TNCS Performs at Confucius Institute Day!

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The Confucius Institute at Maryland celebrates 10 years!

This has been a week of anniversaries for The New Century School! With the publication of this very post, Immersed turns 2. The Confucius Institute at Maryland (CIM), however, who supports TNCS’s Mandarin Chinese program in multiple ways, hit double digits!

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the University of Maryland hosted Confucius Institute Day at the College Park campus, and TNCS kindergarten and elementary students took a field trip to participate in the revelry. It was a gorgeous fall day with warm temperatures and a blue sky, just perfect for a field trip and an outdoor event.

Established with support from the Office of Chinese Language Council International (also known as Hanban), CIM “promotes the understanding of China today through the study of Chinese language, culture, ethics, and philosophy.” CIM also provides many of TNCS’s Chinese interns and teachers and is a sister school with Xiamen University in China.

The festival opened with the Lion Dance—something the lucky TNCS students in attendance will not soon forget! This dance that mimics a lion’s movements by dancers sharing an elaborate lion costume is performed during Chinese traditional, cultural, and religious festivals; special celebrations and ceremonies; or to honor special guests.

 

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To show their appreciation for CIM’s invaluable support, TNCS students and language staff put on a show. Each division—K/1st, 1st/2nd, and 3rd/4th—did a musical performance for the crowd of hundreds. The audience was charmed. In fact, K/1st teacher Teresa Jacoby overheard some high school students expressing their amazement that such young kids were so clearly proficient with the Mandarin Chinese language. They certainly work hard!

TNCS students got their share of Chinese culture at this event. Dances, acrobatics, opera, and music kept them awestruck all day. The first field trip of the year was a huge success, thanks to TNCS Chinese staff! Xièxiè xiè lǎoshī! 谢谢谢老师!

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TNCS Students Get the Wiggles Out and the Learning In!

Moving Is Learning

The New Century School has always known that movement is good for kids’ brains. For example, studies show that exercise improves both focus and academic performance in children and that fitness and attentiveness go hand in hand. Exercise has recently been studied as a nonpharmacologic way to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. (Read Put the Physical in Education.)

Even while evidence supporting this notion is accumulating like crazy, many schools are reducing physical education class time or cutting it out altogether. Time spent in recess is also dwindling. In many traditional classrooms, students are expected to “sit still!” “Stop fidgeting!” “Pay attention!”

The irony is, kids can’t pay attention if they aren’t permitted to move! Moving gets adequate blood flow to the brain—enough that the brain is awake and ready to get to work, not sleepy and dulled. Many experts suggest that fidgeting is actually a sign that the brain is trying to turn itself back on.

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Climbing, running, and jumping are crucial ways for kids to recharge their brains for learning!

Don’t Skimp on Playtime!

Another recent study attributes similar benefits to unstructured playtime. In Finland, schools give children 15 minutes of unstructured play after every 45 minutes of instruction, and their in-class attentiveness is the higher for those frequent breaks. (Read How Finland Keeps Kids Focused through Free Play.)

TNCS educators know that the mind–body connection is supremely important, and that exercise and play do not necessarily have to be limited to scheduled gym classes or recesses. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate movement into the daily routine at regular intervals to stimulate blood flow to the brain in a variety of ways. When kids take a break from the books, their cognition actually improves.

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While doing their work at the computer, elementary students have the option of sitting on stability balls to simultaneously work on their core strength.

Stability Balls

What are some of their innovative strategies? Last year we reported on how using stability balls in class improves concentration, for example. Says Angela Hanscom, a pediatric occupational therapist:

Ironically, many children are walking around with an underdeveloped vestibular (balance) system today–due to restricted movement. In order to develop a strong balance system, children need to move their body in all directions, for hours at a time. Just like with exercising, they need to do this more than just once-a-week in order to reap the benefits . . . We quickly learned after further testing, that most of the children in the classroom had poor core strength and balance. In fact, we tested a few other classrooms and found that when compared to children from the early 1980s, only one out of twelve children had normal strength and balance. Only one! Oh my goodness, I thought to myself. These children need to move!

(Read Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today for more.)

