Impact Project

I currently teach fifth grade humanities. What this means is that the subjects that are covered are numerous, they overlap, they collide, and they require students to ponder and question. They examine global history from the 1400’s to 1865, and learn to write, read and understand nuances of language. They also take part in a service learning component called an Impact Project.

Learning About the Issues

This year I decided to challenge my fifth graders (9 – 11 yrs old) to take a deeper look at issues facing our world. I want them to become experts and find ways to implement solutions. My hope is that they will dive in, explore and find a way to make a positive difference. But first, they needed to get an idea of what is considered a ‘big issue.’ So over the course of several weeks we exploerd six big topics: endangered animals, climate change, food insecurity, water scarcity, plastic pollution and education disparity. The students have watched clips of videos and TED talks, analyzed articles, participated in simulations and held roundtable discussions. They are now beginning their independent work. Over the course of the next nine weeks they will research and explore their issue. There are benchmark check-ins to discuss challenges and frustrations with me. They will also be blogging (internally) and learning to podcast. In December they will present their findings and a proposal for how they plan to make an impact. Then January through May they will implement (so exciting!). In late May, after writing a persuasive essay on their topic, they will then present their topic, TED Talk style, to parents and administrators explaining the outcome of their project and impact.

Making an Impact Close to Home

Hands on WallTo give them a taste of giving back here at home, I introduced them to a public school about 20 minutes down the road. This school has a population made up of primarily new immigrants. They speak Farsi, Dari, Ukranian, Russian, Spanish and others. Even though many speak limited English, I thought it would be fun to start a pen pal exchange. And while we were at it, a Gently Used Clothing Drive. My students were so excited to not only be able to help, but to also reach out and start a conversation. A week ago we took our gently used clothes and headed over to the other school, and met our new friends.

After eating lunch together we pushed up our sleeves and started putting hands in paint and soon a colorful wall of friendship emerged. A bit chaotic, but I saw lots of smiles. Over the rest of the year, the students will exchange letters with their pen pals and then in May we’ll have the kids come to our school for a field day of fun games.

Impact Project

While discussing one of the big issues, ‘why girls have Educate Girls 4 Successmore barriers to education than boys in many countries around the world,’ one of my female students asked a very innocent, yet difficult to answer, question. We had just watched a short video clip “Why Educate Girls?” and she raised her hand and asked, “Why aren’t girls going to school? We are just as smart and capable as boys.” So matter-of-fact, with zero hesitation. At first I struggled to find an answer that was appropriate for a class of ten year olds. I stumbled and grasped at ideas as I tried to rationalize the issue. Finally, it dawned on me that this was exactly what I was hoping they would ponder – these questions that are so difficult to answer. So, I threw it back to the class. “Why do you think there is education disparity?”

At first there was a lot of, “Well, because…” and then their voices would trail off. It was hard to come up with a legitemate argument. But eventually there were some responses around religions or cultural customs or physical strength etc. It’s a tough question.

I know many of the questions they will ask will be unanswerable, no matter what the topic of focus. But my hope is that even without an exact answer, they are inspired to make positive change, to take action and make their voices heard.

Educate Girls

Interested in helping girls get an education? Here are four, of many, amazing organizations you can support:

Red Sweater Project: Friends of Pimpollo: Educate Girls: One Girl:



Read This…Change a Life

Have you ever heard the saying, “If you can read this, thank a teacher?” Does the teacher in this scenario need to be in the classroom? Of course not. Parents, siblings, family members, friends can all have a hand in helping someone become literate. Then there is the old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Likewise – reading or writing? Were combined letters the first thing we humans read? I don’t think so. I think as we evolved we learned to read all types of patterns: movement of animals, weather, growth of plants, wind, and yes, eventually combined letters or symbols.

Read This!

But why is this important? I have been teaching students for over ten years now. Not specifically reading, but rather the skills to think critically, and develop questions. While I teach a myriad of subjects within the humanities, all are dependent on my students understanding how the patterns of letters translate into information. I task my students with analyzing articles, writing essays and creative narratives, reading books, as well as examining abstract ideas and questioning them through thoughtful discussion.

