Category Archives: Education

Writing, Teaching and Traveling

Hello Friends,

The time has just flown by since I last sat down to take stock of life and share it with you.  Since February, my last post, life has been full of good stuff.  I finally finished my second book in the Treasure Chest Mysteries titled “The Jade Serpent.”  I will be announcing when you can pre-order through Amazon soon.  Working on finishing the illustrations now.  Very excited.  It has been such a different process to write a second book in a series; full of constraints, but overall they have been fun challenges to work with.

As to the rest of life, the last half of the school year at Sacramento Country Day School was packed with history.  For the American Revolution unit the students researched the key players, learned about women spies, explored how and why the revolution happened and then, after writing papers, they performed a musical, in A Capella, that spanned the American Revolution.  It was great.  We then learned about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, before heading into the Civil War.  For this final unit the students’ main project was to research and debate in groups. They went above and beyond and I was so impressed with their debating skills.  Also, throughout the year, the kids did 10 Minute Minis.  This was their opportunity to teach the class anything (upon approval) that they were interested in, to the class.  We had the gammot: card tricks, history of dogs, turtles, elephants and video games, rugby, lacrosse and baseball strategies, how to shake and make ice-cream, create clouds in bottles, and decorate your locker, step-by-step origami, and how to speak a little Japanese… and many more.  It was amazing what we learned in ten minutes.

Learning how to attack in Rugby

Creating a cloud in a bottle. (Classroom was set up for our North vs. South debates)

History of dogs – with a live specimen

Lacrosse strategies

Earlier this summer I was given the great opportunity (from my school) to participate in the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History‘s Seminar on the American Revolution in New York City.  It was a week of amazing learning.  New York City in 1789, became the first US capital under our new Constitution and therefore it was packed full of history that we explored. We walked between 7 – 13 miles each day uncovering its revolutionary history.  Some of the places we visited were:
~ Trinity Church founded in 1696. Alexander Hamilton is buried there
~ Federal Hall – where George Washington was inaugurated,  and it was the home of Congress
~ Wall Street – named so because it used to have a wall that ran east/west across the island to protect the tip from First Nation peoples
~ Bowling Green – where the Dutch would chop off the heads of dissidents and use them as bowling balls for entertainment, and where the statue of King George the Third used to be.  Also the iron surrounding the little park is the original fence, minus the little crowns that used to be on the poles – they were cut off when the Americans toppled the statue of King George.

Flying into NYC. In this photo you can imagine where the “wall” was that protected the tip from the Native Americans.

The plaque on Wall Street explaining the “wall.”

The stone block that used to be in Federal Hall that George Washington stood on when he was inaugurated as our First President.

Map of the Battle of Brooklyn – a very decisive battle in the American Revolution.

We walked from Brooklyn to Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge – just a gorgeous bridge, day and views.

Alexander Hamilton’s grave at Trinity Church

Inside Trinity Church

Me having a beer with my new teacher friends in Chelsea.

We also spent our evenings exploring: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Little Italy, Alexander Hamilton’s Grange…

Arriving by ferry to Ellis Island.

Visiting the Statue of Liberty.

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Alexander Hamilton’s Grange – this used to be 9 miles outside of town in the country – now the area is called Harlem.

Inside Hamilton’s Grange – this is the room and desk that he wrote the Federalist papers. Gave me chills, it was inspiring to be there. But… is it wrong that I kept picturing Lin Manuel Miranda sitting there? 🙂

At the end of the week I took the train up to Connecticut to spend the weekend with my sister and her family.  A great seven days on the East coast.

Since returning to Sacramento I have been teaching two creative writing classes at Sacramento State University for 4th – 10th graders.  It has been really fun to help them step outside the usual, observe their surroundings and find the stories waiting to be expressed.  Such creative minds.

I’ve also been working on my house a bit here and there.  Last weekend I tore out the old carpet in my living room and refinished the hardwood floor beneath.  I’ve now repainted, put up crown molding and moved back in.  Still working on the wall paintings, but getting close to being satisfied.

