Immersed would like to take a trip down Memory Lane with you to find out what was your favorite post of 2016. This is not only a fun chance to reflect on all of the exciting school happenings that took place last year, but it’s also your chance to help us tailor content to what you really care about.
Please cast your vote for one of the posts from each month that were among the month’s top hits. Alternatively, you can fill in your own if you don’t see it in the list. Either way, please vote!
That’s right, folks—this is Your Guide to Surviving Winter Break with the Kiddos, brought to you by Immersed and The New Century School (with a lot of help from our neighbors and friends!).
The following list runs chronologically, not hierarchically, and activities included met the one criterion of occurring between December 16, 2016 and January 3, 2017 (or later), a period that roughly corresponds to Winter Break for Baltimore City Schools. The list was specially curated to entertain kids of all ages and cultures.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–December 19, 11:00 am–3:45 pm
Description: Come tour 203 N. Amity, the tiny house where Edgar Allan Poe launched his renowned career as the denizen of darkness. As well, enjoy the Baltimore Camera Club’s special springtime 2016 exhibit:“ Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe,” featuring diverse works inspired by Poe, his poetry, literature, and legacy. Don’t miss this chance to enjoy this diverse selection while visiting the Poe House & Museum, exploring this tiny home, and the exhibit in the room where we presume Poe once slept and dreamed.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–December 19, 6:00 pm–10:00 pm
Description: Join a singing procession with Mary, Joseph, and the Mariachi Rey Azteca band. Dinner, DJ Eddie Chabot, and a piñata breaking party to follow! People of all beliefs are welcome. Please bring a dish, beverages, or dessert to share in the spirit of the tradition. To volunteer and/or to participate, please register firstname.lastname@example.org.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–December 24; Sunday–Thursday, 11:00 am–7:00 pm and Friday–Saturday, 11:00 am–8:00 pm
Description: West Shore Park at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor will once again transform into a European Wonderland for the annual Holiday Village. A large variety of weekday and weekend events designed to please young and old await to be explored! Over 50 international vendors located both inside a huge heated festival tent and outdoors in traditional wooden booths will offer their unique giftware! Wander the market with the smell of sweet waffles, gingerbread, and Gluhwine (mulled wine) wafting through the air or enjoy a sizzling Bratwurst right from the grill! New for 2016—join Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance for Family Friday on December 23 from 3:00 pm–6:00 pm for lots of activities for the kiddos including photos with Santa, face painting, life-sized games, kids’ rides, and craft sessions!
Description: Join JMM for a relaxing afternoon to visit Cicely, Alaska. Inspired by Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America, we will be screening episodes from Season One of Northern Exposure. This cult TV show follows the life of recently graduated New York City physician, Dr. Joel Fleischman, who is sent to practice in Alaska to fulfill his obligation after Alaska paid for his medical education. Throughout the screening, popcorn and hot chocolate will be served.
Date(s)/Times: December 25–December 27; starting at 2:00 pm (click above link for times of specific activities)
Description: Celebrate the start of Chanukah with the lighting of Maryland’s largest menorah, along with a parade, live music, kid’s activities, fireworks, Grand Menorah Lighting of the Esther Ann Menorah, kosher food truck, and live music! Admission is free and open to the public.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–December 31; 5:15 pm–11:00 pm
Description: One block in Hampden bursts with light each holiday season as residents illuminate their row homes and mount quirky ornaments, from a giant snow globe to a Christmas tree made of hubcaps. It’s a holiday tradition like no other.
Date(s)/Times: December 30; 12:00 pm–5:00 pm (click the above link for times of specific activities)
Description: Bring the family to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum to celebrate the holiday’s 50th anniversary and the Kwanzaa principle Nia (“Purpose”). Enjoy storytelling, African dancing, and drumming by Sankofa Dance Theater. Sallah Jenkins leads holiday craft-making. Travel with teaching artist Culture Queen through Culture Kingdom Kids’ Kwanzaaland to explore the seven Kwanzaa principles at workshop stations. Dr. Jeffrey Menzise of Morgan State University gives the keynote speech about the meaning of Nia.
Description: Does the ball drop after your bedtime? Not this year! Ring in the New Year at the Maryland Science Center! Join us for our 9th annual New Year’s Eve celebration, Midnight Noon, where children can enjoy the ball drop before bed time. There will be fun New Year’s festivities throughout the day, including a live concert by popular kids band Milkshake. Their Grammy-nominated tunes will keep you dancing throughout the day. Crafts will be available while supplies last. Guests can look forward to constructing noise makers and making party favors. The entire Science Center will be open and ready for you to explore.
