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:

Impact
Red Sweater Project: www.redsweaterproject.org Friends of Pimpollo: http://friendsofpimpollo.org/ Educate Girls: https://www.educategirls.ngo/ One Girl: https://www.onegirl.org.au/

 

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

EDUCATION

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!

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

Hope Through Action

Hello Again.

September is here and it is finally starting to cool off a bit in Sacramento!  While my issue with crazy hot weather has bothered me like a persistent fly this summer, it pales in comparison to what is happening in our world.  My heart goes out as I see devastation across our continent from raging fires to catastrophic hurricanes, to an 8+ earthquake.  Reading through the front section of the New York Times yesterday and today, it felt like the world was coming to an end.  Then, drop in the latest humanitarian focus on the Myanmar Rohingya, and the famine in northeastern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen was enough to make me want to cry and crawl under a blanket.  It felt beyond bleak.

But then I remembered what happened on Friday at my school.

I am piloting a year-long service learning project with my fifth graders this year. Our foci are the environment and hunger.  While I am bringing in quite a few speakers to help inspire my students over the course of this year, the first was a representative from the Climate Reality Project; this is Al Gore’s NGO that is working very hard to spread the belief that climate change is a reality and there are things each and every one of us can do to make a change – today.  Christine Flowers was our presenter and she spoke to about 90 third through fifth graders.  She used big concepts, but brought them down to a level that our curious young students could relate too.  We ended with a drawing project on how they could each make a change to help the planet.

My students returned to class jazzed to work on developing our plans to make a difference.

Then, last night, I had the great pleasure of attending a fundraising event for the Red Sweater Project.  Ashley Holmer is the founder of this amazing organization that is transforming education in rural Tanzania.  With only 27% of Tanzanian students passing the exam to graduate from high school across the country, the Mungere school started by the Red Sweater Project has a pass rate of 100%.  These kids are the rural poor with little chance for an education.  But because this young woman is dedicated to making a change, they now have a chance to make a change.

So, while the world is in upheaval and I find myself heavy and feeling stuck with where and how to help, I am determined to remember (and to not stand idle) that there is good in this world and good people working to make positive strides for a better, more supportive and caring world.

Here’s to action and hope!

Gretchen

 

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.
Mighty Girl!
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

 

 

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_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