s “presence” reassured her that she could do it because she was smart.
  • the yearning of each and every student for teachers to connect what they teach to the world, the real life world, of the students, in other words help the students understand why it is important to learn what ever it is;
  • that teachers get to know the students they teach and finally, and especially in a student who struggles mightily to learn, yet wants to be successful, to slow down and stop saying “time to move on” when he was not ready.

There is more, but that is enough for here.

As I worked on this research and pulled it in to a paper I found that I lost myself in this analysis and writing, and easily. I do this often as a matter of fact. That is my flow: it is not effortless, but the task (in this case writing and analysis) requires a high degree of mental discipline, but I am rewarded by each and every section that I complete. A research paper follows the accepted scientific protocol for publication with clearly delineated sections: abstract, intro, theoretical framework, design and methods, analysis, results, discussion, implications, limitations and conclusion and finally references.

On one of the days when I was really into it, I stopped late in the afternoon after writing the results section. At the time I remember thinking: “Well, I will just come back to the next section, the discussion section, after I eat something and then work through the evening.” As I prepared dinner I realized what was happening. I struggle with balancing my engagement in an activity, in this case analyzing my research and writing it up, with other things that are important in my life. I block everything else out. This flow swirls within me in many things that I do.

In my sabbatical I am hoping to find balance: to strike a balance between my flowing engagement and concentration and redirecting that flow or even shutting it off for a while. Can I switch it on and off when I am in the throes of it like I was on that day? Yes! I can. After I made that decision to work on that section the next day, I made dinner, cleaned the kitchen up, and since I was at the cabin, went on a evening canoe ride with my hubby. The next day, I picked up where I left off and finished that paper within a few hours. Additionally, I felt recharged and re-energized and even noted that my thinking had greater clarity (of course I could not switch off my thoughts and was guilty of thinking about my paper while I did all the other evening activities). I will continue to work on balance and maybe reading more of that book will help.

I never really got into the Harry Potter books, but now my grandbabies are either reading them their selves (Nani) or having them read to them (Ellery). So, I started to read them, too. I am into book three now and am enjoying them. Clever and imaginative. I have always loved the Lord of the Ring books, so I knew I would probably like these once I really started and I do.

That is the balance today about balance and flow. Thanks for reading and till the next time, Michele

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A new possibility

Tomorrow will be four months since we lost our farmhouse in Mankato to fire. Moving forward has definitely been a process. Initially we had to manage just the loss and the sadness of the whole thing: of losing a home that meant so much to us. We moved there in 1987 from California. Our kids were 12, 12, 7, 5 and 4. There were many years of challenges, especially financially as one would except with a household with five kids. Those lean years beget more years without the struggle of finances and as time moved on that place became a center for our family. There was just so much life that happened at the farm. Our life as a family, but, also the wonder of the wildlife and the diversity of life represented in the prairie/river valley acreage. Here are some pictures from my last visit a couple of days ago.
The dirt that you see and the bricks in the foreground
are the remains of the house
Brick pile that we will use for something like a brick terrace eventually

Some of the wildflowers
I think Jan planted at least a 1000 trees over our 24 years there. We lost probably half of them to wildlife, winter and other weather elements over the years. Everywhere you look on that property you can see the gentle hand of Jan in those trees, the lilac bushes, the ginella maples and the arbor vitaes that are planted all over the property. We had this idea that we would eventually plant almost every tree that is native to Minnesota on our property. We also hoped to restore at least two acres to a native prairie. That was to be this fall’s project. It is funny how life turns in ways that you do not expect. That is certainly the case with the fire and us. We are moving forward now. We have made a decision that feels right for us.

After exploring many options, including rebuilding, we have made a decision to not rebuild on the property and that we will eventually, maybe next year, sell the property. As I wrote before on this blog, we were shocked at the cost to rebuild. Rebuilding something similar to what we had before would cost more than it would ever be worth in the Mankato market. At our age, we cannot take that kind of a risk. After our trip to the Netherlands, Jan and I began thinking about other options and started looking in Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin for a lake type property. The recreational housing market has been hit hard by the down turn in the economy. For us, this means that there are many properties to choose from with acreage, woods, and various types of cabins.

We did a great deal of research on the geology, water quality, biomass, and population of both Northern Minnesota and North Western Wisconsin. After doing more research online of various properties, we narrowed our choices down to about 20 properties and went out to see all of those twenty properties over several long weekends. One place stood out for us above all the rest. After much thought and consideration we made an offer to purchase that place that stood out for us last week and our offer was accepted. We will close on August 12.

