The New Century School opened a 7th grade for the 2017–2018 school year, cause for both celebration as well as a tinge of wistfulness, as we watch TNCS”s oldest students enter adolescence.
Brushing aside its poignancy for a moment, this fact meant that TNCS’s science program also recently underwent some important growth and development. Jon Wallace took over as school-wide science director and lead science teacher for Grades 3 through 7 this year. Let’s meet him!
Originally from Wheaton, MD, Mr. Wallace now lives in Linthicum but has lived all over the country at different points. “I’ve had a lot of different jobs. I’ve worked everything from bicycle mechanic to fast food. It’s fun to travel to different places and just live in different areas. I’ve lived in Arizona, Montana, Texas, and a few others,” he said.
He graduated from Towson University with a degree in Psychology but teaching runs in his family. His father was a professor of English and Accounting for 19 years at Montgomery College and his older brother is a professor in Texas. He explains that what really got him into teaching, though, was witnessing am 8th-grade physical science teacher do his stuff. He was working at Shepard Pratt Hospital at the time and got to see the teacher there in action. “I really thought it was interesting. My family had always seemed to shy away from sciences,” he said, “but it fascinated me, so I went back to school to get certified and started working at Shepard Pratt as a high school teacher.” He also has experience teaching at an independent school for 3 years in Potomac, MD as well as at Cherry Hill Elementary and Middle School here in Baltimore City.
His goal for TNCS is mainly to fortify the already-robust science program. He is excited about this, knowing how eager the “knowledge-hungry” students are to explore science concepts. Quarter 1 was dedicated to electricity (static and current) and magnetism. Older student objectives included being able to explain how stereo speakers and DC electric motors work to gain solid understanding of the relationship between electricity and magnetism as well as to become familiar with Ohm’s law (the current through a conductor between two points is directly proportional to the voltage across the two points). All students studied parallel and series circuits and were expected to understand and be able to define voltage, amperage, and electrical resistance.
With Quarter 2 fast approaching, chemistry is next up. Mr. Wallace explains: “Younger students will become familiar with trends found within the periodic table, bonding types, and what a chemical reaction is. Older students will be learning bonding, naming compounds, and stoichiometry skills that will allow them to perform labs and make their transition into the physical sciences and high school chemistry seamless.”
Noting how advanced both the reading and math programs are at TNCS, Mr. Wallace feels that his students will readily manage commensurate science instruction. “You know when 3rd-graders are doing long division, they’re already beyond where they should be. Likewise, readers are testing off the charts,” he observed.
In keeping with TNCS’s fundamentally inquiry-based approach, weekly science homework involves Internet research, coupled with writing. In the classroom, although until now he had never taught students younger than those in 7th grade, he is learning new ways and new materials to teach. He is also adapting well to the mixed ages in each class and to differentiating their instruction.
Also helping Mr. Wallace adjust to his younger students is that he has two sons ages 8 and 9 years old. He spends his weekends mountain biking with them. “We’re a big biker family,” he says.
When he’s not off-roading it with the boys, he created and now maintains teachphysicalscience.com, a subscription-based website designed to assist high school science teachers break down key science concepts for better student absorption. He has used much of the material on his site in the classroom over his 14-year teaching career and has had favorable student feedback about his “no-fuss” approach. “I really enjoy writing tutorials with more visually based tutorial concepts,” he said. “I really like making visual concepts come alive.”
In closing, he said: “TNCS is the most diverse school that I’ve ever worked at. Seeing students speak in different languages is really impressive, and I think it’s giving these kids an advantage over most students their age.” He also wants parents to know that communication between home and school is important to him, as it will facilitate learning. “If you have any comments or questions that you think would help me with your student, please let me know,” he said.