Astronomy Teacher Biography ... A Brief History of Tom
My name is Tom Franke. The date of this editing is April 4, 2018. After a lengthy struggle with the district server and my laptop, techies have helped me figure out how to update my course and bring it to a more current standing. To start, I wish to introduce myself. Near the top of my "favorite things to do" list, is fishing. The ONLY think that I like more than fishing is catching fish, and I especially like going to Canada catch fish. And the place where I go fishing every summer (except the summer of 2018 because our oldest daughter is getting married) is at the KaBeeLo Lodge in northwest Ontario. I have enjoyed living in Minnesota since 1978 because it is close to Canada, and I think that a fishing trip to an outpost lake in the Canadian waters is about as good as it gets. This page exists to introduce me to you, and give you a better idea of who I am and why I teach.
up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and I hate the color purple. I am a diehard Packers/Bucks/Brewers/Badgers fan, even when my teams have losing seasons. Any negative comments about my
teams, or foolish bragging about the ViQueens will result in a severe reduction
of your grade. Brett Favre is gone, replaced by Aaron Rodgers. The favorite team of our family team lost in the NFC Conference Championships to the New York Giants on a VERY COLD day in January, 2008. I took my wife and daughters to their first game at Lambeau Field on that fateful day. It was -4F, farily windy, and full or promise when the Giants kicker missed a field goal at the end of regulation. Alas, Brett threw an interception, the game ended a short while later with a field goal for the Giants, and we went home frustrated and disappointed. It still hurts to think back on that lost opportunity.
As difficult as that play-off loss was, and then watching traitorous Brett Favre come up here to Minnesota, we all looked to Aaron Rogers, and he proved himself up to the task. We went to the 16th game of the 2010-11 season. The 10-3 win over da Bears sent the Packers to the play-offs. Aaron Rodgers on offense and Clay Matthews of defense led the team to victories over Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago ... and suddenly the Packers went from the sixth seed to a Super Bowl participant. February 6, 2011 we decided it would be good for us as a family to head down to Fort Worth, Texas where Cathy's sister lived at the time. We blew a huge chunk of money on six tickets to the Super Bowl and hoped for a happy outcome in the games's score. What a fantastic day it was, and with Green Bay winning that game, it was almost surreal. This moment after the game was the happiest single moment in the life of our family.
The Super Bowl win brought incredible joy to the family and great pride in the team from all of us. Now that our daughters are shareholders in the team, and we are happy season ticket holders, we are all fully committed to the Green and the Gold, AND we are Cheeseheads With Attitude. No need for a broken dome or a stadium controversy, or a billion dollar indoor stadium with piped in sound. Outside is the way to watch football in December. Go Pack, Go.
On to More Serious Aspects of My Life :)
I graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 1977 and entered
the graduate school here at the University of Minnesota during the fall of 1978.
My year between college and grad school was spent at Columbia Hospital in Milwaukee
doing autopsies as a pathologist's assistant for $3.53/hour. I have enough stories
to tell from that year to fill this entire course, but this is a course about
stars and not a course about pathology. I did learn one thing from that year
that has stuck with me, "Pathology is a dead-end job," and I wanted
to do something more with my life. Also, I saw hospital administrators walk
everywhere with a cup of coffee in their hand. I resolved never to be like those
administrators, but now that I am in my sixties and consistently tired,
I do not go anywhere in the building without my coffee. While in that hospital
I met a PhD who was working on the disease, Lupus, and he encouraged me to apply
for admission into the graduate school in Minnesota.
You see, my father was a doctor. He was a family physician and
was loved dearly by his patients. He would come home in the evening from the
hospital or his medical building office, eat dinner with us, and then go out
on his housecalls. I learned how to drive while taking my dad to housecalls
to visit his patients in their homes. I thought I wanted to be a doctor. However,
I was not a serious student in high school, and not much more in college. I
got a "D" in freshman Calculus and had to retake the course the following
summer. I received a "C" in freshman Biology because my friend copied
my paper without my knowledge and we both were accused to cheating. I was given a gift grade of a C- in Organic Chemistry in the first semester of my sophomore year, and I had to retake that class! I took my
MCAT exams, but never prepared for them as I should have because there were too
many other things to do that seemed more important than studying for the MCAT.
When I received my MCAT scores a month after graduating from college and later
ten out of ten letters of rejection from med school admission departments, I
was convinced that I was not ever going to be a doctor. I also had no idea
what I wanted to be. I just did not take anything in life too seriously, so
here I was in a hospital, cleaning dirty glassware for the Chem labs and cutting
up dead bodies to determine the cause of death. When Dr. Heim encouraged me
try graduate school, I knew that I wanted to do something more than autopsies
as a hospital deiner (the word is German for "slave.")
I took my GRE in June, applied to the University of Minnesota
in July, was accepted in August, and drove up to Minneapolis in September, 1978 absolutely
clueless of anything regarding where to live, much less how to find the school.