Description: Don’t miss one of Baltimore’s best family-friendly New Year’s celebrations. Port Discovery’s Noontime New Year Snow Ball Celebration features Baltimore’s original kid-friendly countdown and balloon drop, Eric Energy’s famous energy show, dance parties, tons of art projects, a juice and cookie toast, and more.
Description: It’s NYE and you want to spend it with your entire family, but midnight is so far away. From the giant scoop in front of The Charmery is the Kiddie Scoop Ball Drop, complete with a countdown featuring the milk jug ball and a complimentary sparkling cider toast. Let’s ring in the New Year . . . a little early.
Date(s)/Times: December 17-January 1, Thursday-Sunday from 6:00 pm–8:00 pm and 8:30 pm–10:30 pm
Description: Young and old will delight in sharing a magical evening filled with holiday music, festive light displays, and beautiful neighborhood decorations, all aboard an old fashioned trolley! The 2-hour tour, conducted by an expert guide, will begin at Royal Sonesta Harbor Court in downtown Baltimore and will then proceed to take guests through the adorned neighborhoods of Harbor East, Fells Point, and Canton where they will learn a little local history and observe the charming sights and sounds of the holidays. Next, the Trolley will head north to Hampden to see and enjoy the block-long spectacular 34th Street Annual Christmas Festival of Lights, complete with colorful lights, outdoor train gardens, original artwork from local artists, and sparkling displays. On the way back to the Inner Harbor, guests will ride pass the George Washington Monument in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood where it has been beautifully decorated for the season.
Description: This dazzling and fun-filled festival will transform the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore’s lobby into a winter wonderland for the holidays. Guests and locals alike will be welcomed into the hotel by glistening display of trees, each with its own unique theme. Snap a photo in front of a tree and share by using #FSFestive.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–December 31 & January 2; Monday-Saturday, 10am-4pm; Sunday, 11am-4pm (Museum closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day & New Year’s Day)
Description: All aboard the B&O’s Magical Holiday Express, a holiday spectacular celebration in the B&O Roundhouse devoted to trains of all sizes and shapes, holiday festivities, and a winter wonderland of family fun and activities. There is something to see and do every day at this annual holiday event, with special guests, train layouts, crafts, and more each week!
Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 2; aquarium hours are Monday–Thursday, 10:00 am–4:00 pm; Friday, 10:00 am–8:00 pm; Saturday–Sunday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm (4D Immersion film times vary; click the above link for details)
Description: The National Aquarium presents a magical twist on a holiday classic this winter, as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 4-D” debuts at the National Aquarium’s 4-D Immersion Theater. Guests can journey with Rudolph as he sets off on a series of funny and endearing adventures after being ousted from Christmas-town because of his bright and shining nose—meeting new friends Hermey the Elf and Yukon Cornelius on the way. The Aquarium’s 4-D Immersion Theater brings Rudolph and friends to life, allowing visitors to get close to the sights, smells and sounds of the action. The theater is equipped with 4-D capabilities, combining the excitement of a 3-D film with special sensory effects.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 3 (closed December 25); 11:00 am–5:00 pm
Description: See a model train garden built by volunteers and housed in Engine House #41 at 520 S. Conkling Street in Baltimore City. Open to the public and it is free. It is sponsored by CSX, The Baltimore City Fire Department and the Southeast Community Development Corporation.
Description: Enjoy $10 discounted admission all winter long for all ages. Take advantage of this special price freeze and experience the Zoo offseason from now through February 28th for less. See Arctic animals, penguins, chimpanzees, flamingos, giraffe, lions and more. Some animals, however, are not on exhibit for the winter season.