Walking Tours

TNCS teachers are getting quite creative in finding other ways to incorporate movement and are seeing positive pay-offs. For “Teacher’s Choice” time one afternoon a couple of weeks ago, elementary teacher Dan McDonigal decided to take advantage of being located so near the Inner Harbor. His class embarked on a walking tour to take photos of their surroundings and got a spontaneous tour of The Pride of Baltimore II (a replica of the civilian vessels that were used to capture British merchant ships and were critical to our victory in the War of 1812). That walking tour brought together many important TNCS themes, in fact—movement, history, our local community, and art.

Singing, Dancing, and . . . Sweeping?!

When Teresa Jacoby starts to see signs of inattention in her kindergarten/1st-grade class, she plays movement games with the whole class. One, that is similar to “Simon Says” but with an important twist, requires merging physical and mental deftness to play. The trick is that they have to mimic the last movement she made while she has moved onto another movement. It’s surprisingly difficult to do, but she is sharpening their minds even as they have a ball! Her students managed to tap into and draw from the two brain hemispheres simultaneously, that is the key to pulling this off, much more readily than their parents did at Back-to-School Night! Another way Mrs. Jacoby harnesses the mind–body connection is by having her students bounce on the exercise trampoline while reading/learning sight-words.

In the Montessori and pre-primary classrooms, movement is also a natural part of the day. These students are learning independence and self-regulation and are given the freedom to move about the space to pursue their activity of choice. The Practical Life lessons in the Montessori classes are very much about moving and doing, at their core. Activities such as flower arranging and sweeping/tidying are fun, practical ways to get kids up and moving while boosting their self-esteem as they experience what it’s like to contribute meaningfully to their classroom and group. All of the younger TNCS students participate daily in songs accompanied by movement.

Patio Yoga!

Finally, yoga, which has always been in the mix to varying degrees, is now being taught regularly by our very own Head of School Alicia Danyali. She uses yogic techniques with the older elementary students to cultivate mindfulness and focus in addition to gentle exercise. These students take to it like naturals. They seem to genuinely appreciate the opportunity to stretch, relax, and take a break from class. Mrs. Danyali is a certified yoga instructor and a very skilled educator to begin with. She had them breathing and flowing like veteran yogis and yoginis within minutes. Importantly, she shared with them that the breathing techniques they were learning could serve them well in other contexts, too. Anytime they need to regroup or regain focus or equilibrium, they now have some tools to help them arrive at a calmer place.

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School-wide, TNCS students are demonstrating that being allowed to be kids makes them all-around better learners!

Back-to-School Night: Meet New TNCS Teachers and More!

Thursday, September 11th was The New Century School‘s Back-to-School Night for the 2014–2015 academic year. Back-to-School Night is TNCS parents’ chance to learn how their child’s classroom operates. Whereas Orientation is a more general introduction to school, at Back-to-School Night, families get details on everything from what the daily schedule looks like to when it’s their turn to provide class snack. Teachers introduce themselves and their teaching styles or philosophies and explain the curriculum (K:1st syllabus), demonstrate how their educational materials are used, and answer parent questions.

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TNCS’s new Kindergarten/1st-Grade teacher Teresa Jacoby.

This year, several new instructors have joined TNCS, and Back-to-School Night was a great way to get to know them. One of the new lead teachers is Mrs. Teresa Jacoby. She brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm to TNCS’s new mixed-age Kindergarten/1st-Grade classroom, which parents recognized immediately. (See biographical details below.)

A former 3rd- and 4th-grade science teacher and Reading Specialist in the Baltimore City school system, Mrs. Jacoby integrates reading and writing into all other disciplines and declared her expectation that all of her students will be strong readers by year’s end. Her personal philosophy meshes beautifully with TNCS’s educational values:

I believe that each student is an exceptional individual who requires a safe, caring, and encouraging learning environment in which to grow and mature emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. There are three elements that I believe are beneficial to establishing such an environment: 1) the teacher acting as a guide, 2)  the child’s natural curiosity directing his/her learning, and 3) encouraging respect for one’s self, others, and things found in our world.

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New for the 2014–2015 academic year, Kindergarten/1st-grade teacher Teresa Jacoby introduces her students to the classroom and its special routines.

She also believes strongly that education is optimized when a mixture of self-guided exploration, small-group learning, and one-on-one instruction is utilized, very much a TNCS-held value. Just as TNCS focuses school-wide on inquiry-based learning, in her class, such inquiry “gives students ownership of their learning and more lasting knowledge of the skills needed to achieve real understanding,” she says. Additionally, Mrs. Jacoby believes that critical thinking/solving problems is key to developing leadership skills, the ability to collaborate in teamwork, and self-sufficiency as individual learners.