Somehow I survived all of that. Upon entering the grad program at the U, I fell
in love with a course about winter ecology and eventually earned my doctorate
studying the winter survival strategies of a small terrestrial land snail. My
thesis title is too long for this page, but I was very happy to complete my
degree in 1987 and know a whole lot about a small snail which lives on the ground
and avoids freezing all winter by producing glucose as an antifreeze. My grad
school advisor, Dr. William Schmid, was instrumental in helping me achieve my
degree and in multitasking very many simultaneous activities.
During my grad school years, I began a career as a swim club coach, and perhaps would have happily coached for the rest of my life
were it not for the fears of parent board members firing me for an unknown reason.
It was during a trip to visit my uncle Bill Albrecht in Pahala, Hawaii that my life was changed.
Bill Albrecht was an accomplished mechanical engineer and an amateur astronomer for 75 years of his life. He lived over 20 of those years in
Pahala, Hawaii (this is on the big island ... some 52 miles south of Hilo on the
east side and not far from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park). His backyard
has been benchmarked by satellite triangulation, and his hobby was the study of
variable stars. These stars pulsate in varying degrees of brightness over periods
of hours to days, and he was ranked #3 in the world among variable
star observers. He won an amateur astronomer of the year award in 1999 and was
featured in the January, 1999 Sky & Telescope Magazine. In 2002 hewon the
"Director's Award" from Janet Mattei (below and left) who was head of the American
Association of Variable Star Observers. We visited with friends Steve O'Meara and Tina Helicker who were so very kind to my uncle, but also shared his love for Astronomy and Geology. He showed me the stars from his backyard
telescopes, and gave me a tour of the Mauna Kea Observatory, and my love of the
stars was rekindled. I had gone star-gazing with him as a child, but had little
time to actually observe seriously.
By the time my third trip to Hawaii was completed in 1991, I hurried home and
re-entered grad school to get a master's degree in education so I could teach
science like my uncle. My formal training is zoology, but there were no student
teaching positions available in biology, so I jumped at the chance to teach
Astronomy at Hopkins in the fall of 1992. I substitute taught there in 1993,
and in the fall of 1994, the high school offered me a job teaching one 47 minute
class. I advertised the course in the newspaper and 60 students took the course
that following spring. By the fall of 1995, I was teaching 240 kids and the
following year, 410. I had a fulltime teaching job, teaching my hobby. I purchased one of my Uncle Bill's telescopes (an 8" Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain reflecting telescope) and eventually traded it in for a 8" Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector. I added a 10" Meade later because looking up at the night sky through a telescope gave me my own window to the Universe. I was hooked. My Uncle Bill passed away in 2009 at the age of 93, but I hope to continue to provide to my students a passion for the night sky that he gave to me.
I have been a swimming
coach since 1978, but as my daughters got a little older, I realized that I
was investing more time in the lives of other kids than my own. It was time
to retire, after 26 years, but no time seemed best. A unique opportunity was
provided when two disabled athletes whom I had been coaching were selected to
the USA Paralympic Swim Team. My wife and I were invited by Justin Zook, one of the swimmers who made the team, to fly over to Athens, Greece and
watch him swim. After Athens, I retired as swim coach and left my coaching
job absolutely fulfilled. To see a bit of this experience, go to Greece
Paralympics - 2004.
Actually, I only retired from competitive club and high
school coaching, but kept working with Anessa Kemna, a blind
swimmer on the National Paralympic Swim Team, and occasionally with Justin when he came home from college. They encouraged me to get involved with the US Paralympic movement, so I took the training course and was made a member of the national coaching staff. My first international competition was in Manchester, England in May, 2007. To see
some more recent pictues of these swimmers, please go to my Paralympic
page. In September, 2008, I was invited to be a swimming coach for the US
Paralympic Team in Beijing, China. Check out the link above.
I have since travelled to Rio de Janiero, Brazil multiple times, Eindhoven, Holland, Croatia, and trips all over Canada. In the summer of 2012, I was named one of two head coaches for the US National Team, and we took a great group of swimmers to London, England. Anna Eames, a graduate from Hopkins High School and Justin Zook were back in training, and I have re-entered the world of club coaching again because one of our daughters is swimming. The opportunities provided by the US Paralympic program and the athletes have given our daughters a global perspective and greatly enriched their lives. My family has been to Beijing, China and Amsterdam, Holland, and they have enjoyed summers when members of the US Paralympic Swim Team have lived with us, and have come to realize that we are NOT created equal, but all have incredible worth and value.
In 1992, while I was learning how to become a teacher, I met
a woman on a blind date in Cincinnati. Five days after I came home from that
weekend date in November, 1992, we agreed to get married. The big day was August
20, 1994, and as I write this paragraph, we are in the 17th year of our marriage. I find myself overly involved with many different things, and I could not do any of them without my wife. I am so very thankful to the staff at Hopkins and NWC for the way they have
treated my wife, but even more so to the students over the years of my teaching
career for how they have treated my family. We have two little girls, Mary and
Maggie. Mary was born prematurely, while Maggie waitied inside until the proper
time. I have much to be thankful for, and my family is the focal point of my
life. They have given up time with their dad so I could put this course together.