This place is situated on a small and quiet lake in the beautiful hilly countryside near Danbury, Wisconsin. This cabin is totally different than the farm. First of all it is in a coniferous/deciduous biome rather than the prairie/deciduous biome of Mankato. It will be a new place for our family to gather and to celebrate. I know that for certain. There are three bedrooms, all large so we can accommodate many people. It has a great room type kitchen, living and dining room combo with a large fireplace. Surrounding us are many hilly blacktop roads that will make for great biking for me as I continue to improve at cycling. Most of the furnishings were part of the deal, so we will not have to buy hardly anything. It is in a very, very quiet area of Northern Wisconsin. Did I say quiet???

Most of all, there is little maintenance to do on this property. This is a rest and recreation property that will finally allow my husband to do just that. I know he will fool around with trees and yes, we will plant some more, but there is little else that needs to be done. We can put in a garden and other things, but compared to our farm property: little effort.

We never would have looked for a lake property if the farm had not burned down. Of that we are also certain. Through the ashes of our farm came the vision for something very, very different for Jan and I and for our family. My DIL had an artist create a watercolor picture of our farmhouse. She gave it to me for mother’s day. It is beautiful. It will be the first thing we hang in the entryway. As we pass through the door of our new cabin we will always know what we passed through to get there. So, my friends that is what we have done. We are moving in a different direction than we ever thought possible. We both are planning for our retirements, too. We have a ways to go still, but it (retirement) is in sight. Enjoy a peek at our cabin location.
The lane down to our cabin
Hardwood trees in the woods. These lead down to the lake.
The steps down to our small lake
The dock
The porch
So, there you have it my friends. A new possibility for us and our family.
Thanks for stopping by. TTFN, Michele

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Balancing possibilities

How am I doing on my 2011 themes and my 5r’s of sabbatical? Today I will report on rest and recreation and others, along with some updates.

Rest and recreation:
Life in general and my year of sabbatical continue to be good and full of rest and relaxation. Summer is so short where I live in the Upper Midwest that I find myself enjoying every possible minute of outdoor time I can get. Lately I have been doing a good 10 miles or so a day of bike riding for exercise and fitness, with many days two or even three more rides that are more leisurely as I go fetch grandbabies or run some errands. I spend almost a part of every day with one or more of the grandbabies, too.

I think most people who know me will say that I am more balanced than I was before sabbatical. But, how can you help but not be more balanced when you do not have to report to your office and have the luxury to set your own hours? What I would say is that I am better at chunking off parts of each day for things that I enjoy, including my professional work and being okay with leaving something not as complete as I would like for the next time. I am one of those people who easily is drawn into the things that I enjoy. I definitely have flow. I am better at shutting it off.

But there is more to balance that I would like to share here. Maybe balance is not the right word. But, I will stick with it since it is one of my major themes for the 2011 year. Most of you reading this post know that we lost our hobby farmhouse to fire on March 22. Thankfully no one was injured. Neither us nor the firefighters that went in. I have written here before about the process of it all: first the grief, than the acceptance, and than the what’s next. I do not think one moves seamlessly through each of these stages. I know this because there are times when I think, or even dream, about being at the farm and I can feel the tears and emotions welling up. Like thinking about standing at the kitchen island with the grandbabies making some cookies and cutting them out, or looking out the window in the kitchen and seeing some of my favorite song birds right there in front of me or … well, you get the picture.

We are currently exploring our options as to what is next. We researched rebuilding and met with a contractor. Honestly, we were shocked at the cost to rebuild. Rebuilding something similar to what we had before will cost more than it would ever be worth in the Mankato market. We are exploring other options, now.

Over the last couple of weeks we have explored purchasing a different kind of property all together for us: a lake property in the north woods of Wisconsin and or Minnesota. The recreational housing market has been hit hard by the down turn in the economy. For us, this means that there are many properties to choose from with acreage, woods, and various types of cabins. In many ways it is an adventure for us, something we never, ever dreamed we would be doing. But because of the loss of our farm, something we can choose, if we so desire.

