Guest Blog: ChatGBT on How Artificial Intelligence Can Affect Education!

I know, so meta, right? A blog about artificial intelligence (AI) is written by a chatbot! Welcome to 2023.

But at The New Century School, education is all about embracing possibility and exploration. So, let’s see what ChatGPT has to say . . . about itself.

This image was also created by an AI bot!

TNCS Blogger: Explain how AI can help elementary and middle school students.

ChatGBT: AI can help elementary and middle school students in a variety of ways. One way is through personalized learning, where AI algorithms can analyze a student’s performance and adapt the curriculum to their individual needs. This can help students learn at their own pace and improve their understanding of the material. Another way is through educational games and interactive simulations, which can make learning more engaging and fun for students. Additionally, AI can assist teachers with tasks such as grading assignments, providing feedback, and identifying students who may need extra help. Overall, AI can help students learn more effectively and efficiently, and can also help teachers manage their workload.

TNCS Blogger: How can ChatGBT, specifically, help elementary and middle school students?

ChatGBT: ChatGPT can help elementary and middle school students by providing a natural language interface to various educational resources and tools. For example, students can ask ChatGPT for explanations of concepts they are learning in class, and ChatGPT can provide clear and concise explanations in a way that is easy for students to understand. ChatGPT can also help students with homework and other assignments by answering questions, providing examples, and giving feedback. Additionally, ChatGPT can be used to create interactive educational games and simulations that engage students and make learning more fun. Overall, ChatGPT can serve as a valuable learning tool for students by providing them with instant access to information and guidance in a way that is easy for them to understand and use.

Sidebar: What is ChatGPT? Who is OpenAI? ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence bot that dialogues with users. It comes to us from OpenAI, a research and deployment company, whose  “mission is to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.”

TNCS Blogger: Can ChatGPT do students’ homework for them?

ChatGBT: While ChatGPT can certainly provide students with answers and explanations to help them with their homework, it should not be used as a tool for completing homework assignments or taking the place of a student’s own learning and understanding. The purpose of homework is to practice and reinforce what was learned in class, to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. If a student uses ChatGPT to simply copy answers or complete their assignments without understanding the material, they will not be able to develop those skills and may have difficulties when they have to apply the knowledge in real-world scenarios or in more complex problems. It is important for students to use ChatGPT as a learning aid and not as a replacement for their own work and understanding of the material.

***Editorial Note: Great response, ChatGPT!

TNCS Blogger: How can instructors differentiate ChatGPT-generated work from a student’s work?

ChatGBT: Instructors can differentiate ChatGPT-generated work from a student’s work in several ways:

  1. Checking for understanding: Instructors can ask follow-up questions or request additional explanations to ensure that the student has a full understanding of the material, rather than just being able to repeat information provided by ChatGPT.
  2. Comparing to previous work: Instructors can compare the student’s work with their previous assignments or quizzes to check for consistency in style, level of understanding, and progress.
  3. Plagiarism detection tools: Instructors can use plagiarism detection tools to check if the work submitted by a student matches any other sources, such as websites, books, or other students’ work.
  4. Assessing critical thinking and problem solving skills: Instructors can design assignments that require students to apply the knowledge they have learned, rather than just repeating facts and figures, this way they can evaluate the student’s understanding and critical thinking skills.
  5. Using multiple assessments: Instead of relying on one type of assessment, instructors can use a variety of assessments such as exams, projects, presentation, and essays, which can provide a more holistic understanding of a student’s understanding of the material.

It’s important to keep in mind that ChatGPT is a powerful tool, but it can’t replace the human touch in assessing students work.

***Editorial Note: Another great response, ChatGPT!

TNCS Blogger: Explain how students can use ChatGPT to enhance their work.