This requires one to be able to read and write. Can you imagine if you couldn’t?

According to UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), 750 million people around the world are illiterate. Illiteracy is a major contributor to poverty, gender inequality, and poor health. So shouldn’t we do something about this?

As an educator, I of course believe that education is the foundation to everything. So I have decided to use my wee spot on the Internet to highlight a few organizations that are working towards increasing the number of literate people in the world. That means more and more people will crawl out of poverty, girls will find confidence and make more informed choices, and everyone that can read will have a much better chance of receiving health care. Yay!

So here five (of many) amazing organizations working specifically on literacy. If you can read this, then why not take a moment and give someone else the opportunity to do the same?

Literacy Organizations

Easy ways to help another human:

LitWorld LogoLitWorld
Based in New York City. LitWorld works both domestically and internationally. They believe reading is the path to a better life. Specifically literacy brings seven major changes in a person’s life: “Belonging, Kindness, Curiosity, Friendship, Confidence, Courage, and Hope.”

Room to Read Logo


Room to Read
Headquartered in San Francisco, CA, Room to Read “seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in low-income countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education.”


World Literacy Foundation Logo

World Literacy Foundation
Based out of the UK. WLF “believe that education is a fundamental human right, and that all individuals should be afforded the same opportunities for their future – including access to basic education.”





ProLiteracy LogoProLiteracy
Based in Syracuse, NY. “Helping adults gain literacy skills helps reduce poverty, improve public health, and advance human rights around the world.”


ALP LogoAfrica Library Project
Based in Pittsburg, CA. ALP “mobilizes U.S. volunteers, young and old, to organize book drives and ship books to start or improve a library in Africa.”



Writing Calendar

The Blank Page

Hey there writers. Ever have a blank page crisis? Whether you are focusing on fiction or non-fiction, sometimes our minds just go blank. It happens to everyone. But getting over that rather large bump in the road is an absolute must if we want to keep the writing juices flowing.

I’ll admit, sometimes I’m exhausted from writing one piece and I just need a break from my self-imposed pressure to keep pumping out the articles, blog posts, books. But we are writers and somewhere deep down, we love to write and tell stories. So, overcoming the ‘blank’ must happen, sooner preferably, than later.

Writing Solutions

Here are a few ways I get my writing mojo reactivated:

1. I review my “Ideas” log. I have a list on my computer of ideas that have interested me in the past but I haven’t done anything with them yet. I’ll review the list to see if any are now itching to get written.

2. I’ll flip through photos of places I’ve been that I have strong feelings about. The feelings do not have to be happy ones – in fact sometimes the scary or ugly memories are the best ones for getting that idea spark.

3. Reading in the genre you are thinking your next project will fall into is a great way to get more ideas crawling up from the depths. Also, I find that reading a book that is at a different level than what I write for, helps me see story ideas. Such as reading a picture book for a middle grade idea or an adult mystery for a YA novel idea.

What if your issue du jour is not what to write but how to get started or keep going? I put together a tip sheet for how to get around writer’s block. Check it out – it’s free!

Here’s to a great day of writing effortlessly!

~ Gretchen

Transitions of Summer

Transitioning into summer has been very enjoyable this year in Sacramento.  The temperatures have risen but now seem to be staying mostly in the high 80s and low 90s.  Since school ended in early June I have spent much of my time working on re-creating curriculum for my 5th graders next year and teaching summer school.  But I am definitely going to get out into the Sierra’s this summer.  Plus I am heading to Mérida, Mexico in August – more on that later.

I am a geographer, and I really want to infuse more geography into my student’s learning.  So I have decided to take my history units global.  For instance, when they study the American Revolution, they will also be looking at what is happening during that same time frame around the world, seeing how events influence each other through trade, politics, religion etc.

So that the kids really see how events do not just happen in isolation, I’m going to use this 23 foot timeline map: Adams Synchronological Chart or Map of History – Historical Timeline Wall Panel.  I’m pretty excited about it, and my new thematic approach.  Lots of work to still do, but I have my year outlined and the first unit lessons complete.  Of course I will be weaving in reading and writing and lots of projects.  It’s going to be fun.