That choice in our minds is all about balance. We are in our late middle fifties. The loss of the farm has pushed to the surface many options, including retirement. Retirement was always something fuzzy in the horizon. Now it is tangible and nearer. I am not really ready to retire, now. But being on sabbatical has helped me to see, even though I for the most part enjoy the work I do tremendously, that retiring from the work I do will be a wonderful opportunity to explore other kinds of work that I have enjoyed this year, like writing and consulting. We are trying to figure out that balance of just how many more years we need or should work to be secure. Purchasing a possible recreational property is part of that balanced retirement equation for us. What I mean to say is that the fire, although horrible and sad, has opened a door of different possibilities for us. Out of the charred remnants some different vision for us is emerging. We will continue to explore our options and re-imagine the next years of our lives.

You can be sure there will be more to come. Thanks for reading and TTFN,

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Yo-Yo Ma and Award

Today I begin the post with a homage and recognition to all of you of something that I care deeply about: cello music (violoncello music as is the precise name of this beautiful instrument). As I write this post, I am in a little bit of heaven. For my birthday, I splurged on some music: Yo-Yo Ma’s 30 Years Outside the Box collection to be exact. This is a compiled set of ALL (over 90) recordings that he has made in his professional career over the past 30 or so years. This box set is music and musicianship at their finest.

He rotates his play on two cellos, my favorite being the magnificent, 275 years old, Domenico Montagnana's cello with exceptionally beautiful resonation on the low C string, which for me, makes for that great woodsy sound that stirs my soul. So, for me, listening to each of those CDs is a little bit of heaven. There are 90 in the box. I am only on CD 10. You can read more about Yo Yo Ma here and here.

People that know me, know that I am an amateur cellist. I was introduced briefly to a cello while in tenth grade in high school. Later, as an adult, I studied cello at Mankato State with Dr. Harry Dunscombe, who recently passed in January 2008. I considered myself a pretty good intermediate player. With loads of practice, I eventually auditioned for the Mankato Symphony Orchestra and won a place in their cello section. I happily played with this group for about 5 years. I have not played in many years due to a fairly significant knock on the head and subsequent sensitivity to sound. But, I have the cello out, and plan to start up again.

Next news:
I am tooting my horn here a bit. I submitted one of my papers that I presented in January for an award and guess what: I got it!! I cannot tell you how much this means to me. That paper describes what I have had my science/math methods students do in terms of researching their own teaching. This practice is what got me in the pickle around tenure: I pushed them too hard, or so they thought. Here is a bit from the letter:

Congratulations! The ASTE Awards Committee has completed its review of all submissions for Awards IV and V. It is my pleasure to inform you that the ASTE Award Committee selected your paper, Descriptive Inquiry in the Throes of Learning to Teach: Can Prospective Teachers Learn to Teach and Study their Teaching Closely? for Award IV: Innovation in Teaching Science Teachers.

Here is the abstract for this paper:
This paper will report on results from an innovative elementary science methods course where prospective teachers study closely their own teaching episodes within a framework of descriptive inquiry. During the science methods course, the preservice teachers spent 5 weeks in local elementary classrooms applying the teaching methodologies with elementary students. In addition and working in pairs, the preservice teachers applied qualitative research methods to their own teaching by collecting observational data through videotaped teaching episodes, field note documentation, and interviews to uncover phenomena, dynamics or practices that are exclusive and do not promote learning of all. In this paper, we will report on two case examples where prospective teachers’ research revealed that (1) the “average” students were overlooked in their teaching and (2) gender bias interfered with their inclusive interactions with all elementary students. These results suggest that if prospective teachers apply knowledge of subject matter methods with a close look of their teaching episodes they will gain some of the perspective of more seasoned and expert teachers.

I invited one of my former students to co-present this paper with me. As such, this award will be shared with her. She reported to me that she thinks about the work that she did in researching her teaching almost every day as a new teacher. So, it is a pleasure to share this award with her.

I know that the work I do with my students pushes them hard. They have told me this both in verbal ways and in written comments. But, I know, that this work make them better teachers, which is the point. So, receiving this award is a great validation of the work I have been doing and am so committed to doing. Isn’t our goal as teacher educators to produce the very best teachers possible?

TTFN and thanks for reading!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rest and recreation

It seems so ho-hum to state that I cannot believe that I am almost five months into my sabbatical: but, I am. I started this blog to help me document my sabbatical because I was so afraid that I would look back and wonder what I had done with this precious gift of time. Well, all I can say is that I am relishing the time. Savoring it.

Recreation and rest: Since my birthday I have been in the Netherlands with a side excursion to Paris for a few days. I blogged about some of the bike rides we did in the Netherlands, the greatest country for biking, on my other blog here and here. But there is so much more.

