Lessons in Thanksgiving at TNCS

This beautiful cornucopia spilled over with all the kids' favorite healthy snacks!

This beautiful cornucopia spilled over with all the kids’ favorite healthy snacks!

Holidays at The New Century School are special not just because of the unique, meaningful ways TNCS celebrates, but also because the school seizes the chance to give back to the surrounding community and beyond. After a Fall semester full of fundraising initiatives and community outreach, TNCS spent the last school-day in November by sharing a Thanksgiving/Cultural Feast to share our collective gratitude as well as taste delicious dishes from around the world. The Feast was the perfect culmination of the first two Units of Inquiry for the 2014–2015 school year: Community Building and People/Families Around the World.

Parents were asked to contribute a dish representing their culture to their child’s class feast. As has become the norm, TNCS parents really brought it. The following slideshow represents just a “taste” of the schoolwide event, but is more than enough to make your mouths water, viewers!

 

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What hard work was the antecedent to this lovely reward? Lots and lots of it.

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Neighbors and families came out in force—there wasn’t a crumb remaining after the 30-minute sale!

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Mrs. DuPrau and her proud 1st- and 2nd-graders.

TNCS elementary kids held the school’s first-ever bake sale and donated their proceeds to help raise funds for Habitat for Humanity. The bake sale was an astronomical success due to both the tempting goodies up for sale and to the savvy promotional campaign that preceded the event (students designed their own posters and signage). Mrs. DuPrau’s homeroom class was proud to contribute more than $300 to Habitat.

Another local beneficiary was the Help Rebuild Thames Street Park Playground initiative right here in Fell’s Point. TNCS students use this playground regularly, so Head of School Alicia Danyali ran a school-wide fundraiser through Mixed Bag Designs and gave all of the proceeds—more than $1,700—to the playground renovations! Well done, TNCS community!

As for the past 2 years, TNCS once again hosted a very successful food drive for to St. Vincent de Paul’s Beans & Bread program, “a comprehensive day resource program that offers a complete range of supportive services designed to help [Baltimore] individuals attain stabilization and self-sufficiency.”

True to form, the TNCS community is finding other ways to demonstrate their inherent altruism. Such creative and inspiring acts include enrolling in the sustainable energy program provided by Viridian, which helps the planet and earns fund for TNCS. Haven’t enrolled yet? Read more: TNCS Uses Viridian’s Power with Purpose!

And, elementary students are once more partnering with Councilman Jim Kraft’s office to do some good around Southeast Baltimore. See what they are jointly cooking up: TNCS and Councilman Kraft: Outreach for Our Shared Community.

TNCS provides students with regular opportunities to share their resources and goodwill, and our little humanitarians will learn very important life lessons as a result of this important practice in gratitude. So thank you, TNCS!

TNCS Elementary Needs Your Vote!

Get Wired!

Last month, Immersed featured The New Century School‘s 3rd- and 4th-grade class visit with Baltimore Gas and Electric—BGE (read that post here). They learned all about electrical safety from three BGE representatives and even got the chance to show off some of their knowledge of electricity during a quiz session.

STEM teacher Dan McGonigal arranged the visit as preparation for his students to conceptualize and create a short video for the third annual BGE Video Challenge! The class’s directorial debut is a remake of BGE’s original “Wires Down” public service announcement, which can be viewed at the above link, where you can also cast your vote.

The contest was designed to promote electric safety among school-age children. A total of 24 elementary schools in BGE’s central Maryland electric service area are competing for a chance to win between $1,000-10,000 to fund a school enrichment project—and TNCS is one of them!