Description: 12 Days of Science features a different theme every day. Drop-in workshops, live demonstrations, and hands-on building will be happening throughout the Science Center while at-home activities take over our website and social media.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 8; Wednesday–Sunday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm, Thursdays 10:00 am–9:00 pm (click above link for holiday closings)
Description: The art of medieval Europe—luminous stained glass windows, church bells with their mesmerizing sounds, and tapestries depicting fragrant gardens—stirred the senses. This international loan exhibition brings together more than 100 paintings, tapestries, metalwork, manuscripts, and prints from museums in the United States and abroad, including masterpieces from the Walters’ collection. Special children’s programs are also available—visit the link above.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 16; Wednesday–Friday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Saturday–Sunday, 11:00 am–6:00 pm (click the above link for special extended holiday hours and closings)
Description: The BMA presents an exquisite selection of late 19th- and mid-20th century kimonos and obis that have never been shown before. Obi are wide sashes wrapped around the kimono wearer’s waist and tied in an ornate knot at the back. These stunning garments were made after the lifting of sumptuary laws during Japan’s Edo period (1603–1867) when commoners were forbidden to wear showy clothing with colors like red or purple. The Meiji Era (1868–1912) coincided with increased prosperity as Japan entered the industrial age and this newfound wealth was often expressed in lavish garments. Many of these kimonos displayed decorative motifs with symbols of the Imperial Court, especially those referring to the Heian Era (794–1185), considered Japan’s Golden Age when the court was in its most powerful, refined, and romantic period.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 16; Monday–Thursday, 12:00 pm–8:00 pm; Friday, 12:00 pm–11:00 pm; Saturday, 10:00 am–11:00 pm; Sunday, 10:00 am–8:00 pm (click the above link for special extended holiday hours and closings)
Description: Break the ice at the PANDORA Ice Rink at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, complete with a skate shack, rentals, concessions, and entertainment as well as special events like SkateFest, a learn-to-skate program, and more.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 22; runs on continuous loop during museum hours (Wednesday–Friday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Saturday–Sunday, 11:00 am–6:00 pm; lick the above link for special extended holiday hours and closings)
Description: For this 2014 video, John Waters recast his 1972 cult film Pink Flamingos—considered one of the most notorious films ever made—with children reading a cleverly modified G-rated script. The 74-minute video shown on a continuous loop in the Black Box gallery features adorable kids wearing wigs and suggestions of the original costumes as they evoke the legendary performances of Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey, and others. Filmed in one day mostly with friends’ children, Waters has said the new version is in some ways more perverse than the original.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–January 29; Wednesday–Friday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Saturday–Sunday, 11:00 am–6:00 pm (click the above link for special extended holiday hours and closings)
Description: More than 90 paintings and drawings by Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) show the French modern master’s enduring influence on one of the greatest post-war American painters. Diebenkorn’s long engagement with Matisse’s work is among the most productive instances of one painter looking at another’s paintings in the history of 20th-century art. This landmark exhibition brings together a stunning array of works loaned from museums and private collections throughout the U.S. and Europe to follow the trajectory of Diebenkorn’s long and successful career with some of the powerful works by Matisse that the younger artist would have seen.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–March 20; Open Skate hours are Tuesday, 12:00 pm-2:00 pm; Friday, 7:00 pm-9:00 pm; Saturday, 3:00 pm-5:00 pm and 7:00 pm-9:00 pm; Sunday, 3:00 pm-5:00 pm (click the above link for skating lesson times)
Description: The Mimi DiPietro Family Skating Center features public sessions, ice hockey, broomball, ice skating sessions and sled hockey from October until March. Located at Linwood Avenue and Pratt Street, the rink hosts many of Baltimore’s youth and amateur hockey teams, as well as seasonal special events. The center is also home to the Baltimore Blizzard women’s hockey. The rink is full-sized measuring 200-by-85 feet and is equipped with a warm-up room, fireplace, concession stand and skate shop, which makes this facility the perfect venue for private parties and group rentals.
Date(s)/Times: December 17–June 20; Wednesday–Saturday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm; Sunday, 12:00 pm–5:00 pm (click the above link for holiday closings)
Description: This exhibit contains more than 50 items spanning four centuries of donations to the Maryland Historical Society, including two of Eubie Blake’s practice pianos, period clothing, portraits, silver, a wool tapestry of George Washington, the sign from Club Hippo and a video installation of images from the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising project.
Date(s)/Times: December 17-September 3; Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00 am–6:00 pm
Description: Inside Yummm! 34 visionary artists join forces with food scientists, farmers, nutritionists, environmental activists, psychologists, poets, and humorists to publicly explore humankind’s complex, multi-layered relationship with food. AVAM’s Yummm! exhibition aims to inspire a greater public awareness of the revolutionary creativity needed to envision how a future planet of 9.5 billion earthlings will safely eat, cultivate, distribute, share, and even package food in radically more healthful, less wasteful, and equitable ways. With Yummm! AVAM hopes to encourage greater delight and awareness in every bite. The Yummm! exhibition features intuitively made, imagination-rich, food-centric paintings, sculptures, embroideries, installations, and films. Some artworks are even directly created from edibles.
