Category Archives: Middle School

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


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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Filed under Education, Humanities, Middle School

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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Filed under Education, Humanities, Middle School

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



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:


Mark and Carlos taking water samples in Newport, Oregon


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


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


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


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


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


Doing stream bed grids.


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.


Just getting started.


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.


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.


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

A Chinese Village, 14.8 Million Strong

I have arrived in Huadu, China, a small…ish suburb of Guangzhou in southern China, just two hours inland from Hong Kong.  Trees and green hills abound and calmness reigns amongst the high-rises in my neighborhood.  All of this is very surprising to me.  Happy people meandering the streets and lush plant life are every where.  I knew that China’s major cities were built with high-density in mind, but to me, that meant people en masse, cars honking, smog, ugliness and rudeness.  To the contrary.  Although there are 1 million people packed around me, you would not know it.  Very few cars honk horns, people are in large numbers in certain places, but most of the time the streets are easy to maneuver.  It is a bit odd really.

But let me back up as I have now been here for 22 days and I have eased in to my new world.

Week One First Impressions:

I arrived in Guangzhou on Sunday, August 16th.  To say the least, Guangzhou is huge.  It has 14.8 million people, but still, I didn’t realize how large that would really be.  Especially knowing that the Chinese like to make dense, compact living ie. high rises everywhere – I somehow assumed it would just be a tight-knit largish city that was walkable. Ha.  I am so naive.  I’ll say it again, Guangzhou is huge!

Early Monday morning I was taken to get a health checkup for our insurance.  It took us two hours to reach the government hospital.  The entire time we were within the city.  On either side of the freeways for miles and miles, there are high rises for living, but I have yet to see where everyone works. In other words, although we drove for so long, I never saw the downtown or large areas of just commerce. The bottoms of the high rises are often businesses, but none could possible employ all that live above.  These high rises have at least 100 apartments in each of them.

Chinese Health Care System:  Mandatory Foreign Workers Checkup

It felt like we were farm animals being moved through a health screening before slaughter.  Some of the nurses were friendly, many too busy to be courteous and just pointed at things, annoyed that I couldn’t speak the language.  Plus, as we had arrived around 10am, we were cutting it close to get everything done before the hospital closed for lunch at 12 noon.  Here is a list of what I, and about 100 other poor souls had checked that morning:  Blood panel – 2 huge viles of my blood, ultra-sound all over my belly and back – very cold and goopy, radiology – I was directed into a huge metal room, instructed via pictures how to put on the protective sheath around my private parts, then told, again via hand signals to face a board with lines on it, a big sound vibrated through the thick walls and then I was done.  I’m still alive, so hopefully nothing too awful was shot through my body. Next I had height and weight checked and then I gave a urine sample.  I was hopeful that I was done, but no.  EKG came next.  This one was scary.  Big, metal clamps connected to wiring were put around my ankles and arms – kind of like I was being strapped in to be electrocuted.  Then metal, round discs were placed on my poor, left, bare breast.  Zap! – no not really.  But I was sure it was coming.  Seconds later and again I was done and on my way to the Ear, Nose, Throat gal.  The problem now was that it was getting dangerously close to 12 noon.  The gal that checked me out at this station literally checked those areas in less than 20 seconds.  It felt a bit like whiplash as she tugged on each ear, thrusted the wood stick into my throat etc.  I had to laugh as it was so fast, and happily she did too.  My final checkup was the eye doctor.  He was jovial and could speak some English.  It was a great way to end.  I put a big, ceramic spoon with Chinese writing on it over each eye and told him the direction of the ‘E’s.  He said I did a great job.  Then pointed to a table full of those pictures within dots ( I can’t remember the name).  And said I saw the image and I was done.  Phew.  Right at the bell of 12 noon.

I’m now a number in their system.  And, they can now see what it is going to cost them to give me insurance and keep me healthy.

Huadu 2

The RT Mart – where I try to avoid, but it is a well stocked grocery (+++) store.

Huadu Misc

Top of Craft Museum, Year of the Horse statue and TV Tower

Overall, I have been happily amazed at the smiles that I have encountered.  The last time I was in China I spent most of the time in Hong Kong and Kowloon.  I found un-smiling, unfriendly people.  So I was not looking forward to the effort it was going to take to break through and find the happy people living inside.  Or just living in a world of un-smiling people for a couple years seemed awful.  But I am happy to report that people in Guangzhou (gwan joe) and Huadu (hwa do) smile often, especially after I look at them because they are blatantly gawking  at me, this strange foreigner. There aren’t many of us in this part of town.

After the health check, then a lunch that we were an hour late to, we finally headed back home to our apartments – yes, in high rises.  I needed to get a few things for the apartment and food.  The closest market is 3 long blocks away.  I had been told it was decent and full of everything I needed.  At 7pm I walked over, still swelteringly hot.  Really it is the humidity that gets you as I think it was only in the upper 80’s by then.  I walked into a nightmare.  I think all one million inhabitants of Huadu were inside this mall.  The Fall Festival is coming up so that may be some of the reason people were out in hoards, but somehow I doubt it.  After seeing the attraction of shopping and malls in Mandalay, Myanmar and Bangkok, Thailand I think it is really just something fun to do with the whole (I’m talking, entire – grandmas, grandpas, moms, dads, multiple children…) family.