Prizes include:

  • BGE Star Power Award—$10,000
  • BGE Spotlight Award—$5,000
  • BGE Cast and Crew Award (awarded for most student effort)—$3,000
  • BGE Director’s Cut Award (awarded to the most creative entry)—$3000
  • BGE Golden Pipes Award (awarded to best musical performance)—$3,000
  • BGE Screen Gem Award (awarded to best entry in each county)—$1,000
  • Rock The Vote! Award (awarded to the entry with the most votes)—Backpacks and safety gear

In a press release, Chris Burton, vice president of electric operations for BGE said: “We’re excited that every year, new generations of children are introduced to this important safety message and now are taking a part in sharing it with other kids.”

You Can Help!

Videos with the highest overall number of votes plus five merit-based videos will advance to the final judging phase. Online voting opens Monday, November 24, 2014 and runs through December 8, 2014. You can vote three times a day on each device you have access to.

Mr. McGonigal reminds us to “Encourage friends and family to vote as well, especially over the holiday break!”

Vote here (and remember to visit daily!): http://bgevideochallenge.com.

Winners will be announced in January 2015. Go TNCS!

Meet the Teacher: Elementary STEM Instructor Dan McGonigal Joins TNCS

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Dan McGonigal, TNCS’s new elementary STEM teacher. Mr. McGonigal is married and the father of two young boys. He enjoys sports, working on home improvement projects, and spending time outdoors.

“I like spending time with people,” said Dan McGonigal who joined The New Century School as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) teacher for the 2014–2015 school year. “With just about any job I’ve had, I’ve always helped or trained new people to do the job. I really like that aspect, so getting into education was a natural fit for me.” Before coming to TNCS, Mr. McGonigal taught in the Harford and Baltimore County school public systems for the prior 7 years. He began his professional life as a newspaper journalist, however. Originally from Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, his first stint was interning at The Daily Item in Sunbury, PA. He quickly realized that job wasn’t going to cut it. “I spent 90% of my time sitting at my desk talking on the phone,” he said. “That was not the direction I wanted my career to go in. It’s not what I had imagined it would be.”

Background

With a degree in communications from Bloomsburg University, he next joined the Nielsen Company as a field representative, doing market research for television ratings. After various promotions, he became a supervisor, but eventually the long hours, the constant travel, and the stress of hiring and firing people grew tiresome. “I got to the point where I felt like I wasn’t doing any good for anybody. At the end of the day I felt unfulfilled,” he said. Knowing how much he enjoyed the training side of supervising, he decided to pursue a Master’s Degree in education at Notre Dame of Maryland University. “Because of work, I found myself moving around the country a lot. I’ve lived in seven different states, and I’ve come back to Maryland three different times. Now it’s meant to be and it’s for good!”

Having found his true calling, he next had to figure out what grades and subjects he was best suited to teach. Those realizations came very quickly. “I wasn’t initially sure about what my target age group was going to be but I discovered that 3rd through 5th grade areas are where I feel most comfortable. My comfort zone is with this age group. They are easy to inspire but still need my help—they are very teachable.”

As for what to teach, he says he feels a special affinity for STEM subjects. “I really enjoy math and especially science. I like the hands-on aspect that science can bring to education, and I feel that’s not only how I learn best, but it’s also my natural teaching style.”

The road to TNCS where he could give free rein to his inquiry-driven teaching approach was not a straight path, however. Although he knew he liked teaching and he liked the schools where he worked, morale had sunk quite low among his fellow teachers for a variety of reasons, but not least because the rate of compensation remained static for years, while resources dwindled and expectations rose. “It became challenging to work in that environment,” he said. “The administration was very difficult to work with in terms of being very restrictive with what I could teach and what kind of approach I could use. You had to be very much inside the box.” The final straw was when “teaching to the test” began to override any hands-on or project-based learning. “Not enough time or focus was devoted to science.”

In the meantime, he had joined a pilot program at Towson University for STEM certification. His cohort will be the very first to earn the new Maryland State Department of Education endorsement, “Instructional Leader—STEM (Pre K‑6)” in Spring 2015.

