Adriana Duprau Becomes Curriculum Coordinator at TNCS!

With the commencement of the 2017–2018 academic school year, The New Century School scaled some exciting new heights. To name just two, the inaugural 7th-grade class made its debut, and the student body en masse has grown to more than 200 children. These milestones are impressive, certainly, but are also not without accompanying challenges. How does one small school accommodate an age range from 2 to 12 years? How do teachers keep all students engaged in mixed-age classrooms? With such a well-rounded curriculum, how is continuity of instructional approach maintained across so many diverse subject areas?

Enter Adriana Duprau, TNCS’s new Curriculum Coordinator (also known as Curriculum Specialist). Mrs. Duprau is already known to many among the TNCS community—in fact, there’s a very strong chance that she has taught your child in her classroom at some point, considering that she has been at TNCS since it first opened back in 2010. Being so familiar with TNCS operations, she was the natural choice to take on this new role, which, in brief, entails supporting teachers and giving them constructive feedback on how they are implementing the curriculum. Interestingly, however, she came into the role less because someone was actively being sought and more so because she was already the go-to when an instructor needed strategies for example, for differentiating lessons. In Mrs. Duprau’s case, as you’ll see, this support extends to students as well.

Job Description

She spends about 80% of her time in the classroom so she can see firsthand what teachers are doing. She makes sure, for example, that lessons are being appropriately differentiated to accommodate the varying skill student levels in each classroom. At the same time, she wants to see that students are being challenged. On a macro level, another thing she looks for is that students are transitioning smoothly among divisions (e.g., pre-primary to primary, primary to kindergarten, elementary to middle school).

These are tasks that Head of School Alicia Danyali has handled in the past, but as the school grows, it became clear that a dedicated role was needed so that Mrs. Danyali can devote her time to running the school.

Sometimes school teachers can feel overwhelmed. Mrs. Duprau is there to “close the loop,” as she puts it. “What are their challenges; what are things that I can help with?” she asks herself, to provide an extra resource to the teachers. In some ways, it’s also a means of quality assurance. “If teachers are having a hard time, how can I offer support? Or, they may be having a hard time with a particular student—what can we do to come up with solutions?” she explains. “Having an objective observer who can stand back and take notes can be very revealing in these situations,” she continued, “and together we can problem solve and brainstorm the best approaches to addressing the challenges.”

Mrs. Duprau also plays a big part in helping Mrs. Danyali with professional development outside of the classroom, such as by demonstrating lessons during PD days and doing trainings.

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Curriculum Coordinator Adriana Duprau

Although she has embraced this support role, taking on a new position also can come with challenges. For Mrs. Duprau, the one thing she most worried about was not having her own classroom. “But, as it turns out, I spend most of my time in classrooms, so I’m really excited that I still get to have that time with students and with other teachers,” she said. And, although she has found herself so far spending most of her time in elementary and middle school classrooms, she nevertheless has had to get to know all 200+ students on a first-name basis . . . now that’s a challenge!

However, the biggest challenge she has found so far is having her suggestions go unheeded, whether inadvertently or from an unwillingness to take feedback, although Mrs. Duprau anticipates that this will probably dissipate as teachers acclimate to the idea of having a curriculum specialist and get used to accepting support.

Job Goals

She says her main goals, at least initially, are to make sure that teachers feel supported and know what should be taking place inside their classrooms. For example, programs like Reading A–Z might be new to a instructor, so Mrs. Duprau guides him or her through implementation. Again, her experience—not to mention her particular area of expertise—come in very handy here. She also sets up technology in classrooms so that appropriate ages all have access to SuccessMaker, a stalwart in the TNCS math program. All this, says Mrs. Duprau, because “we want to make sure we see growth in the students. This will give us a ‘closer look’ at the kids.”

She then uses the data she gathers to close any would-be gaps, such as finding ways to help former Montessori students matriculate into the non–classic Montessori Kindergarten classroom, or, conversely, introducing students who did not come up through the TNCS primary ranks to the “Montessori feel” of the K classroom. The Kindergarten group, by the way, is the largest it has ever been, so this is an area of keen interest. Moreover, Kindergarten can comprise a wide variety of skill levels, from students who are not yet reading and writing to students already completely comfortable with chapter books. Helping teachers set up their Daily 5 stations, for example, can go a long way to successful classroom management in this heterogenous setting. This has given her ideas for how to manage next year’s K transition: “A goal for us is to figure out what objectives the primary kids should end this school year before ‘going up’ so that they are prepared and can thrive in the more structured environment,” she explained.

Incidentally, in her tenure at TNCS, Mrs. Duprau has always had children of this age in her classroom, but now she says, “having my own kindergartener at home and seeing where he is developmentally has taught me even more about this age than having been a kindergarten teacher for so long.” So now, she can bring a dual perspective to the support she offers current TNCS K teachers—that of the seasoned teacher as well as the parent.

“I also get to spend a lot of time in other subject areas,” she explains. Chinese, music, and art, for example, are not classes she would have been a part of as a teacher. Now she observes how those are going to make sure all aspects of the curriculum hang together in a cohesive way and that instructors are meshing well. “One thing I saw was that having all of one division participating in a specials class together made the class too big. Being able to be there and see what’s unfolding and offer potential solutions has been very useful. We are now splitting the groups and adapting schedules to make sure that students and instructors are getting what they need.”