As appropriate for a General Studies teacher, Mrs. Jacoby can pretty much do it all (art, math, special ed, etc., in addition to what has already been mentioned), but she says she has more and more discovered her special fondness for science. She incorporates scientific thinking into every nook and cranny of her curriculum in fun ways that ignite her students’ curiosity. “The kids are so naturally curious; it’s nice to discuss [science] with them, and they like to talk about it,” she said. She also has students keep journals, which gives her another way to guide them in further exploration of topics that they have broached.

“Just like a well-oiled machine works efficiently,” she says, “so does a well-thought-out and planned classroom environment.” Thus, the classroom she shares with her (also new) Assistant Teacher Mrs. Kimberly Tyson, with her own impressive résumé, encompasses several discrete learning environments—there’s a technology corner equipped with computers, an area with worktables for  groupwork such as with manipulative materials, a large carpet for whole-class circle time, and even a settee for students to sit back and enjoy a book on individually. She also generously brought along her own personal class library, which students are encouraged to use as much as possible.

One aspect of teaching that Mrs. Jacoby holds very dear is knowing and understanding her students. She has quickly learned a lot about her kindergarten/1st-graders and has an amazing ability to adapt to their needs on her feet so as to keep learning happening. So, when she found that after Spanish lessons, for instance, students struggled to be able to focus, she decided to let them “get the wiggles out” for a few minutes before resettling. Even the movement she incorporates in class has an express cognitive function. She uses a version of Simon Says that gets them using their whole brains—that is, integrating both left and right hemispheres—by performing a series of continuous movements and asking them to repeat the last movement she made. She demonstrated the activity for parents attending Back-to-School Night, many of whom were surprised by just how challenging it was! As if she had intuited it, TNCS will begin implementing movement regularly within classrooms to promote blood flow to the brain. (More on this topic is to come in the near future!)

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This artwork was created by TNCS elementary students to exemplify the school-wide theme of Community Building.

Finally, mutual respect is the capstone of Mrs. Jacoby’s pedagogical approach and is yet another way she shows just how right for TNCS she is. “A healthy learning environment must also include respect for all, a sense of safety as well as trust,” she says. “I work extremely hard to build a learning community based on mutual respect for one’s self, others, and our surroundings. Creating a strong sense of community in my classroom instills security, which builds trust and in turn builds comfort levels conducive to learning. I nurture that sense through personal modeling, class meetings, role play, and reflective journals.” It just so happens that TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali’s first theme of this school year is Community Building, and school-wide, students have engaged in activities that help them grow stronger both as individuals and as a team.

We welcome you to TNCS, Mrs. Jacoby, and anticipate an incredible first year together! Stay tuned for more posts in this series to meet TNCS’s other new lead teachers and learn the inner workings of their classrooms!

Mrs. Jacoby’s Bio

Teresa Jacoby holds a Master’s Degree as a Reading Specialist from Loyola University in Maryland and a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education and Special Education with an Art Education Minor from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She also has an Advanced Professional Certificate Special Education 1–12 and an Advanced Professional Certificate Reading Specialist Certification, both from the state of Maryland. She has taught a wide variety of students ranging from Kindergarten through 8th grade Special Education in all content areas in both self-contained and inclusion environments. She also has run many extracurricular activities from chairing the Science Fair to Chess Club to Lego Robotics Club. She lives in Baltimore and enjoys using her artistic skills in and out of the classroom, gardening, riding bikes and spending time with her family.

It’s Good To Be Back at TNCS!

Across Maryland, legislators and educators have been debating whether school should start back up before or after Labor Day. Maryland could generate an additional $7.7 million in state tax revenue and $74.3 million in additional economic activity from tourism, say those in favor of a delayed start; we need the extra days for professional development, testing, and for continued high levels of student achievement, say those in favor of the early start. Interesting fact: In our neighboring state of Virginia, schools are banned from starting early under the so-called “King’s Dominion law” (named after the amusement park), which mandates that public schools may not open before Labor Day without a special waiver from the state.