Date(s)/Times: Available 365 days a year, sunrise to sunset. Start your event when you want and play at your pace.
Description: Turn Baltimore into a giant game board with this fun scavenger hunt adventure. Combine the excitement of the Amazing Race with a 3-hour city tour. Guided from any smart phone, teams make their way among well-known and overlooked gems of the city, solving clues and completing challenges while learning local history. The event starts at the MD Science Center and takes you on an adventure to see the best of the Inner Harbor, down to Little Italy, and other great locations. Compete against others as you use your mind and legs to solve the challenges and get the most points on the leaderboard.
On the first two Thursdays of December, The New Century School hosted Information Nights about TNCS elementary and middle school programs, the first for current elementary/middle school families, the second for prospective families including those currently enrolled in TNCS’s preschool program.
The event is the best opportunity to get an in-depth look at the various curricula. After an introduction by TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali, each teacher described his or her classroom approach and particular subject area. Following these teacher presentations, audience members asked specific questions of the presenters. They also had the chance to flip through relevant curriculum materials.
The TNCS Difference
Mrs. Danyali first explained that one big change from the primary program is that, beginning in elementary, students have a homeroom teacher but then cycle through other classrooms throughout the school day, receiving instruction from a “team” of teachers, who each teach by subject area, rather than remaining with primarily one teacher as in preschool. Another key difference is that fewer Montessori elements are incorporated in the curriculum, although certainly the spirit and even some of the math materials are retained, depending on grade level.
Aspects that do continue from the preschool program include combining age groups within individual classrooms. “Staying true to our philosophy that students learn best in a mixed-age environment, we do combine ages in our elementary and middle school programs,” Mrs. Danyali explained. Thus, there are currently two K–1st-grade homerooms, one K–2nd-grade homeroom, a 2nd–3rd-grade homeroom, and a 4th–6th-grade homeroom.
Another continuous feature is individualized instruction—meeting the child at his or her academic and social level.
Her discourse then turned to what sets the TNCS elementary and middles school programs apart from those of other schools: “One thing we really believe in is learning languages,” she continued. “Every single day, your child will have individual time with their language educator, so they get a 45- to 90-minute block of Spanish and another with Mandarin Chinese. As their skills develop, they do more focused reading and writing, math, and culture in those two languages.”
Another difference she mentioned is the degree of depth in Science and Global Studies. “These disciplines are theme based as well as cross curricular,” she explained, “resulting in deeper exploration of the topics. For example, in Quarter 1 of the 2016–2017 school year, students studied Egypt, with projects differentiated by grade level. The topic of Egypt carried over into English Language Arts as well as art class. We ensure that they get the full experience across the curriculum.”
Finally, so-called “specials” classes—that is, art, music, physical education—each take place twice weekly, which subjects get squeezed out of many public and charter school curricula to make room for disciplines more geared toward “what’s on The Test.”
Mrs. Danyali also has implemented twice monthly assemblies that explore aspects of character development, each assembly devoted to a particular theme. So far this year, elementary and middle school students have been taking a deep dive into the four Core Values and have enacted skits, made drawings, and told storied to illustrate what these concepts mean to them. Service learning, in particular, has been a key focus in the elementary and middle school program, and students have regularly participated in initiatives both in and around school as well as for the surrounding communities such as by serving as “safeties” who escort younger students from the car line into the school building a few mornings per week, cleaning up Gunpowder Falls State Park, and serving as “blanketeers” through Project Linus.
Science & Math, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade
Kiley Stasch is in her second year at TNCS. As Science and Math instructor for K–2nd grade, she explained that in Kindergarten, the Montessori approach to math is used, which relies on manipulatives to demonstrate increasingly abstract concepts. The “Daily 5” (or some permutation thereof) is also used for classroom management as well as to provide very individualized instruction. Divided into small groups, students rotate with their group through a series of five stations: computer technology time (ABC Mouse, SuccessMaker, Khan Academy, depending on age and skill level), hands-on math games with partners or individually, meet the teacher, read to self (math- and science-related topics), and a science center.