Another goal is to firmly establish units of study (e.g., in Global Studies and Science) that rotate on a 3-year basis so that students are all getting the full breadth of each discipline. The information is taught at differentiated levels, and she envisions gathering all of these lessons together in a master curriculum.

Reflections

“Although I really miss having my own classroom,” says Mrs. Duprau, I am really enjoying this new position, and I think it’s very beneficial to the school. “There are aspects of the role that I am continuing to grow in, because I have never held a job quite like this one before—I now work as much with adults as I do with kids!” She finds the position perfect for her current situation, with two young children at home to care for, and she is also learning a tremendous amount about teaching from this new vantage point.

“My primary objective is to be helpful and to facilitate smooth operations,” she said. “My interest was sparked when I would help other teachers who were unfamiliar with the mixed-age and mixed-language approach, and I found that I loved that interaction. I broached the idea of having a curriculum specialist in some capacity at TNCS, and the administration agreed immediately.” She learned her superb classroom management skills both as a Baltimore City public school teacher and by her first mixed-age experience at TNCS.

If she ever does return to the classroom, she says she is considering trying an older cohort to see what that would be like. In the meantime, Curriculum Coordinator suits her just fine!

 

 

 

 

TNCS’s Annual Elementary and Middle School Back-to-School Night!

back-to-school-night-2017Now that summer has officially ended, and school is back in full swing, The New Century School kicked off the 2017–2018 school year with its annual Back-to-School Night. The focus of the evening was to meet your student’s teachers and to present the student’s daily schedule, a curriculum overview, and school policies.

Welcome!

The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Alicia Danyali warmly welcoming parents, new and old, and introducing TNCS’s teaching staff. “They make the school an amazing experience for the students everyday, with their nurturing and professional expertise that enables a professional learning community,” said Mrs. Danyali. She also reminded the packed audience about the school’s Core Values. As the school’s foundation, these values of compassion, courage, respect, and service are displayed throughout the school and emphasized daily by all at TNCS, as well as during classroom lessons, assemblies, and restorative circles.

As TNCS enters its 11th year, it’s worth noting how the school and its programs have expanded and grown to what they are today. Changes each year are inevitable, but TNCS has stayed true to its identity and has successfully weathered those changes, transforming would-be obstacles into opportunities and growing the student body to more than 200 children. (To get a look at past year’s back-to-school nights or just to reminisce about the school’s early days, read TNCS-Back-to-School Night, 2013Back-to-School Night, 2014Back-to-School Night, 2015, and Back-to-School Night, 2016.)

Elementary/Middle School Break-Outs

Once the initial introductions and welcome message concluded, parents moved on to spend time with their child’s teachers. This was the opportunity to learn about what the school day looks like, what the educational goals are for the year, and what the expectations are of both parent and child. Upper Elementary and Middle School was jointly hosted by veteran Math and Global Studies teacher Beatriz Cabrera and new English language arts and Science teacher Jon Wallace. Mr. Wallace introduced himself, saying:

This is my 15th year teaching, 13 in private, and 2 in public recently. I’m very happy to be here with this amazing bunch of students who are all so diverse, and it’s wonderful working with the parents. I became a teacher because I really enjoy seeing the students learn. It’s a great thing when you see the light bulb go on. When I child first realizes a concept or becomes good at doing something, learning skills, to see that happen is just amazing. I come from a family of teachers and I’m working hard to give the students the best education I could possibly give. I’ll be here early, and I’ll be here late to try and give the best to your children.

Sra. Cabrera handled many of the practical details, reminding families of the importance of being on time. Class begins promptly at 8:25 am with key information and planner assignments, all things you don’t want your child to miss. “Check the planners and make sure to sign them. You will receive four quarterly report cards, we and will have two parent/teacher conferences, one in November and one in February. We are always available to meet with you and discuss anything you want,” she said.

A deeper dive into each subject’s curriculum followed.

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Specials

New art teacher Eunhee Choi made a cameo appearance (she had several classrooms to visit) and told the group, “I was born and raised in Korea—South Korea,” she clarified, to audience laughter. “I’ve been teaching 17 years. I’m very happy to teach here, I feel very comfortable in this school,” she finished. Students have music, physical education, and art twice a week.

English Language Arts

ELA uses the Daily 5, which consists of: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, and Word Work. Reading themes will include realistic fiction, fantasy, biographies, mystery, immigration/migration, historical fiction, and folktales. Writing will focus on a variety of skills including narrative, informational, persuasive/opinion, and poetry. We will continue using Lucy Calkins in the classroom throughout the year as well. (See State-of-the-Science Elementary Writing at TNCS for more on her acclaimed approach.)

In spelling, Wordly Wise 3000 and Spelling Workout will be incorporated. Wordly Wise 3000, focuses on improving students’ vocabulary by furthering their understanding of new words and concepts. Spelling Workout is a more traditional spelling program to help improve on identifying spelling patterns. “Our goal is to focus on vocabulary development, which will enable students to read increasingly challenging texts with fluency and improve their chances for success in school and beyond. Spelling will be focused on helping improve student writing,” explained Mr. Wallace.