ChatGBT: Students can use ChatGPT to enhance their work in several ways:

  1. Research assistance: ChatGPT can help students find and organize relevant information for their assignments and projects by answering questions, providing sources, and summarizing key points.
  2. Proofreading and editing: ChatGPT can assist students with proofreading and editing their work by identifying grammar and spelling errors, and suggesting improvements to the overall structure and clarity of their writing.
  3. Enhancing vocabulary: ChatGPT can help students expand their vocabulary by providing synonyms and antonyms for words they are using, and helping them find more sophisticated words to use in their writing.
  4. Enhancing critical thinking and problem solving skills: ChatGPT can assist students with solving problems and answering questions by providing explanations and examples that can help them understand the material better and develop their critical thinking skills.
  5. Improving communication skills: ChatGPT can help students improve their communication skills by providing them with an easy-to-use and natural language interface for expressing themselves and communicating their ideas.

It’s important to note that ChatGPT is a tool and it can’t replace the student’s own understanding and creativity. It can be used as a resource for students to enhance their work and improve their knowledge, but it should never be used to replace their own work or creativity.

TNCS Blogger: Are there any disadvantages to using ChatGBT in an educational environment?

ChatGBT: While ChatGPT can be a valuable tool for students and teachers, there are some potential disadvantages to keep in mind:

  1. Reliance on technology: Overreliance on ChatGPT can prevent students from developing their own critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and make them dependent on technology for answers and explanations.
  2. Limited understanding: ChatGPT can provide answers and explanations, but it does not have the ability to understand the context and nuances of a question or problem like a human can, which could lead to incorrect or incomplete answers.
  3. Bias: ChatGPT is trained on a large dataset of text, and it may contain biases that are present in the training data. It’s important to be aware of this and to critically evaluate the information provided by the model.
  4. Privacy concerns: ChatGPT may store and process personal information of students, which could raise privacy concerns. It’s important to ensure that any personal information is handled in compliance with data protection laws and regulations.
  5. Limited to language-based tasks: ChatGPT is designed to understand and respond to natural language, so it’s limited to language-based tasks such as answering questions, summarizing text, or writing. It is not able to perform other types of tasks such as image or voice recognition.

Overall, ChatGPT can be a useful tool for students and teachers, but it’s important to use it in a way that complements and enhances their learning and understanding, rather than replacing it.


For more on how ChatGPT can be a friend to the classroom, see these articles written by humans (or so we think 🤔):

Honoring a Visionary: TNCS Celebrates MLK, Jr. Day with Service … and Books!

“The time is always right to do what is right.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Service is one of the four Core Values at The New Century School. Honoring the great man who famously said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve” on the day set aside to serve in his name is an annual observance at TNCS.

On the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Day of Service, we step up to make communities more equitable, to fight for systemic change, and to take action to create the Beloved Community of Dr. King’s dream. Together, we can strengthen ties to our communities and one other while we address critical issues that divide us.

At TNCS, this type of service happens all year long, with the TNCS Community participating in food, clothing, and hygiene kit drives (scroll to the end for more service posts), for example, and by actively participating in antiracism. But on January 16th, that service becomes transcendent, merging with the service of others and, temporarily, at least, actualizing the Beloved Community.

Day of Service

Baltimore has a special connection with Dr. King, who visited in 1964. Events will take place all around Charm City leading up to and on January 16th, the day set aside to serve the community in his honor. And, YES! The parade is happening (Monday, beginning at noon)! Other wonderful events like the annual Dare to Dream day at American Visionary Art Museum (free museum admission!) as well as opportunities to volunteer and serve are included in these links:

Whether you are able to serve on January 16th or not, you can inspire your children to stand up for equality. Start with this biographical video on Dr. King made for kids.

Books are another extremely effective way to teach children about the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. So, with the help of Colours of Us and Encompass, here are reading lists for preschool, and elementary, and middle school children, grouped by age.

