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