The debate continues and will likely inflame groups on each side—this is clearly a contention issue. Meanwhile, MD Comptroller Peter Franchot has started a petition in support of a delayed school opening that will be delivered to the Maryland General Assembly during the next legislative session, which begins January 14, 2015.

While all of this was going on, however, The New Century School knuckled down and got back to business, kicking off the 2014–2015 academic year—its 5th anniversary, by the way—in grand style. And, yes, before Labor Day. Although critics of the early school start claim that it amounts to wasted time because students aren’t really doing much yet beyond anticipating their upcoming long Labor Day weekend, TNCS took full advantage of the week leading up to Labor Day. The week was used to establish school routines and protocols, perform reading and math assessments to better individualize instruction, and give staff and students a period to adapt and adjust to being back in the scholastic swing. The “soft opening” created a smooth transition for the school year so that post Labor Day, TNCS students could hit the ground running and optimize their time in school.

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Unit 1 for the 2014–2015 academic year is Community Building. This exercise demonstrates how each group member is an important piece of the whole group.

 

Community Building

The TNCS academic year is divided into four umbrella units of inquiry: 1) Community Building, 2) Where We Are in Place and Time, 3) Sharing the Planet, and 4) How the World Works. Appropriate for the school year launch, Community Building occupied much of the first week back to school. New faces were seen schoolwide as TNCS welcomed new staff and new students.

 

The Pre-primary Program surmounted big challenges as the littlest members of TNCS’s student body started school for the first time. Maintaining consistency from the outset has allowed the 2-year-olds to adjust to mornings away from their accustomed caretakers. By Week 2, most were handling the separation valiantly, and all were settling into the routines of their language immersion classrooms. A lot is asked of these toddlers, to not only embark on a completely new adventure but also to do so in another language! They have managed these transformations adroitly and have wonderful scholastic careers ahead at TNCS.
The Primary Program also welcomed a new round of students up from last year’s pre-primary program. Teachers report that everyone is off to a great start, with zero tears during morning drop-off—a first! Students learned the routines and rules of the classroom, the names of their new friends and teachers, and many new songs and activities. They are learning how to be part of a larger group and are getting used to the idea that some things they can do at home may not be allowed at school. One fun exercise they did was to have their weights and heights measured to compare and contrast with others in the group. This was a way to inculcate the idea that despite minor differences, we are all basically the same. This is an important bridge to empathy, the cornerstone of the Community Building unit.
In Lower Elementary, students familiarized themselves with the daily schedule and routines. The brand-new mixed kindergarten/1st-grade class worked as a group to develop classroom expectations and a set of rules for the cafeteria and recess. Mrs. Jacoby and Mrs. Tyson ask students to continue working on responsibility and organization. Another change these students are managing is the introduction of light homework and a weekly reading log. Finally, students were given some basic literacy and math tests to help teachers customize instruction for the appropriate  amount of scholastic challenge. This hit-the-ground-running approach is equipping them for the more rigorous Upper Elementary curriculum they will tackle in a year or two, and they are flourishing in their new environment.
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This TNCS elementary student completes her work assiduously, but with a smile. to show she’s enjoying the hard work!

Upper Elementary also got accustomed to new routines and new faces and had an all-around great week. They were given various reading, journaling, and spelling schedules and also welcomed their new STEM teacher. This group put a little extra emphasis on Community Building and will even be harnessing some of their collective good energy for work to benefit the school itself. TNCS’s eldest students do us proud!

Another important part of the TNCS community is, of course, parents. We parents also took advantage of the first week back to school to learn new systems, re-familiarize ourselves with school rules and the Parent Handbook, and re-accustom ourselves to those often-hectic morning routines. Our growing school welcomes more and more people each year, which requires greater cooperation, patience, and compassion. Just as our children must learn to collaborate harmoniously in the classroom, we parents must set a good example. We can model the behaviors we want our children to reflect back such as by using shared spaces (e.g., the carline) appropriately and respectfully, by volunteering cheerfully, and by actively participating in school events.
Speaking of participating in school events, the coming week offers two wonderful opportunities to do just that:

• Back-to-School Night: Thursday, September 11, 2014 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm.
• Pot Luck: Friday, September 12, 2014 from 6:00 pm–8:00 pm; please bring a blanket and dish that serves 6–8 people.

Here’s to an extraordinary 5th year, TNCS! It is so good to be back!