Science

The major science themes throughout the year that will guide learning and understanding will include electricity and magnetism, chemistry, the Scientific Method (Science Fair), and oceanography.

Math

In math, students will work in small groups and independently everyday as well as do Khan Academy—the Daily 3. “They will do different math games and once again participate in Math Kangaroo, said Sra. Cabrera. “We will practice these problems in class and continue to use Singapore math. I will work with them in small groups mostly. I think it’s better to help them gain confidence.” Middle school students will be introduced to the Go Math curriculum.

Global Studies

Global studies will comprise both United States history and World history. The Elementary and Middle School programs will focus on the same unit of study but we be differentiated based on grade level:

  • Quarter One, Ancient World Cultures
  • Quarter Two, World Cultures and Geography
  • Quarter Three, Civics
  • Quarter Four, American History

Mandarin

As for language immersion, we are fortunate to have two wonderful, enthusiastic teachers in Wei Li, Mandarin, and Fabiola Sanzana, Spanish. Chinese will be learned through various activities and projects with assessments being mainly performance based. “Better Chinese will continue as our backbone curriculum as well as our Daily Four,” said Li Laoshi. In Daily Four, students are divided into small groups and use different levels of books according to their language proficiency. The students rotate among the four centers, which are meet with teacher, computer, reading, and games. “Friday will be the weekly Activity Day featuring various activities that integrate Chinese culture, such as calligraphy, Tai chi, Kung Fu, Chinese games, and cooking Chinese food,” she continued.

Students will be assessed the traditional way (pencil and paper); however, the main approach of assessment will be performance-based. For every new unit, formative assessment will be used daily and summative assessment will be used at the end of each unit.

Spanish

Spanish learning will be taught through the use of different games, dances, and songs. I was born in Chile, and this is my second year as lead Spanish teacher,” said Sra. Sanzana. “Spanish class is a little bit of everything—grammar, vocabulary, talking, reading, and listening,” she said. As in other subjects, teaching is differentiated. “I divided students into groups based on levels,” she explained. “Don’t be afraid of whatever comes; I will be here helping them.”

Homework

The question on BTS attendees minds’ was, “what’s up with homework?” Here is the breakdown:

  • Chinese: Grades 3–7 will work on a small packet the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month.
  • Spanish: Grades 3 and 4 will work on a small packet the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month; 5th- 6th, and 7th-graders will have homework weekly.
  • Math: Homework will consist of 15 minutes of problem solving or Workbook completion.
  • Language Arts: Each week, there will be one lesson in Wordly Wise, a list of vocabulary words to know, and various assignments to complete.

Forging Ahead!

Although BTS night is over, know that “teachers and administration are always available to answer any questions regarding your student’s development as we partner throughout the school year,” as Mrs. Danyali put it. Also know that you’ll be meeting teachers new to TNCS in Immersed profiles throughout the coming year as well as hear more from staff who are adopting new roles and taking the school in new directions! Stay tuned!

TNCS Hosts Education Training Program for Chinese Interns!

Last week, The New Century School held a very special closing ceremony for a group of interns visiting from China. TNCS Co-Executive Director and Co-Founder Roberta Faux said, “We partnered with a group in China and University of MD to bring over nine college sophomore and juniors who are majoring in teaching for a hands-on training program. They spent a few days at UMD doing course work and then supported instructors at TNCS beginning August 23rd. They were each assigned a classroom and assisted the teacher with classroom set-up, new student orientation, and one-on-one teaching.”

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September 1st was their last day at TNCS, and the closing ceremony, moderated by Mrs. Faux with assistance from TNCS Chinese teacher Wei Li, was held in their honor. They included: Tingjing Zhu from Si chuan province, Wenmei Xu from Shan xi province, Tan Cheng and Feifei Xu from Shang hai, Yufeng Wang from An hui province, Yao dong from Ning xia province, Yaqian Ji from Zhe jiang province, and Ran an from Gansu province.

Mrs. Faux started off the fun with a game designed to illustrate the differences between fixed ways of thinking and creativity. What does it matter if you can recite the 100th digit of pi (9) or rattle off the word with the most consecutive consonants (Hirschsprung, as in the disease) if you can’t solve real-world problems as they arise in the moment? Even when she invoked the hallowed name of education guru Sir Ken Robinson, however, the Chinese interns did not buy it—they almost unanimously would have “hired” the guy who knew his facts. But they are probably all still pondering this interesting exercise!

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The group was awarded certificates earned for completing their training; they also gave and received speeches of gratitude.

Some transcribed here, these speeches provide a peek inside what the interns’ days were like at TNCS as well as how valuable the experience was for the teachers they helped support, the students they interacted with, and for themselves.

From Primary Teacher Maria Mosby: It was such a beautiful experience having the students from China visit, especially our dear friend, Ann Laoshi. They were warm, helpful, excited to learn, and we learned so much from them as well. Ann Laoshi is a natural Montessorian with a quiet grace that children and adults alike are drawn to. We wish her and all of the students much success.

From Primary Teacher Yangyang Li: Thank you so much for your hard work and support. Wish you all a happy and prosperous future! Best wishes!

From Upper Elementary Teacher Jon Wallace: It was really nice to have a caring, helpful, and curious person in the classroom. It made for a really fantastic week!