This week I am home to focus on my writing.  As I have been wrapping up “The Jade Serpent,” I have outlined a nonfiction book about my time in Myanmar full of photos of that beautiful country.  After those are off to the presses, the next big writing project is to continue developing a fiction story for young adults that I started a few years ago.  It is centered around a stolen antiquity, moves between centuries and across continents… an adventure mystery: mysture? adventery?

I have also decided that the next Treasure Chest Mystery will take place in Vietnam – one of my most favorite countries I have visited.

So lots to keep my mind engaged.

Next year I am teaching fifth grade again.  I will be coaching one volleyball team (instead of 3 like last year!) and tutoring a 6th and an 8th grader as my extracurriculars.  I’m excited also, to be piloting a year-long service learning program for my school with my fifth graders.  The focus is on hunger but I’ll be tying in issues around water as well.  My school also has a “sister school” in Rulindo, Rwanda and I am hoping to tie in the local service with the global learning.  Should be a fun year.

These cubist paintings were created by my students last year – arent’ they awesome? I love them altogether.

On that bright note, have a great August!

~ Gretchen

 

 

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Filed under Education, Fifth Grade, Fourth Grade, Summer, Super Creative, Travel, Writing

Six Months in Sacramento

I have now been living in Sacramento for just over six months.  At first I wasn’t sure if this was a good move for me.  But the longer I am here, the more I am loving this place.  I do not think I have ever lived in a place where people are so nice, so happy, so open and genuinely love where they are.  The happiness quotient is contagious.

On January 21st, I walked with fellow teachers and friends in the Women’s March.  Amazing.  Such good, positive vibes.  Inclusion and support was the energy of the day.  I loved being a part of such a great crowd of people wanting the best for everyone.   img_6627

img_6632I am still in love with my school as well.  I just returned from a week at the Marin Headlands with my 5th grade class.  We hiked and bonded and laughed and learned.  It was good to get to know the kids in a different atmosphere and to be out along the beautiful California coast.  We had amazing weather and were happily exhausted each night.img_6782 img_6968

My after-school writing class is going well too.  The kids are so creative.  They are now developing a variety of stories and getting them ready to submit for possible publication. This summer I am going to be teaching two creative writing classes at Sacramento State University.  I love teaching and supporting creative thinkers.

My 5th graders just finished a unit on the American Revolution – our culminating project was a musical.  It was really fun – all done acapella.  Now we are working on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights – which brings up so many issues right now.  We are also gearing up for a Human Rights assembly.  My kids will be doing a rap/song/chant to a song by Colby and Awu (from Cameroon) called “Change the World.”  They’ll be singing acapella again, using their cubist paintings from art class as props and – via their t-shirt color – ending in a colorful rainbow.  Should be fun.

The official last day of winter is March 20th – just over 3 weeks away!

Happy end of February.

Gretchen

 

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Filed under Education, Fifth Grade, Humanities

Adventures in Writing

Hi!  Lots has changed over the last month.  I’ve moved states, bought a house, started a new job, started coaching 3 volleyball teams, started teaching a youth creative writing class and…found a little sister – 2 months old/2 lbs – for my Oscar (cat) who lost his brother one month ago. PHEW!

I am loving Sacramento.  It is not how I remembered it.  It has such diversity here.  From ethnicity to neighborhood vibes, a wonderful mixture – I just love it.

Yesterday I finally ventured out to explore the Artists Open Studios.  Very creative people here.  Driving through the neighborhoods – full of big trees and quaint houses – made me smile and think about how lucky I am.

I ended my wanderings along the American River.  There are paths for miles along the two rivers here.  So fun to think of great hikes after school once my schedule calms down a bit.

My school, Sacramento Country Day, is great.  The 5th graders I am teaching are so excited to learn and embrace new ideas.  My 5th/6th grade volleyball teams are doing really well.  Last Friday, one team had a game and they really played well together – and won!

img_5642My ‘Adventures in Writing’ after-school class is full of kids that love to write.  I am having fun challenging their minds to explore broader possible paths for their characters and settings, and to create tension and drama – it is all great practice for me as well.