Preschool Reading List

  • I Am Martin Luther King, Jr., by Brad Meltzer
  • The Story of Martin Luther King Jr., by Johnny Ray Moore
  • My Uncle Martin’s Big Heart, by Angela Farris Watkins
  • My First Biography: Martin Luther King, Jr., by Marion Dane Bauer
  • A Sweet Smell of Roses, by Angela Johnson

Elementary Reading List

  • Be a King: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream and You, by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • As Good as Anybody, by Richard Michelson
  • The Story of Martin Luther King Jr., by Christine Platt
  • Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Doreen Rappaport
  • National Geographic Readers: Martin Luther King, Jr., by Kitson Jazynka
  • I Have a Dream, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation, by Barry Wittenstein
  • My Brother Martin, by Christine King Farris
  • Martin’s Dream, by Jane Kurtz
  • I Am #4: Martin Luther King Jr., by Grace Norwich
  • My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by Martin Luther King III
  • My Dream of Martin Luther King, by Faith Ringgold
  • The March on Washington (American Girl: Real Stories From My Time), by Bonnie Bader

Middle School Reading List

  • Martin Rising: Requiem For a King, by Andrea Davis Pinkney
  • Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?, by Bonnie Bader
  • Free At Last: The Story of Martin Luther King, Jr., by Angela Bull
  • Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Anne Frank, by Nancy Churnin
  • Portraits of African-American Heroes, by Tonya Bolden
  • Martin Luther King Jr.: A Graphic History of America’s Great Civil Rights Leaders, by Rachel Ruiz
  • Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968, by Alice Faye Duncan

However you choose to observe, Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, TNCS Community!


More service blogs from Immersed:

New Year’s Resolutions at TNCS: Speak Up (in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese)!

Multilingualism is a cornerstone of The New Century School‘s academic approach and a key part of TNCS’s commitment to the whole child. Immersed has reported on the importance of multilingualism several times (and is even named in its honor), but ongoing research continues to reveal fresh advantages of this practice, so we’re resolving to speak up about this rich topic in the New Year!

Multilingualism at TNCS

We live in an interconnected world more so now than ever before. This interconnectedness can bring us together when we welcome and embrace diversity. Thus, being able to communicate with people of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds is vital to thriving in our global society and is among the many well-established advantages of multilingual education (listed below for your convenience).

At TNCS, students learn English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese, both inside the classroom and out. We’ll get more fully into what this means below, but first, let’s look at how it all starts. Students start at age 2 in either a Spanish or Mandarin Chinese immersion classroom. As they progress through the divisions, formal instruction in both languages is layered in as they are ready.

Although targeted instruction in the grammar and mechanics of a language is always going to be necessary, for true proficiency, the learner must be able to use the language—to speak it, to read it, even to learn in it. This is why multilingual education intersects so naturally with the Montessori approach, the next division a TNCS student will enter. Maria Montessori advocated for an educational style that fosters independent learning and absorption of language while engaged in “work.” The Spanish and Mandarin Chinese language programs at TNCS flow naturally into this scheme.

While the Montessori classrooms at TNCS are part of the preschool division, Montessori not only lays the foundation for students’ future academic career, but it also continues to inform the educational approach right up through middle school at TNCS with its emphasis on self-directed learning. In elementary and middle school, TNCS students study Spanish and Mandarin Chinese daily, in addition to having many opportunities to use their languages in authentic contexts, as you’ll see below.

Multilingualism Inside and Outside the Classroom

At TNCS, language immersion means being so proficient with language that students can study, for example, Global Studies in that language. Or read a book about China in Spanish. Let that resonate for a moment, and imagine how synergistic that kind of learning is . . . how many kinds of learning are taking place simultaneously within the child’s brain and how they each unlock further potential and space for yet more learning. It’s like a learning wormhole! A learning kaleidoscope!

Back to the inside and outside the classroom part—being an authentic multilingual global citizen (one of the pillars of a TNCS graduate) informs every aspect of learning at TNCS. Here are just some of the ways this happens:

  • Learning from teachers who are native speakers of the language being taught
  • Attending summer immersion camps in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese
  • Hosting exchange students, interns, and teachers
  • Conversing with students in other countries via Skype
  • Participating in annual celebrations of the Lunar New Year and Spanish Heritage Month
  • Making art, learning songs and dances, and cooking foods that are part of the culture
  • Taking field trips to restaurants and other cultural centers

Individual stories detailing these wonderful adventures are listed at the end of this post. (Hint: and they include oodles of adorable photos of TNCS students past and present!)