From Lower Elementary Teacher Barbara Sanchez: We will miss “Anna” very much. It’s like she knew what I needed her to do even before she asked me. She always helped the students in their small groups. The students and I will miss her very much.

From Lower Elementary Teacher Megan DeMatteo: My intern was really good at assessing the students’ needs and jumping in where she was needed. The kids loved her!

The ceremony ended with Tingjing playing a song on the ukulele and the students responding with a choral performance, followed by a reception with refreshments.

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Working at the school is only part of their overall experience, however. Equally vital and enriching is what they do outside of the school day, and that’s where the host family comes in. One component of the TNCS identity is cultural exchange, so, multiple times throughout the year, TNCS families have the opportunity to be hosts to students and/or instructors from other countries (or even from around the United States, as in the case of the recent American Music System summer camp). “It’s been a joy to host our house guests. [Our daughters] have had so much fun!  We will miss you,” said Mrs. Faux. Other TNCS families also hosted and were kind enough to share some of their experience with us.

Said host parent Calvin Eib: “The interns are a great group. Our son has been having a blast with the two interns staying with us! It’s actually made for a great first week at New Century!” As has happened during other hosting opportunities (see Hosts with the Most, Parts 1 and 2 and TNCS Hosts Winter Exchange Program), the Eib family took hosting very much to heart.

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“It was so interesting getting their perspective on working at New Century,” said Mr. Eib. “They came home absolutely exhausted after school each day!” (Welcome to the U.S. student!) “In addition to what you can see in the pictures, we took them to the Aquarium, the Shake Shack, and so on.” The Eibs learned their likes and dislikes (very popular: sushi, blue crab, taco night at home, hot [not cold] water to drink, Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups, eggs and rice, evening showers. Not popular: coffee, beer, cold water, pizza at the school [sorry!], and Western-style food multiple meals in a row) and exchanged cultural experiences.

Continued Mr. Eib: “Ting Jin was a wonderful singing partner with [our son]—everything from 1,000-year-old songs to modern Chinese pop. He taught her songs and numerous games (thumb wars, that clapping “concentration” game).”

“They really took time to get to know each of us and we did the same,” said Mr. Eib.

TNCS’s Second Annual Art Show Beguiles Attendants!

tncs-seconnd-annual-art-showThe Arts are an integral part of every school day at The New Century School. Visual arts teacher (and newlywed, hence the name change) Elisabeth Davies hosted the first-ever TNCS student art show during the 2015–2016 school year, but her show this year took it to a new level.

Kicking off Memorial Day weekend, the show comprising works from each and every primary through middle school student took place Friday, 5/26/17, from 5:30 pm–6:30 pm. Paintings, drawings, and sculptures were on display, spiraling up the central staircase of building south and spilling out into the hallways. A silent auction* and reception were held in the multipurpose room. Attendees were invited to have some snacks and do a gallery walk through the school, guided by their young artists.

Ms. Davies says she came up with the idea for hosting an art show having grown up participating in one every year. “I grew up always having an art show in the district,” she explained. “It combined art from three elementary schools, two middle schools, and the local high school. It was a really fun event that brought everyone together and meant a lot to the kids to get to show their families.”

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It evidently means a lot to TNCS students as well. Ms. Davies says, “The students have worked so hard on every project this year, knowing that I would be putting together an art show at the end of the year. They were all very excited.”

Her primary goals for the show were to have some fun but also demonstrate the technique and skill that go into creating art:

I wanted to show parents all the skills their children learned this year in art. It may just look like a drawing of a snowman, but the kindergarteners and 1st-graders learned how to create foreshortened space and give volume to a sphere using shading. The 4th- through 6th-graders are learning how to draw from life and see and translate those things into paper. I’m so proud of every single student in the school.

As for the primary students, Head of School Alicia Danyali explains, “Primary students have studied communities all year long, working from the closest community to them (their families) all the way out to the world. This month, we have discussed what we all have in common and what makes us different, and that we are all part of a larger community outside of ourselves.” You’ll read below how this translates to their art.
And, with this brief introduction, we leave you now to feast your eyes on these amazing works of creativity, beauty, imagination, and masterful execution. This is truly one of those times when the picture is worth 1,000 words.

Snowmen at Night

Bad Hair Day

Self-Portrait

Cooperative Monsters

Space

Inner Self-Portrait

Van Gogh, Pigasso, and Mootisse

Inedible Food

Quilts

Other

Auction

*TNCS’s curriculum teaches global citizenship and peace. With that in mind, the primary students are excited to help other children in North America by making something with their own hands. The Peter Hesse Foundation aims to promote quality early childhood education; compassion; and a peaceful, just world. Parents for all ages were invited to take part in primary’s silent auction to benefit The Peter Hesse Foundation.

TNCS Brings It Full Circle with Restorative Practices!

There’s a trend emerging in U.S. schools currently, including here in Baltimore and surrounding counties, to improve school culture by fostering healthy interpersonal and intrapersonal dialogue instead of by using the more traditional punitive approach to deal with problems. Restorative practices (RP) gives students concrete tools with which to resolve conflicts with others as well as internal conflicts that might be preventing a given student from realizing his or her potential. RP, thus, “restores” both the community and the individual to wholeness.