Home life:  I bought a bit of a fixer-upper – and it will be a fun work-in-progress.  Sophie – the newest addition to my little family is so tiny and adds lots of springy, impetuous energy to our house.

So all is good in my world.  I hope it is in yours as well.

Have a great end to your September!

Gretchen

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Oregon Gardens

A deep breath infuses my body with the rich perfumes of pine, fir, lush soil, cut grass, and blossoming plants.  Every time, it nearly knocks me over with its power.  The abundance of nature in all its glory is here in Oregon.  I love being here with my mom at her beautiful house just off the hustle and bustle of the University of Oregon campus.

Over the last few months we have been chatting over the phone (me – from the desert terrain of Gallup, NM) about re-creating her small patch of garden on the south side of her house that gets full sun, and therefore has the great potential to be a vegetable garden.  When I arrived a couple of weeks ago we started plotting in earnest.  After a rather painless trip to Jerry’s (a local version of a Home Depot) we returned home with a plan and lots of supplies.

First, we weeded the over-grown area and laid out what I like to call “weed destroyer” – black landscape material that blocks light.  Then we mulched and started hauling in the concrete blocks.  A few six foot, 12″x 2″ cedar boards, soil and voila; raised beds and a tidy little garden. Super fun and quite easy.  Here are the before and after shots:

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The next day I took a trip up to Portland to visit some friends and one was my dear friend Patty Cassidy.  She is an amazing gardener and such an inspiration.  She is a grand master gardener and has turned her expertise to helping seniors continue to garden and explore the wonders of plants in all shapes, colors, smells and forms.  She has written a wonderful gardening book, aptly titled “Gardening for Seniors” that I was happy to learn has been translated into four different languages.  She is also the president of the Portland Memory Garden which has been “especially designed for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory problems: the site is relatively flat and is away from other park activity and significant traffic noise. The garden was dedicated in May 2002 and is one of eight memory gardens in the U.S., and one of only two built on public land. The garden is a national demonstration garden project, created as part of the 100 Parks, 100 Years centennial celebration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).”   If you are looking for wonderful advice about your garden – Patty should be your go-to gal.

It was a gorgeous Oregon afternoon of filtered sun.  I had such fun chatting in Patty’s beautiful back yard with her husband Gary, who, like me, is diving into the world of children’s literature.  No worries – I’ll be shamelessly promoting his book when it comes out too.

In three short weeks I’ll be moving to Sacramento, California.  I am really looking forward to a little space of my own to dig into some earth and help cultivate a bit of life.  Moving to Sacramento not only means I can garden again, but as the winter season is so mild – I’ll get to garden all year round!  I can’t wait.  And I have so many wonderful gardening experts in my life to help me.  Such fun.

I’ll write again from California.  Have a great end of your June!

~ Gretchen

 

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Filed under DIY, Education, Gardening / Outdoors, Writing

Epic Zombie Killers!

My wonderful, sweet, and creative 6th graders just presented their Post Zombie Apocalypse Geography Plays (yes, I know that is a mouthful!).  But they were hysterical.

They had to present all the concepts we learned about in our geography unit, in the format of a five minute play – theme: resettling after a zombie outbreak.

Two groups chose to have Trump in their plays.  The first one had him turn into a zombie right away.  The other group (in another class), they made him President and they begrudgingly started building a big wall.  At one point, one of the actors yells out, while carrying a paper gun, “come on, let’s round up all the Mexicans!”

I couldn’t believe it.  I have not spoken about Trump to them.  But wow, their parents must be.  They are NOT for him, these kids are definitely anti-Trump.

Later in the skit, they created bombs (wadded up paper) and blew up the wall.  Trump, unfortunately was never turned into a zombie, but at least we know we have a bunch of 6th graders that will fight to overturn him if…

Anyway, a fun way to end a Friday.

Have a happy, and zombie free weekend!