Proven Benefits of Multilingualism

For a refresher on the science, here are demonstrated advantages that multilingualism confers.

Also be sure to check out our refreshed Resources page with published articles and studies on the benefits of multiculturalism.)

The New Century School at 13: A Retrospective in Immersed Posts

It’s time. The New Century School is just completing its 13th fall semester, and we need a reckoning of all this amazing school has accomplished in that relatively short amount of time. Why 13? We chose to memorialize the 2022–2023 school year because it offers a truly remarkable first: a TNCS student who started TNCS at age 2 when the school opened in the fall of 2010 will graduate as an 8th-grader this June—she will have completed the full TNCS experience and is the only student to have this distinction!

TNCS is also rounding out a full Chinese zodiac of years. Established in the Year of the Tiger, TNCS closes 2022 also as a Tiger year and will begin 2023 as a Rabbit.

In this post, you’ll take a walk back through time. You’ll see your babies back when they were (or if they are still) babies. You’ll revisit cherished memories. You’ll smile to see beloved friends, teachers, and faculty who are still a part of TNCS in spirit if not in person. In short, you’ll be amazed . . . and probably moved to tears.

(Another thing you’ll notice is how actually bad phone cameras were a decade ago! Also, a sad note on videos: some no longer display as TNCS’s YouTube channel is now defunct.)

Finally, you’ll get to judge for yourself. As TNCS Co-Director/Co-Executive Founder Roberta Faux said over a decade ago, “school should be where kids discover their passion.” Has TNCS provided opportunities for passion-finding?

Milestones and Firsts

TNCS has accomplished sheer marvels. In its first 5 years alone, the once tiny one-room schoolhouse established by Co-Executive Directors/Co-Founders Ms. Faux and Jennifer Lawner with five students grew into a full-fledged preschool and elementary school. Milestone after milestone was sighted, then met, including launching a greenhouse and school-lunch program, acquiring a gymnasium and auditorium; implementing a robust STEM curriculum; introducing Immersed; earning two coveted STARTALK grants; and creating a wonderfully rich education that integrates the arts, modern world languages, inquiry-based learning, and self-motivated discovery.

Since those incredible feats happened, still more miraculous developments took place: the student body has grown to hundreds, the middle school opened in 2016, the Ozone café debuted, and the international service-learning program began to name just a few (and plenty more are listed below).

Through all of this truly remarkable evolution, TNCS’s original raison d’être has remained true: language immersion in Spanish and Mandarin paired with self-directed exploration. The program has blossomed in beautiful ways around this core idea, but it informs and underpins everything at TNCS.

Although providing an exhaustive accounting of the last 13 years is impossible because of the sheer volume of accomplishments, enjoy these highlights in the form of past Immersed posts about this one-of-a-kind magical place.

To start us off, here is a rough timeline of some pivotal TNCS events:

2006: Patterson Park Montessori (PPM) opens

2010: PPM moves to 724 S. Ann St. in Fell’s Point and becomes TNCS

2012: Immersed, School Lunch, the Elementary Program, and the School Gym make their debuts

2013: Science Fair, Imagination Playground, and Summer Camp debut

Spring 2014: TNCS applies for a Startalk grant, and the Spring Concert debuts

Fall 2014: TNCS expands into Building North, the Playground Gets a Major Upgrade, Parent Volunteers Paint Crosswalks on Campus, and the Winter Concerts, and the TNCS Website debut

2015: Read-a-Thon comes to TNCS and TNCS Goes to China

Spring 2016: TNCS debuts its first Art Exhibition, the first Class President is elected, the first Elementary Graduation happens, and TNCS gets a school van

Fall 2016: Middle School opens, TNCS Core Values are established, the Ozone Snack Bar opens for business, TNCS establishes a Parent Council, and TNCS holds its first Hispanic Heritage Night

2017: Math Kangaroo comes to TNCS

tncs-math-kangaroo-competition

2018: TNCS holds its first Spelling Bee, establishes a scholarship program, and gets a pedestrian crosswalk placed on the corner of Ann and Lancaster Streets