Although RP is sometimes associated with schools in crisis or as a last-resort way to redirect students otherwise headed for the criminal justice system, it is more accurately applied much more broadly. RP is useful in any social setting because its primary goal is to promote relationships.

Restorative Practices at TNCS

That’s why The New Century School‘s Head of School Alicia Danyali has begun using RP at TNCS. “Restorative practices has been my focus for the whole year,” she said, “because I think it’s beneficial for any relationship. It has been around for about 30 years as a reaction to chronic poor student behavior. Although we do not have that problem at TNCS, I am very interested in giving TNCS students this tool to take ownership of their words and actions—that’s where the ‘restorative’ comes in.”

IMG_2283During the 2016–2017 school year, Ms. Danyali attended three professional development sessions with the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) to ultimately become a “Trainer of Trainers,” meaning that she is now certified to teach TNCS staff (or anyone else) how to implement RP within their classrooms. She also attended sessions in Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Development (CD) at the University of MD, put on by like-minded educators from Rutgers’ School of Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) and Character Development (CD) in Schools and After-School Programs. She became familiar with RP through her colleague Barbara Sugarman Grochal, Director of School Conflict Resolution Education Programs, Center for Dispute Resolution at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. Said Ms. Danyali:

I’m a longtime believer in restorative practices in education as well as private industries. I read the books; it was life-changing. Hearing [Ms. Grochal] speak is the reason I got so interested in restorative practices. It fits with so many of the other things I was interested in like mindfulness and strong, supportive emotional and social character development. These disciplines all send a similar message but use different tools and strategies to effect their outcomes.

She even brought Ms. Grochal to TNCS as an independent consultant to talk about RP to staff during TNCS’s first professional development day back in October. They learned about the RP ethos and got a “crash course” on how to use RP strategies. Since then, Ms. Danyali has undertaken subsequent trainings, working in small groups as needs are identified to present possible activities that teachers can use. She sometimes works within the classroom herself and other times models an approach for the classroom teacher to start from. Her goal is to have everyone ready to use RP as needed for the next school year as part of an overall increased emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL):

What can teachers do to keep this message of teaching the whole child going? We want our children to be emotionally competent. They are facing things that previous generations haven’t necessarily had to deal with socially. They don’t have that much face-to-face contact, and I think that’s a component that’s missing, to ensure accountability. We live in a society where everybody has a platform to speak their mind. I also want students to know that if they send a message for example on SnapChat airing a certain opinion, they still need to take accountability for that. There is a unifying theme to all of these things I’ve been exploring that I hope will support teaching the whole student. I professionally see equal value in SE/CD for student growth as in the academic portion.

A facet of the “trial run” she has been doing lately is in figuring out how to implement RP in age-appropriate ways. “The research shows that you can plant these seeds very young.” said Ms. Danyali, “If we plant conflict resolution tools even in students as young as age 2, those are not only part of our pillars of what makes a TNCS learner—compassion, courage, service, and respect—but also vital skills that they can use to navigate challenging times in their lives. We’re currently working out how to make it age-appropriate and differentiated, such as with how much time is needed among the various age groups.” Sixth-graders can handle lengthy discussions, but 2-year-olds need a modified approach, such as gauging the pulse of the class during the morning meeting and modeling empathy.

Restorative Practices in the Classroom

Exactly how RP works in application comes down to one essential premise: that we are not responsible for anyone else’s thoughts or feelings, but we can work as a community to raise up a community member in need of support. “We all come from our own personal stories, we take a lot of baggage, but restorative practices reminds us that we’re conditioned to react in a certain way to what goes on around us, while allowing the facts to evolve without the emotion. You may have experienced trauma in one of any number of forms, but that doesn’t excuse treating other people badly. Taking accountability, repairing–it can be as simple as something that happened on the playground when unkind words were used,” explained Ms. Danyali.

Thus, RP can undo the negative stories students might be telling themselves. “It makes us more aware that ‘I’m not only responsible for myself, but when I’m in a community setting, there’s an expectation of how I treat others’,” she said.

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To reinforce the concept of community, RP generally happens in a circle formation. Circles convey inclusion and equality. Said Ms. Danyali:

Circling is probably my favorite tool among the arsenal because you can see everybody. Everybody is exposed, and everybody’s voice is heard. It forces the issue of really listening to others and reminds us that everybody’s voice is important. There are so many valuable concepts that go along with this, and a lot of it is intuitive, but the most important part to me is that there is trust. What we say here in our community is okay, because we care about our community and everyone in it. Restorative speaks to working with students instead of doing something for them or even to them. I’d rather do with because when we’re working together toward the same goal, we’re making real progress. There’s also the sense that my teacher trusts me, or I’m not just here to please others.

For the last quarter of the school year, Ms. Danyali has been regularly visiting elementary classrooms and circling the students for discussions on a wide range of topics and with varying goals. For example, Señora Cabrera felt that the 2nd- and 3rd-graders were not focusing as the end of the year draws near, and in-class work was not getting completed. She was having to constantly redirect them and ask them to refocus. “RP allows you to be transparent about your goals,” said Ms. Danyali. “I told the class what Sra. Cabrera had observed about their high energy and said to them, ‘I just wanted to come around and check in with you. This is your community. Let’s sit in a circle and talk about it’.” This led to a discussion of “norms”; just as norms would be set in the workplace, they also need to be set in an academic environment.