I owe them a debt of gratitude and recommitment to love and cherish them. Below
left is my family, wife Cathy and daughters Mary and Maggie with our close personal
friend Mickey. To the right is Mary with Maggie at the county fair in Michigan.
Mary was in sixth grade and Maggie in fourth at the time of their roller coaster ride. Below is a photo from our spring, 2013 family vacation. At some time, I may put the story
of Mary's unusual, and VERY premature birth into this course, but not until
the other work is done.
Since I am a happy father and thankful husband, more of the family are seen
below. The girls are seen with birds in an aviary in Niagra Falls, Ontario and
in South Lake, Texas during the summer of 2006.
Finally, I had the most terrific experience as I took Mary, Maggie,
and my dad up to Canada for a fishing trip at an outpost lake. Mary and Maggie
are proudly showing their walleyes. By the way, if you click on the lodge site
at KaBeeLo, you will find the picture of
Maggie and her big walleye in the opening pictures that flip through durinig
the introduction to the lodge. Maggie is pretty excited about her presence there,
but not to be outdone, the lodge owners featured Mary's picture in the 2007
lodge brochure, so both girls are happy with their presence in the information
about a great fishing outpost. I have taken the girls back up to KaBeeLo several times, and Mary (on the left and bottom of these four) caught a 44" northern on a 1/8# jig and minnow. Two years later, Maggie (on the right and middle of these four) caught a 43" northern on a spoon while trolling. As of the date of my writing (April, 2018) Mary is 22 and a senior at Colorado State and Maggie is nearing 20, and a sophomore at Wheaton College in Illinois.
The KaBeeLo Lodge has given me many spectacular nights of star-gazing as well. There is no place on planet Earth where I would rather be than up in northwest Ontario at the KaBeeLo Lodge.
BACK TO WHY I AM TEACHING ASTRONOMY
One thing my uncle impressed upon me more than any other lesson
was to help students develop a love for the sky. Astronomy is an exciting science
and also the oldest, but it is fraught with many complicated mathematical formulae.
One could get lost in the theoretical aspects of Astronomy and never develop
a love for the sky. Indeed Nobel Prize winner Subramanyan Chandrasekhar never
looked through a telescope. I want you to learn to love the sky first, then
develop a sense of place in the Universe, and finally ask youself meaningful
questions about the beginning, the present, and your purpose among such a vast
Universe. You will be exposed to astrophysics, nuclear physics, and cosmology,
but only in a manageable manner, and if you want to know more, then take an advanced Astronomy
in college. I owe my uncle a debt of gratitude for instilling in me a genuine
and profound love for the sky, and I hope to pass that love on to you.
Pictured above are a few memories of my trip to Hawaii with my Uncle Bill
in July, 2002. Upper right shows me standing on the top of Mauna Kea with the
Keck Telescopes directly behind me. To the left on top is me standing at the
entrance to the Keck facility. Yes ... I am wearing a hat and winter fleece
jacket ... in Hawaii. The weather atop Mauna Kea at 13,500 feet is often very
cold, and so far above much of the Earth's atmosphere that the UV rays would
damage by bald head and alter the genes in my skin. Below left finds me standing
with Bill at the Onizuka Visitor Center at the 9000 foot level of Mauna Kea.
Bill constructed a pair of telescope mounts which he is resting his hand upon.
These are up there so amateurs can bring their portable telescopes and use the
equatorial mounts for star-gazing. Below right shows Bill and I at the Black
Sand Beach at Punalu'u. What a hollie I am, for I did not know enough to untuck
my Hawaiian shirt like all of the locals. Bill, of course, knew this but did
not tell me so I would stand out more as a visitor to the island.
Uncle Bill's wife passed away in 2001, and Bill returned to live in Milwaukee. That trip in 2002 was my last with my uncle to Hawaii. He passed away in May, 2009 and I sorely miss him still. He knew just how much he meant to me and of his profound influence in my life. I feel incredibly blessed.
I am so thankful for my teaching jobs at Hopkins and Northern Star Online. I truly love teaching. I am very aware that
almost none of you will become professional astronomers. I had such a difficult
time paying attention to my teachers and here I am now ... being one. I realize
that you will not need to use the magnitude-distance formula to determine the
distance to your neighbors porch light, Newton's formula for gravity to convince
you that you cannot jump hard enough to escape the Earth, or Wein's Law to tell
you that you don't want to hold molten steel in your hands. Most of what I have
learned about Astronomy I learned because it is interesting to me. I like the
pictures in the books and magazines. My curiosity was piqued by the images enough
that I desired to learn why things look that way. I want to teach you as if
you are me ... someone with a lousy attention span who hates anyone telling
him what to do, and functions best under a deadline. I am trying to be more
self-disciplined and more organized, so I hope you will learn from my mistakes
and apply yourself sooner in life than your thirties, but for now, I just want
you to love what you are about to see and learn.
Oh. We had a trip to the Black Hills in 2007 and then to Washington DC in March, 2008. To see what
we saw as a family, go to: Black Hills or DC
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