2019: Capstone trip program debuts for middle schoolers, and TNCS Graduates its First 8th-Graders

Spring 2020: TNCS holds its First Black History CelebrationVirtual TNCS debuts, and TNCS becomes an Essential Personnel Childcare Site

Fall 2020: TNCS Students Return to Safe In-Person Learning and establishes a COVID-19 Wellness Team

2021: TNCS Holds Its First-Ever Silent Auction, and the Advisory Board, Student Council, and School Store debut

2022: TNCS embraces the philosophy of One School, One Program, One Community and creates the Portrait of a Graduate, and the parent council becomes the Family Partnership

. . . and whatever wonderful things happen next!

Have we whetted your appetite for more delicious memories? Read on!

What Sets TNCS Apart

We could go on and on (and do, actually). But so many features of this beautiful school have elevated it to truly one of a kind, including multi-language learning, emphasis on the Arts, and all the special moments that take place daily in the classrooms.

Aftercare: Spaceship Camp, Aftercare 1, 2, and 3

Core Values: Kindness Counts!, Giving Back: Heifer International, Peace Day, Student Awards Ceremony, Kindness Buckets, Kindness Rocks, Anti-Bullying, Gratitude

Emphasis on the Whole Child: Physical Activity throughout the Day, Cultural Diversity, Mental Health Awareness, Mindfulness, Restorative Practices, Internet Safety 1 and 2, Unplugging and Connecting, DEI, Spirit Days, Cuddles and Crafts, Positivity, Student Support

Environmental Sustainability: Blown Away with Wind Energy, Viridian, Weeping Willow, Hungry Harvest

Field Trips: Confucius Institute; Math-E-Magic; Columbus Park 1 and 2; Walking Tour with Frederick Douglass; Robinson Nature Center; Milburn Orchards; White House; Cathay Cultural Center; Digital Harbor; Echo Hill 1 and 2; Museum of Industry; AVAM; Irvine Nature Center 1 and 2; Port Discovery; MD Science Center; Frederick Douglass Museum; Washington, D.C.; Chesapeake Shakespeare Company; BARCS; BOP Pizza; Cultivated Creations; Science; Golden Wok

Holidays: Mother’s Day, Holidays

Language Learning: Multilingualism, 5 Cs, International Skype, Mid-Autumn Festival 2018, Preprimary Spanish Immersion, D.C. Chinatown, Youth Chinese Test, Talking the Talk

Miscellaneous: Cursive, International Day of Coding, ChickensPeace Game, Robots, Anti-Racism, Rain-Making

STEM/Science Fairs: 2014, 2015, 20162017, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022

Summer Camps: Lego 2014 and 2016; Move It; Startalk 2014 and 2015; Painting Workshop 2014 and 2016; Drama 2013, 2014, and 2016; Camp Invention 2013, 2014, and 2016; Cooking and Gardening; Chinese Immersion 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019; Spanish Immersion 2016, 2017, and 2018 1 and 2; American Music System 20172018, and 2019; Musical Theatre 2018 and 2019, Shakespeare, Virtual Art 2020

The Arts: Art Program 1, 2, and 3; Music Program 1 and 2; Pipa; Square 1; Strings; 2021

Volunteering: Parent VolunteeringHost Families 1 and 2

Concerts/Shows/Performances

One of the most-appreciated aspects of TNCS is its penchant for celebration! TNCS celebrates all of its wonderful diversity as well as takes every opportunity to put on a good show!

Art Exhibitions: 2017, 2020

Black History Month: 2020 1 and 2, 2021

Hispanic Heritage Night: 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018

Lunar New Year: Year of the Snake, Year of the Horse, Year of the Sheep, Year of the Rooster, Year of the Pig, Year of the Rat, Year of the Ox, Year of the Tiger

Miscellaneous: Baltimore’s Chinatown Performance, Confucius Day InstituteContinental Bridge, Greek Plays, Primary Drama, Stand-Up Comedy

Music Concerts: Spring 2014Winter 2014, Winter 2019

Special Visitors

TNCS has always welcomed special guests to campus to broaden students’ horizons, to participate in meaningful exchange with the community, and to further the TNCS aim of discovery and enrichment. Parents present their jobs or heritage in classrooms, musicians perform, guest speakers share their wisdom, and experts in their fields teach their crafts in special classes. TNCS even got a visit from the Secretary of State, who was wowed by Ge Laoshi’s kindergartners proficiency in Mandarin!