First, here are my travel companions, Ellery (6 and grand-daughter) and hubby. There is no one I would rather travel with than my hubby, first, and a lovely grand baby, second, especially to Holland, hubby's birth country and home to many, many relatives, including my own sister. Here is a picture of my hubby, Johannes, and Ellery.
We were blessed with fantastic weather the entire trip which makes for great recreation. The first week we stayed in Onderdijk with hubby's sister and family. You can read more about our stay here if you like. The extended family I have in other parts of the world, especially the Netherlands, enrich my life. The picture below gives you an idea of the tranquility that is still part of some parts of rural Holland, including this small village in Onderdijk.
Our trips to the Netherlands are always full with family visits and activities. Coming only about once a year means that we have lots to catch up on. Several of hubby’s siblings still live in the village, but several; are spread around in other cities in Holland. This trip we planned a day of biking on the island of Texel as well as a day trip to Utrecht, home of one brother and his family.

My sister Chris also lives in the Netherlands with her hubby, Koos and our two god children. Chris, Ellery and I made a short trip to Paris by the high speed train the Thalys. It takes only 3 hours and 15 minutes to get to Paris from Amsterdam. Chris surprised me by booking our tickets in First Class-a wonderful luxury when traveling with a child.
If you ever go to Paris, I highly recommend this fast train as transportation. Easy and quick. We stopped at many cafes for coffee and sometimes a bite to eat. With a child in tow, cafes were one sure way to find a bathroom. Prices can be high in cafes, especially near well known tourist spots, but they are a great way to take a short break. Plus many of the cafes have seats that face outward-so they make for a great people watching venue.

The River Seine flows through Paris. We walked along it, road in a bus-boat on it and crossed over many bridges above it. Notre Dame is one of the great cathedrals that is located right on the River. My pictures do not do justice to the intrinsic craftsmanship that was part of this building, including sculpture and stained glass. That is Notre Dame on the upper right of the first picture.

Ceiling below.
Beautiful rose window.
Some of the

intricate sculpture

around the entry doors.

Image of the cathedral from the street.
One of my most favorite museums is in Paris, the Musée d'Orsay. The building itself is an old train station which makes a spectacular venue for some of the most beautiful artwork in the world.
Here are a few of my favorite pictures.
First, Van Gogh:

Next a little Monet. Claude Monet.

Ellery at the Musee d'Orsay

I have always wanted to go to Holland in the spring. I was not disappointed. Temperatures were mild (65-70 degrees) most of the time, with a gentle crispness in the air at times; some rain, but not much. It was lovely to share this travel experience with Johannes and my sister, but the delight was having Ellery along. She sang, skipped and danced her way through corridors in the Metro through Paris. She sang and told funny stories in the child’s seat on the bike. She enchanted us with her “tea party” play with her little animals and a tea set bought to her by Chris. Most of all, she illustrated for us adults, Chris and I, that a small child (6 years old) could fully enjoy what are often times considered adult excursions (museums and world class tennis). She had studied about “Claude Monet” in school (a Kindergartener) and was determined to find all the Monet pictures at the Museum. She knew which pictures were painted when his “eyesight” was poor and desperately wanted to find the water lilies and the Japanese bridge of the painting above.

Her delight and enthusiasm for Monet was captivating to us. Having her along and reveling in her own delight at the sights was a great reminder of how impressionable children are. How they can absorb, learn and be resilient in international travel. I enjoy my grandbabies tremendously. This year I am relishing their companionship, antics, and play more than ever. The gift of time in a sabbatical is remarkable for recreating with special people. Thanks for reading and TTFN, Michele

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Spring and gardening

Do you like to garden? Well, I do, too!! We spent the day yesterday at our Mankato farmhouse. It was a magnificent Minnesota spring day. Magnificent. About 64 or so degrees with a cool and crisp wind at times. I worked on weeding one of my native gardens, while Jan moved the last items (a door from my father’s old home place in Maryland and our dog run) out of the house and transplanted the plants. The house will be demolished this week. A couple of weeks ago I bought a wagonload of native plants at a plant sale at the U of MN. We hastily planted most of these last week. Those of you who know me know that I have a thing about plants in general. What you may not know is I can almost weep at the sight of beautiful plants. Let me explain: we have had a long winter and a slow start to spring in Minnesota. We as avid gardeners wait along time before we can get back in the soil and muddle around in it. Seeing all that budding and new life at that plant sale, especially down the native plants aisle, brought tears to my eyes.I was moved to tears because it simply has been such a long time since I saw our native plants! Wahoo for spring!