~ Gretchen

 

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Filed under DIY, Education, Geography, Humanities, Middle School, Super Creative

Refresh

I have decided to give myself short writing assignments that are not about the book I am currently writing.  The goal is to keep my mind working on prose, but from different perspectives.

I have found quite a few blogs that offer prompts that will take my mind in a variety of directions.  Here is the first one:

Refresh – the topic from Daily Prompt:

I am a humanities teacher for 6th – 8th graders.  At my current school, I have the great luxury of designing and implementing my own curriculum.  For the final nine weeks of school this year, I have created a unit on Global Music as Transformer for my 7th and 8th graders.  Today, we were looking at how songs/styles/lyrics from other countries influence the US.  I showed them a variety of videos and one was from Korea: Gangnam Style and one was from India (Flash mob dance) of Jai Ho.  My first class of 7th graders simply could not see anything of redeeming value.  The only words that came out of their mouth were negative: “He can’t dance.” “That is so obnoxious.” “Why would anyone want to do a flash mob?”  ETC.

Frustrated with their lack of open-mindedness or for finding anything that was positive, I suggested that the first thoughts that came to mind, the negative ones that were coming out of their mouths, should be kept to themselves.  That looking for the positive to comment on would make for a more accepting (empathetic?) conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, I think discussing the good, the bad and the ugly creates good conversation.  But this was just young teenagers spouting anything that didn’t sit well with them.  They weren’t being constructive in the least.

We went on to discuss styles and what is considered acceptable and “hot” in other societies.  But they continued to be above it all, the artists or videos were simply silly and not worthy of them.

What was supposed to be a fun day of discussing different culture’s music and styles, turned out to be so frustrating for me as the teacher.

My second class, this time with 8th graders, were only slightly better.

Determined to change the gloomy feeling coming over me, and to shine a light on the positive, it finally dawned on me – I needed to help guide these 13-14 year olds on what I was interested in having them look for.

Duh, you may be saying.  But I just had not anticipated the negativity, and it took me some time to get out of my own frustration and figure out how to help my students view the material, from a more accepting and analytical perspective, rather than simply dismissal.

So – I took a deep breath.  Hit the “refresh” button in my mind, opened the door to the next class and re-phrased all my questions to elicit responses that encouraged viewing the music and videos with a more analytical eye about the culture itself.

Success.  The conversations were much more enlightening – to all of us.

Now to remember how I made the shift, much sooner in the day! 🙂

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Zombies and Trump

I just had to post a quick update…

My two 6th grade classes have just finished a unit on geography using zombies as the lens to explore the concepts.  Now, for their final, they are creating plays about a post zombie apocalypse resettlement.  The characters have to use geography tools and concepts to find and set up their new community.

Two of the groups are using Trump in their plays (they thought this up all on their own!).  Don’t worry – he turns into a zombie pretty quickly – but then again, maybe he already is one and that is why his brain doesn’t seem to be functioning on a rational or even slightly intelligent level.

Anyway – I can’t wait to see the full plays on Friday!

~ Gretchen

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2016 Has Ushered in… Fun and Creativity

Such fun I have been having!  And thus, I have not been good at staying in touch, sorry.

The weeks have simply zoomed by since a lovely Christmas seeing and holding my adorable great (grand?) nephew in sunny California.  Sweet, adorable, with tiny little hands and feet…Koen.

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And I was so excited to give the adventure book I had written for Koen to his parents, my nephew Calvin and his great wife, Abbey.

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Then a huge surprise, I was whisked away to NYC for a fabulous weekend with my sisters and mom – girls camp, as mom called it.  So much fun.

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It was seriously freezing and then the wind!  But we had a ball.  We checked out the Highline (converted, old, elevated rail track into a lovely walking promenade…if it hadn’t been so windy!).  We hit the Chelsea Market, a bit of Greenwich village, uptown, midtown, soho, Ground Zero…The Whitney Museum… We survived the Blue Man Group and ended our wonderful weekend with Kinky Boots – an absolute must see if you’re in NYC – hysterically funny and so clever – Loved! It!

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No idea what we were getting into – PRE – Blue Man Group

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Post Blue Man – see, we survived!