I wanted to practice some of this project-based learning I was studying, and Baltimore County hired me as a STEM teacher. I worked there for a year, but it was a pretty similar situation to what I experienced in Harford County—math was ‘in the box,’ and science was not supported. Many times I wouldn’t even get to science because I had to teach so much math. Also, it was a high-needs school, so I had to spend most of my time on test-taking strategies. The pressures that are put on elementary school teachers and kids with standardized testing lead to mutual frustration. Students start getting burned out; that joy of learning and love of coming to school is dying out earlier and earlier for some of these kids. It used to be not until middle school when students would hit that proverbial wall, but now it’s in elementary that kids start to feel all the pressure and stop enjoying school. Inevitably, this leads to major behavior problems.

Common Core also presented challenges insofar as it changed how everything is done and not necessarily in a readily executable way. “There are definitely some good aspects to it,”said Mr. McGonigal, “it encourages more depth versus breadth in studying topics, but everything is getting pushed down to younger and younger ages, and some kids aren’t developmentally ready to master certain skills that CC calls for. It was not developed by professional educators, so there was really no voice for teachers.”

Arrival at TNCS

By contrast, he is very happy at TNCS, where he is given the space to actually teach STEM. He says, “I love the small, intimate class size that lets you really get to know the students. There’s so much freedom with the curriculum. The owners and the administration have really embraced trying new things. If something doesn’t work, we adapt—learn from the experience and try it differently next time.” He sees the students also benefiting from this approach. “The students really like the opportunity to work together and to be hands-on,” he said. “They get really excited anytime I tell them we’re doing a design or engineering challenge—in-depth, 1-day teamwork/teambuilding activities that engage them, intrigue them, and get them looking for different solutions to various problems.” He uses Engineering is Elementary (EiE) in his classroom, with the goal of incorporating at least four of their units of study per grade level; these range from electricity to the human body to astronomy, etc.

Says Mr. McGonigal,” We’re encouraged to try something different, even if it’s out of our comfort zone, so I really appreciate that. When I was interviewing and being hired, they were very supportive of me instituting STEM. There’s a lot to like here—in addition to the class size, a lot of stress is taken off the teachers so the workload is manageable. My biggest issue is time—I wish I had more time with my students, which certainly isn’t a bad thing. I want to do more with the time that I have.” In his first year so far, he has spent time getting to know the school and what works for the different age groups. “It’s my first time teaching 1st- and 2nd-graders, so I’m figuring what to bring to their level and how best to bring it to their level,” he said.

Another thing he appreciates about TNCS is the synergy created by combining STEM and multilingual education: “Problem-solving skills are definitely being applied during language learning. Overall, that positively impacts brain development and how you learn. The kids are enthusiastic about it—they seem to enjoy it!”

Mostly he’s just glad that he gets the opportunity at TNCS to be the instructor he is at heart:

Part of why I like this hands-on style of learning is that the 21st-century skills that students are going to need to be competitive in the job market, they learn from problem-based learning experiences. It’s not just play or for fun. There are a lot of skills that go into it—cooperation, learning to resolve problems, how to meet and stay within certain parameters, how to think creatively—that are met by doing these challenges. I’ve really enjoyed learning about engineering, and I might have even chosen that as a career path if I had the chance to learn it as a student in school. That’s part of why I want to be in STEM education—to enlighten kids about what’s out there—what options and different career choices are open to them now.

Welcome to TNCS, Mr. McGonigal! It’s so nice to have you! And the projects are awesome!

State-of-the-Science Elementary Writing Instruction at TNCS

As The New Century School grows and expands, the elementary program curriculum is continually refined to provide a progressive education that ensures self-motivated, inquiry-driven, critically thinking students. One area of ongoing focus is on writing, a skill that will serve students throughout their academic careers and is vital to their contribution to any profession post-academically. The ability to write opinions/arguments, informational pieces, and narratives is hailed as such an essential 21st-century skill that it gets quite a large share of attention in Common Core State Standards, but enhancing literacy skills is a primary concern for any school, whether public or private. Accordingly, on a recent Monday this past September, TNCS elementary teacher Adriana DuPrau attended a writing workshop in Leesburg, VA to stay up to date on current best practices and proven frameworks for teaching writing in the independent environment of TNCS.