The first book my students will read for book club is MVP*: Magellan Voyage Project by Douglas Evans. It fits in nicely with not only the geography I will be introducing, but also our explorers unit. I just finished reading it last night and while it will be an easy read for them, I think they’ll really enjoy it as they ease into reading not only 5 books for Book Club but another 20 books independently for their Read Around the World project over the course of the year.

Also, after a month learning about 5 major issues in the world (endangered animals, climate change, poverty, plastic pollution, water insecurity), my students will start their year-long independent Impact project. This is basically a service learning project. The kiddos will decide on what they are passionate about, research the issue and then find ways to make change. Lots of benchmarks and check-ins along the way. During the start of this project they will begin reading The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Young Reader’s Editionby William Kamkwamba.

This is an amazing true story about a boy in Malawi that couldn’t go to school, yet found a way to engineer a windmill (from trash) to give electricity to his village.  I hope it will show the students that they too can make change if they really want to.

Now that the curriculum outline is done, I am turning my attention to being healthy, finishing the third book in the Treasure Chest Mysteries, and photographing my adventures to and fro.  I actually pulled out my camera – not my iPhone, but my actual camera (Canon SX500 IS) yesterday.  It is an awesome, small, lightweight, camera that has a great zoom.  I’m excited to reaquaint myself with it.

Oh and about Mérida, Mexico – I can’t wait to go.  My mom and I are heading down for 10 wonderful days.  We booked our awesome looking house through

Merida, Mx House

I’ll definitely be taking lots of photos of our adventures.  But for now, I’m off to Pure Barre to work out.

Any fun adventures or creative endeavors you are working on for this summer?

~ Gretchen


Sacramento in Spring

Spring in Sacramento is the perfect time to live here.  The weather has simply been divine.  Mid 70s, slight breeze, glorious sunshine with wispy clouds ever so often… Hopefully it will rain a bit more before the scortching summer heat arrives as we did not have a wet winter and everyone is worried we are going back into drought mode.  But for now, on my Spring Break, it has been delicious.

Here are a few flowers in my garden that have decided to bask in this great weather:

Sacramento, Spring


School has been really fun this year.  The kids just concluded learning about the Bill of Rights and the Three Branches of Government – for their culminating projects they did a music video and then a stop-motion video (respectively) explaining each.  Super silly and fun.  They also wrote a biography and did a research project on a founding father or mother of the US.  Here, they are dressed up ready to present their biography:Sacramento, SpringSacramento, SpringFIELD TRIP

We also lucked out at Marin Headlands this year and it only poured down rain on us in the mornings – the afternoons were full of beautiful sunshine.

Sacramento Field Trip to Marin Headlands
At the lighthouse.

We are now moving into learning about the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark and then on to the Civil War.  Its an exciting and very packed full final nine weeks.

Continue reading “Sacramento in Spring”

The Jade Serpent


Congratulations to Pam Curcio!

Pam won “The Treasure Chest Mysteries,” book two: The Jade Serpent in my Amazon giveaway.

Thank you to all who entered to win.

I hope you enjoyed the holidays, surrounded by friends, family and lots of laughter.

After an active, five days with family, I am happily back to writing; working on the outline of Book Three: The Black Tortoise.  Having a couple weeks (total) off from teaching has given me the opportunity to go for great hikes and ponder the possibilities for Koen and Titanus as they venture off to the exotic country of Vietnam.

Tomorrow I am back to teaching my amazing fifth graders.  As we begin to explore the building of our nation through looking at the construction of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, my kiddos will also be starting a biography project focused on our founding fathers and mothers.  They will research and write a biographical essay on their randomly chosen founder, develop a bio-poem and then rap it out, in full costume for their second grade buddies.  Should be fun and entertaining.   We also will be continuing our service-learning project but changing up the focus to water conservation, cleanliness and who gets access.

Should be fun!

Have a great January everyone.  It’s going to be a great year.

~ Gretchen