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Chillin’ on the Highline.

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Ground Zero Memorial

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Amazing Kinky Boots!

But don’t think the fun stopped when I left NYC – oh no!  🙂

Just last weekend I headed up into Utah to Canyonlands National Park for a fun, challenging trail run and great hikes.

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IMG_4838 Corona Arch which was really fun to get to; climbing over big rocks, using ladders to get up impassable areas and then arriving and feeling really, really small.  If you look at the photo below, people are standing under the arch.  Its huge.

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IMG_4848I loved the colors – rich oranges, reds, greens and yellows.  It was really beautiful.

IMG_4864In between all this gallivanting I have been practicing my illustration skills and continuing to write the second book in the Treasure Chest Mysteries series.  Writing this second book has proved much more challenging.  I think it is due to wanting to make it better, deeper, more robust.  I am currently working my way through the book “The Plot Whisperer Workbook” by Martha Alderson.  She is helping me understand how to build a character that has more emotion, more rise and fall and more empathy.  I hope you’ll notice the difference in the next book.

I am also exited to say that my friend Ivy Newport, through her wonderful blog, has introduced me to my next exciting online adventure: A Storyteller’s Art.   This class by Robin Laws looks like so much fun.  I can’t wait to get started on March 14th.Storyteller's Art

Oh, and then of course, I have been teaching – the day-to-day job.  It has continued to be fun, super frustrating, challenging, empowering, painful and eye-opening.  My sixth graders are still my wonderful little stars, so eager to learn, curiosity abounds, full of smiles and giggles.  My seventh graders are more moody, more tired, over-the-top fidgety and dead in their seats – Ahh the wonders of puberty!  The eighth graders are a whole other ball of anger, apathy, rolling eyes, shy smiles, loud and aggressive chatter, more touchy or afraid to be even looked at.  Every day these students walk into my classroom and I do not know what I am going to get.  On a good day, it just doesn’t get better than teaching;  Spirits are high, curiosity rules, high-level discussions, students wanting more, which translates into: I am challenged and excited to explore new avenues with them.  On a bad day, its bad.  Grumpy, won’t do anything, talking back, refuse to participate, angry at being forced to sit in a seat and learn…  I rarely get a day that is strictly one or the other.  My days are full of emotion, highs and lows, smiles and angry, teenage stares.  Teaching is amazingly exhausting, but for the most part rewarding.  I only have three months left here in Gallup, NM.  I have learned a lot about what I need in life being here.  It has been very interesting learning a small bit about the Navajo Nation and the life that many lead.  But I am a tree and green person.  I need to see diversity in color, texture and foliage.  I didn’t realize how much I needed that until I came here.  It is very monotone in color.  Beautiful in its own right, but my eye needs color and diversity.

Where to next?  Not sure yet.  I have some irons in the fire that I am pursuing.  I’ll let you know where life plans on taking me next as soon as I know.  Until next time, Happy Spring!!!

Gretchen

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Filed under Adventure, Education, New Mexico, Photography, Travel, Writing

Its a New Year!

Happy New Year Everyone!

As I did not win the big Powerball, I’m still teaching in Gallup, NM. 🙂 My kids and I have finally moved into a rhythm that seems to mostly work for all of us.  My sixth graders are just about through a unit on Malala Yousafzai, the young girl in Pakistan who was shot in the head (but survived and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize) by the Taliban for speaking out and demanding that girls be able to go to school.  We watched the documentary on her that was excellent – I highly recommend to all and you can rent it from Amazon here: He Called Me Malala.

My seventh and eighth graders have been working on the global health unit I created in grad school.  It has been an eye-opener.  Mostly due to the fact that I assumed, when writing the curriculum, that students would have some knowledge of geography tools, maps etc.  My students do not.  One of my 7th graders thought Greenland was the continent of Africa and even after pointing out the facts on a world map to her, she swore that Africa was “above” the USA.  But other than basic geographic skills the unit has been going well.  They are now researching their individual diseases and will present next week.