“Although all levels are doing an energy unit, currently, what I’m doing with my Kindergarteners will be different from what I’m doing with my 2nd-graders and different from what Mr. McGonigal is doing with his 6th-graders,” she explained. “We try to build our instruction on whatever the students need, what they are capable of, and guide them as far as they can go.”
English Language Arts, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade
Adriana Duprau has been with TNCS for 7 years and is the lead for English Language Arts and Global Studies for K–2nd grade. “We have 45 students in our cohort [about 12 but no more than 16 per class], which includes many different personalities and abilities. Our goal is to make sure they get the personalized instruction they need. They also stay motivated to progress by their peers who might be working on something they aspire to.” This class also uses the Daily 5 approach. Here it is read to self, read to someone, word work, listen to reading (on the computer), and writing work. “Even my youngest 5-year-olds can quietly and independently rotate among these stations. It works very smoothly and allows me to work with at least four groups a day, meaning that students get one-on-one teacher time virtually every day.”
“It’s nice to see my students working at their own level, not necessarily their assigned grade. Because I have mixed ages and therefore multiple curriculum materials, I can provide higher level materials for the student who is rapidly advancing,” she said.
Spanish Language Arts, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade
Profesor Manuel Caceres is in his second year of teaching at TNCS and teaches Spanish speaking, reading, writing, and grammar to the K–2nd cohort. “I know you hear about me a lot,” he joked. “Each teacher has his or her own recipe to provide each student with the best academic experience.” He uses the Santillana platform for helping students develop skills and achieve fluency but was quick to remind us that there’s no magic bullet for learning another language.
He uses Daily 3—writing, reading, and speaking—in the classroom. He approaches the curriculum by school quarter, starting with the basics of vocabulary and handwriting and building on reading comprehension and, for example, verb conjugation, as the year progresses. He also incorporates games, singing, and media to keep them moving and engaged. “Academically, they will be at a very high level in terms of Spanish proficiency when they eventually transition to high school,” he said. “It’s a really amazing opportunity that the school provides.”
He explained that he also tailors his lessons to connect with the areas of exploration happening in other disciplines, such as the unit on Egypt (Egipto) already mentioned. As with other teachers, he also makes sure that instruction is individualized and sees a wide range of abilities and skill level among the cohort.
Mandarin Chinese, Kindergarten through 6th Grade
Another teacher in Year 2 at TNCS, Wei Li, or “Li Laoshi,” teaches Mandarin Chinese to all elementary and middle school students. “We use the same methods here as were used in preschool to teach Mandarin,” she explained. This method centers on Total Physical Response (TPR), a proven strategy that incorporates movement to deepen comprehension. “So, we sing, we dance, and we play games in Chinese class. But, we focus more on Chinese characters and reading skills in elementary and middle school, so they can read books independently,” she explained.
“Another way we incorporate TPR is with acting out stories each Friday,” she went on. They write these stories and act them out on stage. “Books are the backbone of the curriculum,” she said, “and students can progress at their own pace through them.” Here again, due to the mixed ages and as well as the varying degrees of skills among them, individualized instruction is paramount. To achieve this, Li Laoshi uses the Daily 5—meet with teacher, write sentences using Chinese characters, read books, play games, and use the computer.
Cultural elements are also emphasized, so they do a lot of cooking and eating Chinese food as well as playing traditional Chinese playground games, such as jianzi, a feathered shuttlecock (see photo) played similar to hackey sack, and Chinese squash. Calligraphy and painting is also taught to further promote the students’ interest in learning Chinese.
Art, Kindergarten through 6th-Grade (So Far)
Elisabeth Willis has been at TNCS for years and in different capacities. She now, in fact, teaches art to all TNCS students, including pre-primary and primary students. By Kindergarten, her students have attained functional skills and can apply them ever more masterfully. She also incorporates Art History at this point, which is her specialty. Her students can now recognize artwork by artist.
Mrs. Willis encourages her students to bring their ideas for projects to her, and, as such, did some bookmaking with them earlier this year. She also encourages them to embrace their own styles and adapts assignments as necessary to accommodate, for example, a student’s inclusion of more detail than was called for. Instead of using oil pastels to add color to such a piece, she allows that student to use a different medium.
Importantly, she links art class with other content areas, to deepen and enrich the student’s experience. When they were studying Ancient Egypt, for example, she introduced them to hieroglyphics, and some students even began sending notes to each other written in this representational alphabet. The older students even designed cartouches to feature their hieroglyphic messages.