So I said to them, ‘I know you set classroom rules at the beginning of the year—why aren’t they being followed? We’re going to revisit those rules now. I think you know what they are, but we’re going to talk about what our expectations are in a respectful environment, and that’s called norms.’ Everybody gave suggestions and I wrote them down verbatim on a big chart. The next day I followed up with another circle and brought the norms list to take another look at and provide feedback about what we had created now that they had some time to mull it over. There’s always a reflection piece to restorative practices. ‘Never be disrespectful to your peers or to your teachers.’ I asked how they felt about this–does anybody disagree with anything or want to add something? One student replied that she felt the word ‘never’ was too strong. ‘None of us are perfect, and sometimes we mess up. I worry about the consequence if I mess up. And I don’t want to let down my community.’ I thought that was so deep and reflective and accountable. It turns out that everyone wanted to change the wording, so we agreed on new verbiage and we moved on!

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That example embodies how RP works, but, as mentioned, it has wide-reaching applications. She also circled the 4th- through 6th-graders recently to get their feedback and thoughts on how they felt taking the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE®) on an informal basis as well as what they were anticipating during their upcoming overnight trip to Echo Hill Outdoor School.

See those circle sessions here!

Ms. Danyali explains her approach to circling this way:

I set a lot of boundaries to keep things brief and above all respectful. I gauge the attention span and where we are in the day. Something I’ve been using regularly in circles during class time is the ‘talking piece.’ As a teacher, it’s a valuable tool to get feedback and to, for example, rein in some of the excess energy during hard transitions like playground to classroom. In 60 seconds, you can get everybody on the same page—all right everyone, what are your goals for the afternoon, pass the talking piece and let each student speak briefly, and it resets the stage. You’ve said what you’re going to be accountable for, and you go off and do it. I end with community-building questions: ‘Who found out something new about a classmate? Who found they have something in common with someone else that they didn’t know before?’

To respond to challenging behavior, restorative questions might include:

  • What happened?
  • What were you thinking of at the time?
  • What have you though about since?
  • Who has been affected by what you have done? In what way?
  • What do you think you need to do to make things right?

To help those harmed by other’s actions, restorative questions might include:

  • What did you think when you realized what had happened?
  • What impact has this incident had on you and others?
  • What has been the hardest thing for you?
  • What do you think needs to happen to make things right?

 

Ms. Danyali wrapped up the RP discussion by saying, “I’m not doing this because I feel that our students are headed down the wrong paths but to remind them of what we have to be grateful for. In general, I believe that we have to combine best practices from a variety of sources. There’s so much invisible curriculum in this school already of tolerance and of understanding and cultural understanding—wouldn’t it be nice if we had a really deep understanding of ourselves and be okay with owning up to it when we make mistakes? The main thing I want our community here to understand is that RP is a mindset of coaching.”

March STEAM Madness: Jumping ahead to the “M”!

True to form, March 2017 blew in like a lion and out like a lamb . . . but this year, a numbers-minded marsupial bounced into the middle—at The New Century School, anyway!

Math Kangaroo Comes to Baltimore

For the first time in Baltimore, TNCS hosted Math Kangaroo, an International Competition for 1st- through 12-grade students whose mission is to:

  • Encourage students to master their mathematical knowledge.
  • Give them confidence in their ability for comprehending mathematics.
  • Help them understand how mathematics applies in nature’s laws and human activities.
  • Develop their ability to derive pleasure and satisfaction through intellectual life.
  • Show that mathematical education is significant in every part of the world.

imgres“Bringing an international math competition to Baltimore has been a dream of mine for a long time,” said TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director and former math teacher Jennifer Lawner.

A challenge for Baltimore as more people are choosing to stay and raise their families here is offering appropriate activities for them that are currently available in the county. Organizations like the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance and Coppermine Fieldhouse have been critical in trying to recruit activities for Baltimore so that we can have our children participate in engaging pursuits and sports leagues, and I think TNCS also helps with extracurricular activities. For me, math competitions are also in the realm of things that Baltimore needs to function as a livable place for families.

Why Math Kangaroo

TNCS hopes to offer the competition annually henceforth, and participation will be open to students from schools city-wide. This first event was somewhat of a trial run, though, before actively recruiting other schools. Ms. Lawner said she wanted to first make sure that the event “lifted students up rather than discouraging them. What we’re trying to do is get children interested in math at early ages so that they might consider intensive study or careers in math-related fields in the future.” Math Kangaroo had the benefit of opening participation in 1st grade, whereas many other math competitions, such as Math Olympiads, start at 4th grade. “They have to be old enough to be able to read the problems and instructions,” explained Ms. Lawner, “but the first and second level exams also offer a lot of visual problems for younger students.”