Then, I am excited to say that I am turning my humanities class into a geography class.  We will be exploring all aspects of the five themes through the lens of a zombie apocalypse.  This crazy and fun curriculum called Zombie Based Learning was designed by a geography teacher that wanted to make a project-based geography class that kids could relate too.  All year I have heard this and that about zombies from my students so I am hoping this will be a big hit.

As to my writing book 2 of the Treasure Chest Mysteries – well, I am working on it.  The first one came so easily and now I think the pressure (me putting on myself) to write another just as quickly has stymied my imagination.  So I have spent more time learning the basics to illustration which I am finding I really love, no matter how rudimentary my drawings/paintings are.

Drawings CollageI just started taking an online class (as there aren’t any classes in Gallup) through the site CraftsyLynne Chapman is the illustrator/instructor and she is simply amazing.  I love her style of drawing and her wonderful personality makes it so enjoyable to spend time watching her videos and trying out her suggestions.

I have also started working on getting myself back into shape.  Oh how easy it was to just hunker down when the weather dipped into the teens and yet still continue to consume the same calories.  Bad Gretchen.  So I am working on the slow return to a healthier me.  I have signed up for the Moab Spring Trail Run (8k) in early March. Last weekend I purchased a pair of rather bright running shoes (can’t fail to see them waiting for me by the door!) and I am now attempting to figure out where all the oxygen went.  I swear my extreme huffing and puffing is due to elevation!  Really! 🙂

Running ShoeThat just about wraps it all up here in Gallup.  My cats are wondering what to do with themselves with all the snow and frozen ground.  They have grown thick fur coats and are quite lazy…and cuddly.  Here is a parting shot of Albert – checking out my phone.  Have a great New Year!  GretchenAlbert

 

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Filed under Animals, Education, Global Health, Middle School

This Time…NEW Mexico

Hello from down south.  After a crazy summer of finishing my masters of science in geography I’ve moved down to Gallup, New Mexico, to teach gifted and talented middle schoolers, Humanities.

Although the summer was busy, mostly with writing, writing, and re-writing my final paper for the program, my cohort and I had a bit of fun too:

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Mark and Carlos taking water samples in Newport, Oregon

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Mark and I at Heceta Head beach on a very coldy day.

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Amanda and I at Heceta Head beach before taking our water samples for our field studies class.

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Carlos and Adalia trying to figure out why it is cold at the beach in the summer!

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Bryan our fabulous field studies instructor, always able to point the way.

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Being super silly with our polarized glasses at the fish hatchery.

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Doing stream bed grids.

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Within the cave. Cool cave, can’t remember the name, but it went into the depths for a mile!

But now I am done with my masters program and down where canyons are king.  I drove down from Oregon on August 1st and 2nd – with two unhappy cats in my car with me – and arrived in the smallest town I have lived in for a long time; Gallup only has 20,000 residents.  The first week I was mostly involved with the before school paper work, but did take time to go to the Inter-tribal Ceremony parade.  My landlord and next door neighbor is the Deputy Chief of Police so he got me a seat in the Mayor’s bleachers. Photos aren’t great as I only brought my phone – but it was really fun to see all the native attire.

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Today, I spent the morning exploring Pyramid Peak, just ten minutes from Gallup.  So gorgeous.  Took about an hour to get to the top.  It is a great workout for someone who has sat on her rear all summer at sea level and is now at 6500 feet and out of shape.  The climb took me up to 7500 feet.  But despite the lack of oxygen it was a stunning hike, of which my pictures do not do it justice.

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Just getting started.

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I’m headed to the very tip top of that peak.

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Finally at the top taking in the views.

Tonight I went for a short walk to explore my neighborhood.  As I was walking home at dusk an amazing sunset appeared.  Great end to a lovely day.

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I’ve taught one week of school so far.  The administrators are fantastic and the kids are really fun.  I think I am going to enjoy it here.  I will write more once I’ve had more time teaching and exploring.  For now, have a great week.

Gretchen

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Filed under Adventure, Education, Grad School, Humanities, Middle School, New Mexico, Photography