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The Lucy Calkins–led writing workshop gave writing instructors the tools they need to implement a systematic writing curriculum.

Led by veteran writing instructor Lucy Calkins, the workshop grew out of her 35 years of writing instruction research. Ms. Calkins and her colleagues are best known for the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) out of Columbia University. TCRWP was built on the premise that “Students can only become stronger, more confident writers and learners when they know where they are going and have a clear roadmap to get them there.” Students need a  pathway, in other words, to write a coherent piece just as they do to solve an algebraic equation or use the scientific method to conduct a physics experiment. Elements must build upon one another, leading up to a conclusion. TCRWP gives writing teachers grade-specific (K–8) support in the form of “Units of Study for Teaching Writing.”

The good news is that as schools hear the rallying cry . . . to develop school-wide, coherent approaches to teaching writing, they needn’t invent curriculum on their own . . .” writes Lucy Calkins. TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali got the message. She seized the opportunity for TNCS Language Arts teacher Mrs. DuPrau to attend The New Units of Study in Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing Grades 3–8 workshop to learn directly from leading practitioners and researchers in the field of writing education.

Three topics that Mrs. DuPrau found especially helpful to implement a systematic writing curriculum are as follows:
  • The Architecture of Effective Writing Minilessons: The content of the minilesson changes from day to day but the architecture of the minilesson often remains constant. Minilessons begin with connection. This is teaching students something we hope they’ll use often as they write via Demonstration, Guided Practice, Explanation with Example, and Inquiry. Teachers will then give students a quick opportunity to try writing about what was just taught. Last comes linking. To bring closure to the minilessons, teachers usually link the minilesson to what the class has learned on previous days, to that day’s work-time, and to the children’s lives.
  • Conferring with Student Writers: One-to-one conferences are at the heart of the process approach to teaching writing. While they appear to be warm, informal conversations, conferences are in fact highly principled teaching interactions, carefully designed to move writers along learning pathways. Steps include learning about the writer; supporting/complimenting the writer; deciding what your teaching point will be and how you will teach it; teaching it to the writer something, following the architecture of a minilesson; and re-articulating what you’ve taught, encouraging the writer to do the same as he or she writes.
  • Revison Strategies: Add more. Look at the beginning, middle, and end of your piece. Ask, “What have I left our?” Take out parts that don’t belong, that are redundant, or that take away from the overall cohesiveness of your piece. Reread, and ask, “How can it be clearer? Is this really what I have to say? What’s the most important thing I want my reader to know?” Reread for sound (read it aloud or have your partner read it to you), asking, “How can I make it sound better? Where does the sound work, and how can this be extended?” “Where does the sound not work and how can I make it sound the way I want it to?”
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An Argument Read Aloud Protocol gave writing instructors specific classroom heuristics.

“It was a really wonderful interactive writing workshop,” said Mrs. DuPrau. “I was given the opportunity to work with a lot of other professionals as well as learn great writing techniques that work in grades 3–6. I liked how it focused on different grade levels so I can see what the expectations are for higher grades as we map and plan our curriculum at TNCS.”

Although the ability to read was once considered the most important aspect of literacy, in the connected era we now live in, writing shares the spotlight, as the ability to convey knowledge becomes almost as important as the knowledge itself. Writing is also itself a learning tool, the vehicle through which critical thinking and inquiry occurs.

TNCS elementary students will conduct research and share findings, they will collaborate and provide helpful feedback, and they will clearly convey meaning across all scholastic disciplines and all through writing. In their future chosen vocations—whether as journalists, engineers, mathematicians, teachers, social or environmental activists, artists, etc.— their ability to write well will help ensure their happiness and success.