“Art is a more meditative place in the school,” she said. “The students relax, do some introspection, and really put the work out there. I’m very proud of them,” she said. “All of my students are doing art past what they would be learning in their assigned grade. Kids are more than able to make really good art, despite what a curriculum made by adults says.”
English Language Arts & Science, 2nd Grade through 6th Grade (So Far)
Dan McGonigal is in his third year at TNCS, having worked in different capacities in the elementary program and teaching English Language Arts and Science for the 2016–2017 school year. Mr. McGonigal also taught for 8 years in the public school setting. With his dual perspective, he says, he clearly sees the advantages that TNCS students have in this program. “As several teachers have mentioned,” he explained, “we are highly individualized with students’ education, and this is certainly also true for 2nd- through 6th-graders. We try to meet students at their ability level rather than their assigned grade level, whether it’s a 6th-grade student reading at a 4th-grade level, or a 4th-grade student reading at a 6th-grade level.”
The focus of his reading class is to get students thinking more deeply about the content, to pick up context clues and infer the author’s meaning. “We also do a lot of discussion-based learning when it comes to language arts acquisition,” he said. “Building on the skills that students have learned earlier and applying them to higher-level texts, we are developing a love of learning in students.”
Regarding writing, he says he tries to find opportune moments to ask for a piece of writing to make it “real.” “Instead of doing writing in isolation,” he explained, “we apply it to a real-world situation. We integrate writing not only with what we are reading but also with science topics and any other content areas.” Chapter books, teacher-led discussions, and student-led discussions comprise a big part of class time, and he also incorporates spelling and vocabulary acquisition with Wordly Wise, which puts challenging vocabulary in context and gives words multiple meanings. In spelling, he emphasizes patterns rather than rote memorization in order to build up skills.
Moving on to science, he describes himself as a “passionate science educator.” “I recently got certified as a STEM Education Leader, among the first cohort of only eight teachers to receive this certification from Towson University.” He says he integrates engineering everywhere he can, always applying it to solving real-world challenges and problems. “For example, he explains, “we have just started our energy unit, and after we have learned all about energy and how it works, what it is, and its different types, we will then put that knowledge to use in an engineering challenge. It’s a way to really bring that instruction alive, and it’s also a great way to assess students insofar as their designs and creations reveal the thinking and understanding that went into them. We are developing 21st-century skills and instilling the kinds of habits that The New Century School embodies.”
Curriculum materials include Engineering is Elementary, Fox Education Systems, and a lot of teacher-created items designed with individual students in mind. “In 2nd through 6th grade, we are getting more serious in terms of holding students accountable for their learning. We start to see quizzes and tests, for example, all to make sure each student is getting what he or she needs,” he concluded.
Math & Global Studies, 2nd Grade through 6th Grade (So Far)
Beatriz Cabrera is new to TNCS for the 2016–2017 school year (look for a Meet-the-Teacher post on her in the coming weeks) and teaches Mathematics and Global Studies to 2nd- through 6th-graders. But that’s not all—Sra. Cabrera teaches her subject areas in Spanish, thus providing an authentic immersion experience. Thus, students enhance their Spanish language acquisition and also learn core content in that language.
“I came from Spain 2 years ago,” she said, “and I am really happy to join The New Century School. My students are learning Spanish very quickly.” She describes the process by which she pulls of the amazing feat of teaching Math and Global Studies in Spanish to mostly nonnative speakers as one of accrual. Initially, she repeated everything she spoke in Spanish, in English, so she could be sure they understood their instructions for a given lesson, until she observed that her students were comfortable enough to go full Spanish. “They are very bright,” she said. Her materials are also in English, so those she translates herself into Spanish.
Sra. Cabrera also implements the Daily 5 rotation approach to class time and dedicates more time on Fridays to playing games. “By the last day of the week, they are tired, so I try to make it fun. They love it,” she said. In fact, this game-playing is strategic in another way by preparing her students to participate in Math Kangaroo, an international competition that U.S. students will join on March 16, 2017.
In keeping with the theme of individualized instruction, she says she also allows students to work where they are. “Students can have the perception that math is hard or that they cannot do math, so I try to make them feel comfortable. ‘You are here to learn,’ I tell them, ‘and the most important thing is to try. You do not need to be afraid if you don’t know how to do something. That’s what you are here to do—to learn how,'” she explained.