Artists: Baltimore Love Project and Returning Visit, Dia de Los Muertos, Crankies, RecyQueen 1 and 2, 123 Andrés

Chinese Students: 20132017, 2018 1 and 2, 2019 1 and 2

Chinese Teachers and Interns: 20142016, 2017, 2018, 2019

Guest Speakers: Bonnie Zucker, Deborah Roffman

Family Members: Captain Marc (and Many Others!), BGE, Jazz Saxophonist, Askable Parents, Mindful Parenting

Other Schools: DBFA and the “Big Kids”, Gilman School

Politicians: Councilman Krafts, MD Secretary of State

Workshops/Town Halls/Information and Back-to-School Nights

Informational forums are a great starting point to get to know TNCS and how and why it came to be in addition to what new trails it will blaze. Through the years, these events help tell the story of TNCS.

Back-to-School Nights: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019

Information Nights: 2014, 2014, 2016, 2017

Preprimary Parent Workshops: 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 1 and 2, 2018

Primary Parent Workshops: 2016, 2017 1 and 2

Open Houses: 2013, 2014, 2019

Town Halls: 2014, 2015

Service-Learning

TNCS students start giving back the moment they enter TNCS’s illustrious halls. The cumulative impact they have had over the years is staggering. But TNCS itself also gives back. In one of many such ways, in 2018 TNCS launched a partnership with “sister school” Wolfe St. Academy. Exemplary Wolfe St. students are granted scholarships to TNCS, the TNCS community participates in clothing and food donations for Wolfe St. families in need, and TNCS students visit their sister school friends for the “Reading Buddies” program.

In 2019, TNCS middle schoolers took their first international service-learning trip.

Environmental Sustainability: Hack the Trash August 2013; TNCS Wins Recycling Competition December 2013; Pop the Trash 2014; Healthy Harbor 2014 and 2015; Colorcycling; Earth Day 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2020; Puerto Rico 1 and 2, NexTrex Recycling 1 and 2; Costa Rica

Miscellaneous: Breast Cancer Walk, Grant Writing

Outreach: Giving Back November 2013, Holiday Outreach December 2013, Annual Outreach Initiatives, Thanksgiving 2014, 2015, 2018; Project Linus, Reading Buddies 1 and 2, Soup Making, Season for Service, Valentine’s Day Initiatives 1 and 2, Dean’s Initiatives 2021


And there you have it: 13 years of teaching, learning, singing, creating, discovering, growing, laughing, and becoming . . . The New Century School.

TNCS is making 724 South Ann St. a place to thrive and grow once more

Yujie Peng Takes Over Mandarin Chinese Instruction at TNCS!

Since its inception, multilingualism has been an integral part of The New Century School‘s identity, with instruction provided in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese as well as English. With long-time Mandarin teacher Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”) returning to China this fall to help her family, an important position opened up. As you’ll see, TNCS could not have found a more perfect new teacher to take over Mandarin Chinese instruction than Yujie Peng!

Meet Yujie Peng!

Peng Laoshi came to Maryland in 2012 from her hometown of Wuhan in Hubei Province in central China. She enrolled at Towson University to pursue a Master’s Degree in secondary education, having gotten her undergraduate degree from Wuhan Polytechnic University with the plan of returning to China to resume teaching English as a Second Language to high school students. She says, “It was really fun to be a high school and homeroom teacher in a public high school in China because I enjoy communicating with young people. After 4 years, I sought further education because the more I taught, the more I feel I want to improve myself.”

She gets her desire to teach (and to always keep learning) genetically—both her parents are educators. She says she always knew she would follow in their footsteps:

I love being a teacher. When I was in high school, I really appreciated my English teacher, and I knew I wanted to be a teacher like her because she was so encouraging and very caring. Now, we’re more like friends, and I still keep in touch with her, sharing updates in my career. I have also kept up with my professional development.