The rural property is a blaze with life and palette of green. Our lilacs are about to bloom, the trees are unfolding new leaves each and every day and the birds. The birds. The songbirds are back!! Weeding out that garden was a great reminder to me of the beauty and the cycle of our natural world. The birds are back and soon the monarchs will be also. Looking out across all of the trees on our property reminded me of the cyclic seasonal nature of growth. The trees, bushes and native plants are unfurrowing their leaves, roots and stems. No matter that Mother Nature tossed a couple of bolts of lightening that destroyed our farmhouse. The cycling natural world continues. That is profound to me.

So, yes, you read right above: the house will be demolished this week. We have said goodbye and removed all the contents. But, there is a promise of things to come, there is greener grass in our future so to speak, as these pictures illustrate.

Finally, I am on a mission this summer to grow the best and tastiest tomatoes, ever. I have two flats of seedlings (heirlooms) that I grew myself. I will be planting them this week under a variety of experimental conditions, including containers, in the ground and in a variety of greenhouse type contraptions that I am making to hold the heat in. I don’t know about you, but, for me, nothing tastes better than garden fresh tomatoes! I can barely eat them out of season. Growing them is a fun challenge for me. Part of my rest and recreation themes of my sabbatical, too. TTFN and thanks for reading. michele

Friday, April 22, 2011

Just catching up

It has been a while since I updated this, my sabbatical, blog. Just two days after my last post, our Mankato farmhouse burned down-or was a total loss due to a fire. Technically it is still standing, but a mere shell of what it was before. As I write this, my hubby and I are staying at the Hilton in Mankato. Such a weird experience being in a hotel in a small town where I have lived, at least partially, for the past 24 years. We will never know definitely how the fire started, but the accepted cause is lightening. There were two lightening strikes right on our house according to However, the insurance and fire department have never been able to locate an entry point through the roof or the electrical system. It is generally accepted that lightening hit and made it's way to our furnace. The wiring on the furnace shows some evidence of a lightening strike, but again, no entry point. Regardless, the fire smoldered for at least 2-3 hours in the furnace and going up the furnace vents. The furnace apparently worked for at least an hour because smoke was drawn throughout the house via the intake vent. Once the fire came into the upstairs and found more oxygen it advanced very quickly.

We spent the majority of the day today cleaning out the upstairs. We had a number of storage closets in the upstairs of the farm so there were a lot of memorabilia from our kids and their youth, as well as our own tokens of a life together. Most of the time I am matter of fact about taking out, sorting out and then throwing out a life time’s worth of stuff, but today was hard. I came across an old journal that I wrote when my babies were small, my wedding wreath, and Sean’s baby blanket. Plus, the bunk beds upstairs where the grandbabies slept were made with some beautiful quilts that I have collected over the years as well, as some woolen blankets that were my mothers. So, definitely a tug at your heart day. I am ready for this phase to be done. Jan knocked down our beautiful armoire, a dresser that we took from California and took apart the bunk beds that I mentioned above. Our dumpster is now just about full. We will more than likely need at least one more. The basement is left for tomorrow.

It has been odd going through all the things and of course throwing just about everything away. I saved a few school papers and trinkets from our kids, but there is little that can be saved. After my mom died, August 2009, I brought many of her clothes, bedding and other things to the farm, including her purse. I had a tumultuous youth and growing up. My mom was a wreck through most of it because of mental health disease. I mourned my mother more than I ever thought possible after she died and kept those few items as a way to keep her around. But, alas, all of her stuff is basically gone. I threw out the old purse, although I saved her wallet.

We are leaning toward rebuilding, but are also considering all options, including doing nothing to selling. We have started to look at house plans, which can be fun, but still weird right now. If we do rebuild we would like to build a house that is super green with a ton of windows, and easily accessible for both of us as we age. If you are reading this post and have not seen the video of the house after the fire here is a link:

A few pictures:
I wore this ribboned headpiece on my wedding day.
Not much left now. It hung above our bed with other pictures for many years.
A little of my music with bowings from my cello prof. I will recopy these marks.
Even the farm playhouse partially melted.