 

The biggest appeal of Math Kangaroo, however, is the approach to doing math. For example, the problems start easy and get progressively harder so that there will always be enough problems for the individual student to be able to work out and feel successful enough to keep going. “Encountering problems they have never been exposed to before is a really good experience for students,” added Ms. Lawner, “because they have mastered at least enough skills to try, and that’s our primary goal for them—to be motivated to try but be okay with possibly not being able to get it the first time.” TNCS’s regular math curriculum consists of skill-building and problem-solving, but Math Kangaroo provided a fresh kind of problem for students to tackle. Said Ms. Lawner:

The problems are formulated in such a way that, for example, multiplication might be necessary for the solution, but it won’t be immediately obvious that multiplication is required. The student has to fundamentally understand what multiplication accomplishes in order to use it in the context of the problem. It’s not just working through 50 arithmetic problems in a fixed amount of time, as people might imagine. These problems might involve multiple steps, each requiring a mathematical tool that the students have been learning to use, which gets them figuring out how these skills fit into solving the problem. It’s not a repetitive thing; with actual problem-solving, you have to use logic in addition to traditional math skills. The strength of these problems is that they must be understood very deeply to be solved, and that’s really what is being tested.

Math Kangaroo 2015 Sample Questions

In the weeks leading up to the March 16th competition, TNCS teachers worked with students to give them practice breaking down these kinds of problems into discrete steps and organizing their work. Reading the problem carefully is key in problems such as what are listed below. Go on, give it a shot! (Answers are given at the end of the post in case you get stumped.)

Level 1/2

1. Look closely at these four pictures.

image01
Which figure is missing from one of the pictures?

image02

Level 3/4

2. Peter has ten balls, numbered from 0 to 9. He gave four of the balls to George and three to Ann. Then each of the three friends multiplied the numbers on their balls. As the result, Peter got 0, George got 72, and Ann got 90. What is the sum of the numbers on the balls that Peter kept for himself?

image010

A) 11               B) 12               C) 13               D) 14              E) 15

Level 5/6

3. Four points lie on a line. The distances between them are, in increasing order: 2, 3, k, 11, 12, 14. What is the value of k?

A) 5                 B) 6                 C) 7                 D) 8                 E) 9

Level 7/8

4. In a group of kangaroos, the two lightest kangaroos weigh 25% of the total weight of the group. The three heaviest kangaroos weigh 60% of the total weight. How many kangaroos are in the group?

A) 6                 B) 7                 C) 8                 D) 15               E) 20

Level 9/10

5. The figure shows seven regions formed by three intersecting circles. A number is written in each region. It is known that the number in any region is equal to the sum of the numbers in all neighboring regions. (We call two regions neighboring if their boundaries have more than one common point.) Two of the numbers are known (see the figure). Which number is written in the central region?

image018

A) 0                 B) – 3               C) 3                 D) – 6               E) 6

Level 11/12

6. When reading the following statements from the left to the right, what is the first statement that is true?

A) C) is true.    B) A) is true.    C) E) is false.   D) B) is false. E) 1 + 1 = 2

Competition Outcomes

Parents may have been skeptical about the idea of their kids sitting down to take what, in effect, was a 90-minute math exam, complete with answer bubbles carefully filled in with no. 2 pencils, especially because this is something they had not been asked to do thus far at TNCS. But, perhaps surprisingly, the students not only handled it without issue, but actually enjoyed it, more importantly, which was the primary goal. It’s easy to speculate on why—it’s a competition—a game—not an anxiety-inducing test, and kids brought lots of positivity to the experience. The challenge is itself motivating, in the same way sports can be for the physical body. Participation, moreover, is optional.
They also received a T-shirt, a pencil, a tattoo, and a certificate of participation for joining in, so those inducements may be responsible for some of the joie de math.  Another reason, explained Ms. Lawner, “is that children all over the world were participating, so our students felt very special to be a part of this. Mathematics is done all over the world, and Math Kangaroo wants to make students aware of that connection and prepare them for that global challenge.”
One thing that is important to bear in mind about this kind of endeavor is that the score, seemingly paradoxically, is largely beside the point. Because the exam is intended to challenge, many students might not score even above 50%, but, said Ms. Lawner, “the value was that students had the opportunity to step out of the curriculum and face new problems, and they got excited about math. Parents and teachers also got excited and participated. I think the experience elevated the students’ interest in mathematics and awareness of mathematics as an international activity—great benefits, to be sure.”
The primary goals of fun and engagement were achieved, if how excited students were both before and after the event are any indication. Some parents even report being given math tests of their children’s devising. Nevertheless, it might seem counterintuitive for a school that does not adopt standardized tests to go in for this kind of math exam. “The baggage that goes along with the word ‘test’ is a lot,” said Ms. Lawner, “when what we’re really trying to do is give students a period of challenge. It’s not so much a test on material that they’ve learned and are supposed to regurgitate as an experience with challenging problems and what they can do with them.” Another kind of “score,” in other words. “How hard they worked was so impressive,” said Ms. Lawner who was on hand to help out during exam administration. “They used all their time and were so determined to do this thing.”
IMG_1440 1
Even so, students who do score well will be rewarded with prizes. There are medals for the top three students in the country, and ribbons for the top three in the state. Other prizes include books, games, gift cards, and toys. Students who demonstrate high achievement over multiple years are eligible for college grants.

