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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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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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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Snow Day!

So the big storms that have been predicted for this winter here in Gallup, New Mexico have yet to materialize.  But yesterday we did get the storm that has been battering the northwest.  We didn’t get rain, what came down was a wet snow, and since the temperature outside quickly went down to the upper 20’s, everything froze.  While it was exciting at first, the reality of departing from a school that was on a steep hill, quickly became stressful.

So instead of going up the hill towards home, which I observed others trying and spinning out, I went down to find a more slopping upward hill.  Eventually I circuitously found a path and since most of the roads still had a dusting of snow on them, with enough speed my little Volkswagen Jetta chugged up the hills (just like the Little Engine that Could one of my favorite books) without too much side sliding and I made it home safe to my two furry friends.

The snow fell more throughout the night and the frozen streets remained solid ice, so…no school today!  Beautiful sunshine out, but only 16 degrees.

So today I continue writing on Book 2 of The Treasure Chest Mysteries.  What a great day!

Gretchen

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My First Book, The Launch

Hi All,

A few months ago my mom found a really fun, wooden chest.  It was covered in a circus motif and painted by a local artist in her town.  With my nephew’s baby on the way, she snatched it up and sent me a picture of it.  Seeing the chest sparked an idea and I started writing a story with the thought of giving it to the parents, my nephew and his wife, at Christmas.  So I have been working on the story and attempting my first illustrations.  With the great encouragement of friends, family and my current 6th graders that I am teaching, I decided to not only give it to my nephew, but to publish it.

I decided to self-publish through Amazon’s Create Space.  It was a fairly painless experience and now my book is listed on Amazon!  I am beyond excited.  I am finally coming down from my initial high and working on promoting the book, as well as writing the next one, as it is to be a series.  But I have to be careful not to over publicize right now as my nephew might see the PR blitz!  That would ruin the fun for Christmas.

So as soon as my nephew has the book in hand, I’ll launch my Facebook page etc. and let you know.  I did take the plunge and set up a Twitter account as well.  I have also created a website for the book which you can view here.  But for now, if you know of anyone that has a child reading at the 1st – 3rd grade level – I would really appreciate it if you would pass the word on about my book – it ships internationally!

You can see one of the main characters on the side bar to the right with a light blue background – Titanus McDuff.  Below is the cover of the book.

Cover Trade

Thanks and have a happy, creative day!

Gretchen

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Hanging Out in Gallup

Hi All.  So I promised to write more about Gallup and teaching here and I guess it is about time to do just that.  I am sitting here on a cold, grey day with the threat of snow gathering in the clouds, so here we go.

Gallup, New Mexico is a very unique place.  It is the home to about 20,000 people and is mostly surrounded by the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni reservations.  There are few trees.  Or at least what I consider to be trees.  Sage brush everywhere, big open spaces and rocky outcrops galore.  I have had the opportunity to explore a bit.  There is an area that is national forest about 15 minutes away that has lots of pines and some good hiking trails.  But most of the area is known for its canyons, arroyos and scrub.

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I was surprised that I haven’t seen very many horses or cows.  But maybe that is due to the fact that the open spaces are immense, and the scrub grass is not plentiful.  People here are passionate about hunting and the Navajo are very proud of their heritage and work hard to keep it alive.

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The town itself does not offer much.  It is full of trading shops (retail stores selling Native American arts and crafts) that are really beautiful, but also extremely expensive.  There is one coffee shop, but it isn’t open on Sundays.  Most of the restaurants are connected to gas stations.  There are a couple of bars, a library and two movie theaters.  This is a place for family get-togethers rather than outside entertainment.

At the beginning of school I coached the 8th grade volleyball team.  Challenging and often fun.  Attitudes towards working hard at a sport and respect for your coach are different here, not quite what I was expecting.  But overall a good experience.

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I am teaching 6th – 8th grade Gifted and Talented (GATE) Humanities.  My sixth graders are adorable; little sponges that still really care about learning.  The seventh graders, well, they have an excuse – puberty!  The 8th graders are a tough group, across the board – school-wide.  I think it is just one of those years/groups that aren’t so great: super rude, bad attitudes, superiority etc…  But, there are a few shining nuggets – thank goodness.