But returning to her high school classroom in China never happened. While at Towson, Peng Laoshi met and married her husband, who was studying information technology, and wound up staying here. Coincidentally, he, too, is from China, from the capital city of Fuzhou in Fujian province. The couple settled in Howard County and now have two children, both TNCS students as of this year!

But before coming to TNCS, Peng Laoshi taught for 3 years at Oyster-Adams bilingual school, a public preK–8 school in Washington, D.C. She taught students in 4th through 8th grades. The school was a dual language school in which students take some courses in English and some in Spanish and then switch them the following year. Peng Laoshi was brought on to teach Chinese as well as to create a Chinese curriculum for 4th- and 5th-graders (Chinese was already being offered at the middle school level). Peng Laoshi even picked up a little bit of Spanish herself while there!

A note wishing Peng Laoshi well from a former student.

While at Oyster-Adams, she took a graduate course in Trinity Washington University and earned K–12 teaching certificates for both D.C. and Maryland. She also attended as many Chinese education conferences as she could to learn from different teachers. She really is a born educator!

Peng Laoshi at TNCS

As for how she brought all of this teaching talent to TNCS, we have her 4-year-old daughter to thank. Peng Laoshi was eager to get back into the classroom after her children were born, but only half-day programs were available for toddlers. Coming to TNCS means that her daughter can be in Ms. Sharon’s primary Montessori classroom and her son in Ms. Weiskopf’s 2nd-/3rd-grade classroom all day, and she even gets to take them to school and bring them back home with her! Her children are “heritage speakers”—they were born in the United States and speak Mandarin at home. So far, they are both adjusting very nicely. Her son is her “helper” in Mandarin class, and she thinks the Montessori program is just great for her daughter: “I see kids working very well like in the mixed ages. They can learn from each other. The older students take the leadership to help the younger ones, and the younger students learn from the older ones.” Even on the weekends, her daughter is asking to go to school!

Back to Peng Laoshi, she joined TNCS in September and learned the ropes from Li Laoshi, who stayed through October to ensure a smooth transition. (Peng Laoshi covers instruction for students in 2nd through 8th grades, while Cui Laoshi continues teaching her K/1st immersion class.) The challenge has been differentiating instruction within age groups. She was accustomed to differentiating by age group, but now, she explains, she has multiple layers of differentiation to manage.

She quickly adapted and has figured all that out beautifully. Really, her philosophy of teaching is probably a big reason why. She also credits the foundation that Li Laoshi built, using a textbook focusing on real-life interaction rather than abstract linguistics. Peng Laoshi has used this foundation—and her education and experience—to develop and formalize the curriculum. She says that engaging the students is critical, not only to keep their interest so they continue to learn, but also because they work in different capacities to accomplish the needed differentiation, sometimes with her, sometimes in small groups, and sometimes independently. The work also needs to be meaningful to them, so, for example, the younger cohorts made mooncakes out of Play-Doh for the Mid-Autumn Festival in September, and all students are learning songs in Mandarin for the upcoming Winter Concert. Other “hands-on” activities for older cohorts include taking a walking field trip to a Chinese restaurant and ordering in Mandarin. “I love the idea that students can learn not just in school, but everywhere!” she said

The 6th- through 8th-graders went first.

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And the 4th- and 5th-graders were next.

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Games are another way she keeps students engaged. In one, she had students build towers out of vocabulary cards they made themselves. The group with the tallest tower won a prize. The hitch? Students had to demonstrate their understanding of the word to be able to make the cards and to correctly write them in Mandarin. “Students love to play vocabulary card games to review vocabulary. This year they make vocabulary cards for each lesson by themselves (a set of different color cards are given to them for each lesson,” she said (see photo). Here are some of the games they play:

1. 听音找字/Find a word

Student A: Read aloud a vocabulary word (e.g., 学) or term (e.g., 老师) or ask a question (e.g., How to say goodbye? Or when you first meet someone, you will say…)

Student B: Find the correct word card and lay it out on their desks.