The Future of Math Kangaroo at TNCS

Previous Maryland winners seem to cluster in Montgomery county—“It’s time for Baltimore to challenge that!” said Ms. Lawner. With the inaugural event being so well-received by TNCS students, next year, the hope is to offer two public sessions for non-TNCS students in addition to the in-school exam.
There’s so much talent in Baltimore, in our children, and I would just love for them to be encouraged to come show their stuff. Sometimes all children need is to be asked to participate. It might start somebody down a path that could lead to his or her life’s passion. I think it’s really important to encourage math, especially as students get older and the math gets harder. Our goal here is for students to get a really solid foundation in math so that later they’re able to make choices and that multiple future paths are open to them. A career in engineering, for example, requires a certain level of math skill. So, we always want to promote the possibility that you can do it—you can stare at a problem long enough, given the right tools, to find a creative solution.
Answers to Practice Questions
1. D) image005 2. E) 15 3. E) 9 4. A) 6 5. A) 0 6. D) B) is false.

March STEAM Madness Continues: 2017 STEM Fair!

At The New Century School, March means STEM Fair time! When STEM instructor Dan McGonigal joined TNCS back in 2014 (see post), what had been the annual Science Fair evolved into its current incarnation.

STEM Fair: Where Do They Get All That Energy?

This year, the theme was, indeed, Energy, and the boundaries were expanded so that students could choose to do a traditional experiment, demonstrate a scientific concept, or do an engineering project:

  • To do an experiment, students made a hypothesis and tested it, adhering rigorously to study design (i.e., they followed the Scientific Method).
  • To do a demonstration, the student demonstrated a physical principle related to energy (an example is what makes ice packs work). This required more research than the other types of projects.
  • To do an engineering project, students could engineer a solution to a problem or improve an existing technology and report on the engineering design process.

Offering more possibilities of types of projects, explained Mr. McGonigal, was so that students were able to adapt as they went along and “find a way to make it work.” In some cases, the type of project morphed as the student worked, resulting in some overlap—some experiments featured some demonstration elements and vice versa, for example. “It’s not really about perfection or getting everything precisely right,” he added. “There might be errors, there might be problems, it might not be beautiful—that’s the whole process of learning, to get better by doing these projects and presentations and to get thinking scientifically.” It was “controlled chaos”

They could come up with the idea for their project on their own, or they could derive inspiration from LiveBinders, ScienceBuddies, or another student-friendly website so long as the topic fulfilled two very important criteria: to be “feasible and interesting.” The work of doing the projects was completed in class, and most materials were obtained at school because Mr. McGonigal wanted this endeavor to be as student-driven (and hassle-free for parents) as possible. Apart from his ongoing guidance plus some parent volunteer support during class time, students did their own work, from choosing a topic, to testing their ideas, to reporting on the results. Although it created a bit of “controlled chaos,” in the classroom, “I am a big believer that children need to do their own work and learn from that experience,” said Mr. McGonigal.

tncs-stem-fair-2017

 Expectations were a little different for each type of project and for grade level. The 2nd- and 3rd-graders worked with a peer on the same topic, but each created his or her own display. The 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-graders worked completely independently. A third cohort of 1st- and 2nd-graders worked in groups on projects. Grading rubrics also differed, corresponding to grade level and type of project (experiment, demonstration, engineering).

The Projects!

Although Winter Storm Stella interrupted the scheduled date of the actual presentations, the STEM Fair proceeded on three separate days (you’ll note lots of red clothing on Math Kangaroo Competition Day as well as lots of green on St. Patrick’s Day), starting with the oldest group of students. Parents were instructed to circulate and ask questions: “The students have been practicing presenting to each other and to younger TNCS students so that they are experts in their fields,” said Mr. McGonigal.

Projects included “How to Make a Plane Invisible to Radar” in which the student tested uncontrolled variables against controlled variables in true experimental fashion involving flashlights, special equipment, and black paint. “I noticed the sleek design of the world’s fastest plane and wondered if the design had something to do with what made it so stealthy,” he said during a presentation to parents. “I tested three shapes made out of paper inside a black box to see which would refract the least lux and be less visible to radar: a cylinder, a U shape, and a W shape, and my hypothesis was correct—the cylinder refracted the least lux.”

The best part of this very sophisticated investigation? It just made him even more curious. “Next I want to find out if the color of the designs would necessarily impact the lux bouncing off. Why do they always use black? What would happen with white, or green, or red?” he asked.

“How to Make a Solar Oven” was a very popular project among all three divisions, chosen by multiple students to take on. Not only was the energy theme (and heat transfer, another recently explored STEM theme) addressed, but solar ovens have the potential to reduce hunger in developing countries as well as cook using renewable, sustainable energy, aspects that 21st-century-minded TNCS students evidently found very appealing. (Probably equally appealing was the promise of taking their ovens home to use for making s’mores and melting butter for popcorn, other extremely valuable features!)

Another popular project also incorporated solar power: “Bristle Bots” involved constructing an artistic robot. (And getting to don goggles and gloves like any card-carrying scientist should.)

But most students ventured out into uncharted territory and produced some very cool stuff. This slide show is captioned to help explain some of the work.

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“I’m very proud of the work they produced. They worked really hard over the last 2 weeks, and they all became good problem solvers. It’s reflected on their project displays,” said Mr. McGonigal. Want to read about past years’ projects? Click for posts from 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Yay science!

tncs-stem-fair-2017