Trying to by-pass the mass of people scrambling for carts at the entrance, I wrongly did not grab a cart going in – each one costs $.15 and the system is clunky and inefficient, so I just went in thinking I would just get a few things and be more agile in my movements without a cart.  Well once you are in the throngs, going against the tide was nearly not an option.  But yes, I attempted it.  Anyway I started finding the few things I needed amongst the screaming children, loud conversations and general mayhem.  So then my hands were getting full.  Oops.  Thought I would just head back to get a cart.  Big mistake, everyone was staring at me for going the wrong direction and messing up the not-so-smooth flow.  Then when I finally got to the carts they were all chained up.  My hands were full, people were everywhere jostling each other and me.  The gals that could have helped me, just stared and giggled.  I have to say I was not hosting my best “USA representative” face as I couldn’t believe they wouldn’t help me.  They acted like they had no idea what I was trying to do.  Just a tad overwhelming and frustrating.  But I did manage the thank them (barely) once I got the coins and unchained my cart.

RT Mart Checkout

RT Mart Checkout. There are 50, yes 50 checkout lanes!

The fun was not over.  I then had to go back into the chaos and find the cashiers and exit.  I decided now that I had a cart, and since I was already there enduring, that I would get a few groceries too.  It was nearly impossible to maneuver (especially now that I had a cart!).  I picked up the bare minimum as my friendly demeanor was fast departing.  But then I couldn’t find a way out.  I tried to go with the flow, but it seemed the flow circled aimlessly.  Finally I saw a ramp escalator going down – good sign as I was on the third floor.  I arrived to an entire new floor of thousands of people and products.  Still no cashiers in site.  Again I went with the flow and stayed to the outside and this time spotted them.  I felt bad for the cashiers, the noise level was so loud, I kept thinking about their ears.  They all needed earplugs for the hours spent at those decibel levels.  Once I paid, I then exited the grocery story into the mall.  But there was no exit in site.  I have to admit I was fried.  I was so ready to be free of people and noise.  I started zigging and zagging around people more quickly than ‘respectable.’  I had to get out.  Finally I spotted a door.  FREEDOM!

The warm, humid rush of the night air (it was now 8:30pm) was welcoming.  I was going to leave my cart and run home, but no, you needed to chain it back up first.  I couldn’t believe people actually did this.  They took the time to weave the chain back through their cart before leaving.  Thankfully, as I was about to be a bad foreign visitor and just leave the damn thing, a woman and child came up waiting to then pay to remove a newly chained cart.  I gave them mine.  She tried to pay me, but I kept saying no.  She didn’t understand.  But I smiled and waved her goodbye as I walked away.  Maybe that made up for some of my bad foreigner vibes I had inside – hopefully.

The next few days were spent at the Dragon Lake Resort.  It is like a mini-Europe.  Cobblestone roads, faux-old rock walled buildings.  It is quite pretty with vines growing up the sides of buildings and sweetly arching bridges over water ways.  I learned it was built for the wealthy to come, stay, play golf and for the rest to come and take photos as if they were in Europe.  So we have been using their conference room as our prep area as our school is still being built.

The group of foreign and Chinese teachers seem to be really dedicated teachers and fun people. We have now started developing our curriculums.  As this is a new school, we are combining the Chinese National Curriculum with the National Curriculum of the United Kingdom.  I am teaching humanities to years 6 – 10.  So with 5 grade levels to develop it is a bit challenging.  I have created the curriculum calendar, basically outlining the year ahead and now developing  a more complete  curriculum map using Unit By Design.

Here is what my school looks like as of now.  They still seem confident that it will open on time, in 10 ten days.  I’m not so sure.

School Collage

I purchased a cruiser bike this weekend.  It is so fun.  I have been tootaling around town exploring.  Really nice to start to get a feel of this vast city (suburb).


Green Huadu

View from my 7th floor balcony and street scenes

I love all the care they take to make it green, lush and full of flowers.  Check out the off ramp!  Every ramp and over pass has bougainvillea growing on it.  Stunning.  I wish we did this in the US.

Last night was the start of the Mid-Autum Festival which is similar to Thanksgiving in the US; a time for families to get together.  At my apartment complex they hosted what looked like a talent show.  Girls and boys, young and old presented their best on stage.  It was odd.  No one clapped except when the MC’s came up and spoke.  No one seemed to mind, but I did.  Felt odd not to support them.

Mid-Autum CollageMonday is a holiday so I will take advantage and start to develop actual lesson plans.  Looking forward to getting into the details.  We have been told to be very flexible the first month i.e. not to expect internet.  So I will plan as if I was teaching in the ’90’s!

Next post will be shorter and will come soon.  Thanks for hanging in there with me.  It is fun to be here and start to feel China in my bones a bit.

Happy Fall!






Filed under Adventure, China, Education, Global Health, High School, Humanities, Middle School, Travel