Currently, in Global Studies, they are studying the Ancient Roman and Greek Empires, having completed their “Egipto” unit in the first quarter. Here again, she translates her class materials into Spanish and encourages students to also speak and write in the language, often offering extra credit if they do so. In this class, the focus is not so much on proper usage as on just usage. Grading on grammar and the like is reserved for another class.
Spanish, 2nd through 6th Grade
Fabiola Sanzana is another TNCS veteran, having been with the school for many years. She teaches Spanish to the 2nd- through 6th-graders. “I am from Chile,” she began, “and in my culture, the Spanish language is very, very important, especially in terms of writing.” All of her materials are Latin American based that she obtains from her teacher networks.
Sra. Sanzana is currently teaching her students how to interpret instructions. Nothing is in English, and she expects them to figure out and understand their instructions in Spanish, which they manage very well. “I give them the tools,” she says, “such as how to use online Spanish dictionaries and to choose the most accurate translation, so they can proceed with a given activity.” She describes how, at the beginning of the school year, students relied heavily on the dictionaries (parents may recall this during homework time), but now they have progressed beyond the need for such help and can read and interpret the instructions independently. “They have assimilated an enormous amount of vocabulary,” she said.
They are also learning syllables, nouns, big numbers, and more. “They are not little kids anymore. They are ready and able. Also, if they have been with Profesor Manuel, they come to me with very advanced vocabulary,” she said. “Here they are facing more difficult lessons and advanced Spanish.” She emphasizes correct pronunciation in speech and correct orthography, including accent marks, in writing.
She implements a Daily 3 rotation in the classroom: one-on-one instruction, in which they address specific concerns about assignments or cover new material if appropriate; read to self or others, in which they have begun reading short novels and answering related questions to test comprehension (which Sra. Sanzana deems “amazing”); and group work that might include dictation, role-playing, games, or songs. Her students always want more, she says, which is a very good sign indeed!
Regarding instructional differentiation, her class is composed of a spectrum of levels from native Spanish speakers to novice speakers who just joined TNCS this year. “I prepare materials for each student,” she says. “I meet with all of them to determine where they are and teach accordingly.”
After the teachers each spoke, Mrs. Danyali explained some administrative points that are always frequently asked about, such as that TNCS sends out report cards four times a year, with a specialized reporting system that accommodates a multilingual school. TNCS is also MSDE (MD State Department of Education) certified. Parent–teacher conferences are held twice yearly, and teachers may be contacted separately at any time to address specific concerns or just to check in and keep the lines of communication open. Homework begins in Grade 2 and is given on Mondays, with the remainder of the week to complete it. Prior to Grade 2, nightly reading is encouraged.
The evening ended with Q&A between staff and audience on specific points, and curriculum materials were made available for parent perusal. Current families appreciated the in-depth look at the elementary and middle school programs and the amount of preparation that went into each teacher presentation. Prospective families were surely impressed by the robustness of education at TNCS. From the academic rigor infused into core subjects, to the multilingualism, to the emphasis on The Arts, coupled with the customized instruction each child receives, these elementary and middle school programs are truly unique in Baltimore.
At the end of October, The New Century School elementary teachers Kiley Stasch and Dan McGonigal traveled to Beijing, China to present at the International Cooperation Project for RiSE Teachers. The actual conference was held in a town that was a 2-hour drive outside of the city.
Our fearless conference leaders!
Mr. McGonigal explained that TNCS Co-Founders approached him and Ms. Stasch with the idea to lead a 3-day conference in China involving extensive educational professional development at the “RiSE Center,” which is an afterschool and weekend educational program. “In China, afterschool and weekend programs does not have the same meaning. There, such programs mean extensive education, so RiSE takes advantage of that time and immerses students in the English language by teaching all of their subjects in English. Very much like what we are doing at TNCS—teaching core content in another language. So they want to Americanize their approach to get students more engaged, incorporating more hands-on activities. They wanted to see how we handle classroom structure and appealing to different learners,” he said.
For some background, in China, younger students have about 6 hours additional learning each week; older students have about 8. This is on top of an already 10-hour school day, so on the 2 days a week the students attend the RiSE Centers, their school day stretches to 12 hours. They will also spend 4 to 6 hours there in weekends.
Inside the RiSE center.
Outside the RiSE center.