Now on to a few things about my sabbatical progress:

Research and 'riting: I presented two papers, one at NARST in Orlando and the other at AERA in New Orleans earlier this month. These two conferences were remarkable. My papers were well received, but that is not what made them remarkable for me. Remarkable was listening to so many papers, panels and symposia delivered by some of the big names in the field including Linda Darling Hammond, Gloria Ladson Billings, Angela Calabrese Barton, and Marilyn Cochran Smith, just to name a few. Education in general is under assault, as many of you know. While none of these researchers painted a picture that was rosy, all of them provided some hope and strategies to get through this difficult time. Among the best was a presentation by Darling-Hammond, Larson Billings and Edward Haertel. The later is a statistician who pointed out that the press and the “value added measures” that are in the news are actually a falsification of test findings given that the studies they purport to evidence contain omitted variables and include non-random assignment; thus making generalization and validity problematic. He also pointed out the unintended effects of high stakes tests is the narrowing of what is being taught (no surprise here).

Some of you may know that many newspapers publish the test results by schools and even by teacher. The LA Times did last year, and this year, too. One teacher, Rigoberto Ruelas Jr., a fifth-grade teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in California, was deemed a less than effective teacher when his students’ math and reading scores did not make the cut and took his life. (You can read more here: This is simply unconscionable that a teacher is compelled to take their life because of the pressure of these standardized tests. What Darling-Hammond and group ask us all to do and think about is: how do we develop, evaluate and insure effective teachers for every child? Teaching is a “team sport” with a cluster of variables that influence a teacher’s development and influence their effectiveness. Will we survive this onslaught of negativity? Only time will tell. School age children will be the ones who suffer the most impact. Guaranteed.

On a brighter note: I have been granted IRB approval to go back into St. Paul Schools and work with 6 out of the original 9 students who were part of my thesis study in fall 2005. This is a remarkable group of ELL (Hmong), special education, gifted and regular students. I am excited to see where they are now and what plans they have for after graduation. They are all seniors. My study originally looked at their learning in an inclusive life science classroom. It will be great to talk with them about their own ideas about science, the nature of science, scientific inquiry and future plans for science. Hopefully I will meet up with the first students in the next week or so.

There is no shortage of research opportunities coming my way. Yesterday I was at a STEM Network of MN conference. Three different principals approached me about starting research in their schools. One of them is a brand new STEM middle school. Another has been STEM for 3 years. And another integrates everything including language arts into STEM topics. So, wonderful opportunities for me. All will have to wait until the fall, although I will set the gears in motion. I am going to invite a colleague or two from other institutions to join me on this research to make it more manageable.

As I mentioned, I wrote two original papers for NARST and AERA. I have now completed three original papers since my sabbatical started. I am going to push to finalize these papers and submit to journals for publication before I leave for Holland and France on my birthday.

Reading: I started reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen because several members of my family read it and recommended it. I have to say it is not my favorite book was hard to get into, but I am plugging along. Definitely some complex character development as the book unfolds.

Recreation, rest & relaxation: New Orleans and Orlando were definitely part rest and realization. But the best relaxation was a couple of days hubby and I spent in Pensacola, Florida. Our hotel was right on the beach. We rented bikes one day and rode over 20 miles to a National Seashore. Just lovely. Here is a picture of my toes and I poolside!
And if you know me, imagine my DELIGHT at
discovering an INSECT Museum in New Orleans!!!

Now, a little about my themes for 2011:
Organization: well, the fire is certainly helping. Nothing like throwing everything away to get organized! However, my home office in Minneapolis, although more organized than it was in January, is again cluttered with tons of piles of books and articles. Everything is sorted into bins for the particular research project or paper, but so much stuff. I just cannot seem to get a handle on this.

Balance: I love the gift of time that I have had with sabbatical. I believe I have been fairly diligent about planning work vs off time. So, in short, I think I am gaining more balance. But, it is soooo easy for me to get drawn into my professional work and lose myself in it for too many hours. But, then again, I put it down if one of my kids or their wives needs me or if a grandbaby wants to play. So, definitely better balance.

Well, again the fire helped. Physically, I am the same weight as I have been for about three months. I am not able to maintain a losing streak when I am traveling. I am hoping that in the next 4 weeks when I am home I will knock off about 6 pounds. This will put me at my lowest weight on over 15 years.

I also made the decision not to go to Africa, at least for now. The fire was the last “straw” so to speak. There are simply too many things I need to take care of now, and here. I also am at a loss as to how to communicate effectively with the school, and personnel. There is still time for Namibia and South Africa and I will still do some work there, just not now.

Finally, although I have had some ups and downs, as would be expected after the fire, I am doing well. When I wrote above that my sabbatical is a gift, I mean just that: it is. The fire is what has happened to me, my hubby and our family. I am glad I have the gift of time to sort it all out.

Thanks for reading, TTFN, Michele