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/

 

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

 

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

 

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! 🙂

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

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