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8th graders

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6th graders making their Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe games

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I have also been going on some good hikes…

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Pyramid Peak

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Strawberry Canyon

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Milk Run Loop

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Milk Run Loop

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Purple Haze Trail

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Canyon de Chelly, Arizona

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El Morro

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El Morro

Other than that I am writing a couple new children’s stories and I’ve started teaching myself to illustrate.

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But above all, it has been great to have my two favorite guys with me again.  I so love them.

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Albert

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Oscar

Until next time,

Happy Fall!  Gretchen

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Lower Antelope Canyon

Its been a while, so thought I’d return with some great photos of a fun one day adventure into Arizona.  Yesterday I spent a lot of time driving, but ended up deep inside the earth winding my way through an ever-so-small passage that twisted and turned its way through a gorgeous canyon that you wouldn’t know existed if you looked from ground level.  Apparently it was originally discovered by a young Navajo girl that had lost her sheep and she had gone down searching.  What a discovery!

Can you see the canyon?  None of us could.

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Here is how we descended down into Lower Antelope Canyon, just outside of Page, Arizona:

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From here, our guide Kyndra, of the Navajo Nation and Ken’s Tours, expertly moved us gently along as we oohed and ahhed our way through.  She told us the best way to pick up the amazing colors our eyes were seeing, on digital film, was to shoot in a chrome setting.  My iPhone 6 picked up the colors better than my Canon Power Shot, so that is what most of these photos were taken with.  But I have to tell you, although the colors seem to be unreal – they are what my eyes, without filters, saw.  It was a stunning hour and a half.  As we descended, the colors changed from soft earth tones to more vibrant colors depending on the angle and where the sun hit the calcium in the sandstone.

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IMG_4193The sandstone was full of bits pebbles and sea shells.  The undulating waves of stone had been formed from thousands of years of being below sea level and then the subsequent eons of flash floods – one of which happened just two days before I arrived.

Here is Kyndra showing how high the ground would have been (where we would have been walking) before the flash flood two days before. Glad we weren’t down there:

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This is the “Chief.”

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“Woman in the Wind”

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It was really hard choosing photos to show you.  I took over 200!  I found myself just spinning around as every angle offered another stunning photo opportunity.  I would have loved to go again and just absorb.  I tried to often, to just stand there, but then you just don’t want to miss catching the beauty.

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Walking beneath the “Chief” – you can really see the how the colors change depending on your angle.  Bright orange and red from afar, but below deep purples.

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This is our path – see the sand at the bottom? This path twisted to the left. So fun.

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I took a couple in black and white and they are beautiful too – but the color, I just couldn’t resist.

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Here is how we climbed out (random tourist from Central Europe in photo):

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From there I headed over to Horseshoe Bend – this is the very low Colorado River:

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I would guess I was about 5000 feet up from the river. If you look at the small white spot center left – it is a tour boat docked by the side of the river that would have fit about 20 people.

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After a wonderful 3 hours of exploring this area I headed to Flagstaff and then back to Gallup.  Flagstaff was beautiful – full of trees and looked like a great town.  Leaving Flagstaff for my 3 hour trip home this was my view for most of it:

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Not exactly eye candy for this tree loving person!

A great day over all.  I’ll write soon with an update on Gallup, hiking, coaching volleyball etc.   For now, have a great week!

 

 

 

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Cibola National Forest

Another great week in Gallup.  The students (kids – so young!) have been great.  We are starting to get our groove and its fun.  Volleyball tryouts finished on Wednesday and I now have 13 great gals to work with – starting tomorrow!  Today I went for another hike, this time an easy stroll through the Cibola National Forest.  Lovely and relaxing and met a fun gal mountain biking by that stopped and chatted.  It was perfect for my sore throat and stuffed head (thanks students!) and my out-of-shape lungs.  At the top met Andy, the fire-watcher, super nice and full of great info.  People just continue to seem so nice and helpful here.

Have a great week!

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