2. 翻读认卡/Flipping Cards

Instructions: Spread the words out face down on the table. Students take turns flipping a card over and reading the word on the card. If they read it correctly, they win and can keep the card. If they do not read it correctly, they have to place the card back in the pile. The winner is the one with the most word cards at the end of the game.

Variation: To make this game slightly harder, mix up the cards when replacing them in the pile to avoid students remembering what word was on which card.

3. 排字卡/Make a sentence

Student A: Say a sentence (e.g., 你好吗?)

Student B: Find the word cards to lay out in the right order. (你+好+吗)

4. 抽卡配/Memory

Instructions:

  1. Student A and Student B put their cards together and mix them up;
  2. Spread cards out on the table face down;
  3. Students take turns flipping over two cards.
  4. If the cards are the same, then the student can say the word out loud and will win this pair of cards and may take another turn;
  5. If the student reads it incorrectly, they must return the cards to the table.
  6. Whoever wins the most cards wins.

5. 字卡宾果/Bingo (Group game)

Instructions:

  1. Group chooses the word cards they have decided to review from their own sets.
  2. One student piles up all his/her cards and mixes them face down;
  3. Other students lay their own cards out in a 3*3, 4*4 or 5*5 squares like a bingo card.
  4. Students take turns to pick one card from that pile and read it;
  5. Students who have this word card can flip that card over.
  6. Students who are able to flip over all the cards in a row, column or diagonal can say “宾果bin guo”. The student must read all the flipped over cards to win.

6. 拖拉机/Choo Choo Train(Pair/Group)

Instructions:

  1. Students pile up their cards and mixes them face down;
  2. Students take turns to pick one card from that pile, read it, and lay it down face up in the central area (All the face up cards connect like a train);
  3. If a student lays a card that is the same as one of the cards in the train, the player can collect all the cards between those two cards, including the two same cards;
  4. Whoever wins the most cards wins.

Although her classes are only 40 minutes long, she does everything she can to make them productive, often coming up with ideas during her half hour commute to and from school. She reflects regularly on what is working well and what might need some adjusting to make sure every student is supported. Routines are important, she explains, so that students always know what they should be doing and in that way making the most out of class time. Each class starts with deep breathing to help students get calm and focused, and then they dive right into the lesson of the day.

Her students did a beginning-of-year assessment and will do another at the end of the school year to see their progress throughout the year. “By the end of each unit, they do both a project and a quiz to assess how well they learn in four language domains: listening, speaking, reading, and writing,” she explains. “I also monitor students’ progress everyday through their work, their interaction with me, and with their partners. I give students frequent feedback and support whenever needed.”

Independent work often comes from a website and app she uses regularly called GimKit, through which she can set up games, homework, quizzes, audio, and so on. Correct answers earn either more power to continue playing against other opponents or in-game “cash” that students can use to enhance their profiles with upgrades or buy “powerups.” Peng Laoshi is able to monitor students’ progress within GimKit and verify that they have completed assignments. She also adds her own layer of earning rewards in the class as a whole. These rewards might be Fun Friday activities, extra time to complete homework, or stickers.

Duolingo and Hello-World are also still in the mix. No matter what students are working on and in what capacity (independently or in groups, in class or on field trips), Peng Laoshi makes sure that lessons are consistent so students continuously make connections.

It’s kind of a funny twist that in China Peng Laoshi taught English and in the States she teaches Chinese! But that kind of multilingualism in practice is very important to her:

I really love to see students grow. I really feel rewarded when I see students make progress, and I believe being multilingual helps their brains. They can see the same thing in different ways, and they are more open minded. It prepares them to be global citizens—they know different cultures, so they can accept different perspectives from different people.

In the coming year, we can anticipate another “visit to Chinatown” via the TNCS auditorium to usher in Year of the Rabbit for the Lunar New Year and lots of Mandarin Chinese learning. We are so glad to have you, Peng Laoshi, huānyíng (欢迎)!


The weekends, says Peng Laoshi, are for spending time with her family!