Many of the approximately 100 conference attendees were teaching at the pre-Kindergarten level and looking for tools for English language learning. “So, we had to adapt some of the materials we had prepared in advance to better target their needs,” said Ms. Stasch. “Yes, they were especially excited about the Language Arts aspects,” agreed Mr. McGonigal.
Ms Stasch provided this overview:
With one exception, the RiSE teachers were native Chinese but had all taught English abroad and spoke English very well—no translators were needed. They were all so excited and really enjoyed the opportunity we were bringing to them. Some of the STEM-teaching concepts were different for them and a little harder to grasp, but they were eager to implement a lot of our teaching recommendations in their classrooms. Their curriculum is already designed, and they do not have a lot of say in that matter, but some of the founders and top members of the program were participating and were listening very carefully to our presentations. They seemed amenable to restructuring some of the curriculum to incorporate more STEM and maybe the Daily 5, for example.
Inside the RiSE center.
The RiSE conference
The teachers were trying to convey two primary concepts: the value of independent learning and how to better manage the classroom. Their presentations are available for download at the end of this post.
Said Mr. McGonigal:
What they kept coming back to in their questions was how to get and keep students engaged. As part of their culture, Chinese students are naturally reserved and maybe a little shy, so getting them to actively participate can be a bit of a struggle. Instructors also wanted suggestions on how to help their students understand that answers are not always black and white and that they do not always have to be ‘right,’ or perfect per se. But they are scared that if they share something in class that they will be wrong and will be shunned for it.
“Yes,” agreed Ms. Stasch, “they seem to have a very matter-of-fact way of thinking. Rather than explore ideas, they want to know what is the correct answer because they know they will later be tested on it. Even the RiSE teachers had some trouble understanding how to teach using questions and open-ended lines of inquiry. They were bewildered that we were giving them questions instead of answers!”
“But we helped them see that if students ask their own questions, they are in charge of their own learning and will get them thinking on their own,” said Mr. McGonigal. He continued:
Another recurring topic was behavior management. We tried to instill in them the idea that these are practices that help manage behavior, too, because if you get students asking questions they are more focused and there are naturally fewer behavior problems as a result. In everything we did, we tried to incorporate why independent learning is so valuable. Using a stations approach instead of whole class is also helpful because you’re more able to meet students at their particular levels and help them individually, which also helps reduce behavior problems.
Believe it or not, even given the respect for teachers and for the classroom ingrained in students since before kindergarten, they do “act up” from time to time. Ms Stasch explained that, “this might be because the RiSE teachers tend to be newer teachers with less experience and therefore less-developed classroom management skills.” Another factor is that because this is an afterschool and weekend program, the kids probably feel more relaxed than they would in regular day school, where the environment is more rigid (see TNCS Visits Schools in China!)
“We saw this when we did our demo lessons,” said Mr. McGonigal. “The kids were very loose and relaxed with their teachers. It was similar to an America classroom. But the minute we started teaching , they became very attentive, very minds on. Part of this might be because we were speaking in English so they had to pay close attention in order to understand what we were saying. Some other reasons could be that we were new faces to them and also that there were cameras in the room. But I think behavior is always relative. What is considered a behavior problem there might not be here.”
When asked about their overall impressions of the trip, Mr. McGonigal replied, “One of the things that really hit home with me is that the teachers there are amazingly dedicated. We were doing this professional development with them until 5:30 pm, and then they were also given homework to complete before the next day’s session. They would often be up until midnight working with their teammates.”
Ms. Stasch agreed: “And they ask lots and lots of questions. They really needed to know that they were headed in the right direction and are eager to please. They expected assessments the next morning and were very excited about those. They charted the assessments and then had a cumulative assessment at the end. We really adjusted our process to add these assessments and to allow more time for questions.”
Mr. McGonigal explained the rationale for the cumulative assessment: “They did this to determine who was the valedictorian. They also wanted a points system for in-class work. Everybody earned their certificates at the end!”
Autographs from new friends!
Although with 3 days for their conference, 1 day for teacher interviews, and 1 day for the demo lesson, it sounds like an all-work, no-play trip, they actually also had 2 1/2 days for sightseeing and visited the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and the Forbidden City. They loved the food and tried lots of unfamiliar dishes. (However, eating fine-boned fish with chopsticks proved a challenge.) “It was a really great experience,” said Kiley. “For both of us it was the first time to take on a leadership role in professional development, and we both learned a lot,” said Dan.
For their presentations, please download the following powerpoints: