Great Things Are Hatching at TNCS!

Literally. Hatching. As in CHICKENS! The long-awaited feathered foursome have arrived at The New Century School!

This initiative has been in the works for most of the 2016–2017 school year. Executive Chef and Master Gardener Emma Novashinski thought having a TNCS school yard roost would be a great way to give students something to responsibly tend as well as provide delicious fresh eggs.

Habitat Construction

Infrastructure had to be in place first, and so elementary STEM teacher Dan McGonigal rounded up a team of students to design and build a chicken run last fall as an after-school project. This habitat will be maintained by the oldest TNCS students, also known as “The Chicken Monitors,” so dubbed by Chef Emma.

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Next, a pre-primary parent volunteer dad put together the beautiful hand-crafted chicken coop earlier this spring, which will soon be inhabited by its future residents. Two other parent volunteer dads helped finish up the enclosure and other preparations.

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Baby Chicks!

But speaking of future residents, that was the third step in this enterprise—incubating and hatching the chicks, for whom we have primary teacher (and veteran bird whisperer) Maria Mosby to thank (see her previous success story here)! TNCS can accommodate up to four very comfortably but started off with the two shown below, hatched just after spring break.

61BjTSW6iqL._SX382_BO1,204,203,200_Many of you may be aware that Chef Emma holds weekly cooking and gardening classes for TNCS students from pre-primary through middle school. Pre-primary children get 20 minutes of each, while older children get 45 of each. As part of this initiative and with help from books like the one pictured at left, Chef Emma provided an introduction to chicken husbandry from the life cycle of chickens; to their daily needs, to a tour of the new run and coop to decide how best to equip them for habitation and make sure they will feel at home. They need bedding, for example, as well as shade, decoration (believe it or not), ventilation, protection (one student suggested getting guard dogs—vetoed), insulation, and waterproofing—and TNCS students need egg access!

(Activities depended on age and division, of course.) But did you know, for example, that most eggs that hatch are males? TNCS students do. They also know, however, that TNCS’s resident birds will all be hens (#noroostersallowed).

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Full Circle

One of the most important messages that comes out of this initiative that has the entire school abuzz is that TNCS is doing it in a beautifully sustainable, full-circle way. “We’ll be feeding the chickens scraps from the kitchen,” explained Chef Emma, “but because we’ll have more scraps than we probably need, we’re going to start composting as well. The compost will break down and turn into fertilizer, which we’ll then spread through the greenhouse to nourish our growing plants. Once the plants are mature, we’ll eat them!” Chicken feeding, composting, and gardening will largely be done by TNCS students. “That’s another kind of life cycle of your role in the school, now that we have chickens,” Chef Emma told them.

A discussion of what is appropriate to use as scraps followed. Pizza, for example, is a no-no because it has flour and dairy. Although these elements would be fine in a non-urban composting situation, their decay and molding in an urban setting would attract decidedly unwelcome guests. Fruits and vegetables will decompose without a similar downside. Another thing to avoid adding is weeds, which would obviously proliferate when spread among the greenhouse plants.

The chickens will also be fed with grains such as lentils, quinoa, and cous cous.

Chef Emma next explained that most hens tend to lay an egg almost daily, for a yearly take of about 345. “Multiply that by 4, and we’ll have plenty of eggs to go around, and we’ll do all sorts of things with them,” she said. Eggshells, fortunately, are a welcome addition to a compost bin because of the valuable minerals they contain. Eggs, being neither dairy nor meat, are also fine to add.

Newest Members of the TNCS Community

“A whole school vote is in the works to decide on the names of our newest community members,” promised Head of School Alicia Danyali. To whet your whistle for this egg-citing development, here are some of the contenders:

  • Skylar
  • Cluckington
  • Chikaleta
  • Chikaemma

Skylar? Anyway, watch for the winner to be announced via TNCS’s Facebook page in the near future! (The chickens will also have last names. Think: There are four chickens . . . what else does TNCS have four of? Post your guesses in comments either on this blog or on FB. Correct answers will earn you clucking rights.)

Hungry Harvest Comes to TNCS!

Last month, The New Century School joined the Hungry Harvest family, a move that aligns with two very important TNCS values. The first is offering students clean, healthy food for lunch, the second, serving our larger community.

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In case you haven’t heard, Hungry Harvest is the phenomenal local company whose tagline, “Produce with a Purpose,” provides just an inkling of all that this force of social and environmental good really does. Not only do they obtain surplus produce and/or “recover” produce deemed not aesthetically pleasing enough to be sold in stores, which cuts down on food waste considerably, but they also donate 2 pounds of produce to help feed someone in need for every delivery they make. Moreover, they partner with local farms to obtain the “harvests” in another important synergy: The farms’ sustainable practices protect the environment, while being able to sell all of their viable produce (not just the visually perfect stuff) allows the farms to stay in business—and in an environmentally and socially conscious way.

Some Sad Facts

To put this in perspective, in many areas in the United States, but certainly here in Baltimore, which has the astronomic “food insecurity” rate of 23% of the population, we are faced with the tragic irony of wasting literally tons of food each year while people who could have eaten that food instead go hungry. Brace yourself. In July 2016, The Atlantic journalist Adam Chandler wrote:

Americans waste an unfathomable amount of food. In fact . . . roughly 50 percent of all produce in the United States is thrown away—some 60 million tons (or $160 billion) worth of produce annually, an amount constituting ‘one third of all foodstuffs.’ Wasted food is also the single biggest occupant in American landfills, the Environmental Protection Agency has found. . . the great American squandering of produce appears to be a cultural dynamic as well, enabled in large part by a national obsession with the aesthetic quality of food. Fruits and vegetables, in addition to generally being healthful, have a tendency to bruise, brown, wilt, oxidize, ding, or discolor and that is apparently something American shoppers will not abide. ‘Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the U.S. are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock, or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards.’

(See more heartbreakingly unfortunate statistics on food waste here: https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm.)

unspecified-1TNCS Goes Hungry! (Harvesting, That Is.)

Fortunately, a very smart person recognized that these two problems could quite neatly solve each other. Quoting from the Hungry Harvest website, “Evan Lutz founded Hungry Harvest in the basement of his University of Maryland dorm room in 2014. He began by packing bags of produce himself and delivering to 30 customers. A few months later, Evan’s idea was validated on [the television show] ‘Shark Tank’ when he struck a deal with Robert Herjavec. Now the Hungry Harvest team is up to 11 and delivering across Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.”

Thanks to Head of School Alicia Danyali and Executive Chef Emma Novashinski, TNCS is now part of that delivery route. Said Chef Emma: “Hungry Harvest reclaims food rejected during quality assurance, sells it to subscribers, and uses some of the profit to feed other hungry families. We wanted to be part of this wonderful initiative that uses one problem to solve another.”

Although combination boxes of fruits and veggies are available, TNCS sticks with just fruit through Hungry Harvest. As Chef Emma explained it, seasonal fruit is harder to obtain throughout the year from local suppliers, whereas, in this climate, vegetables of some variety are always growing. So, even if local fruit isn’t always available, such as during winter months, TNCS can get it from Hungry Harvest. And, by ordering only organic through Hungry Harvest, there’s still a nod to sustainable practices. This also allows TNCS to avoid resorting to so-called “conventional fruit,” meaning fruit that might be shipped from a remote region or grown in heavily chemical environments.

“Every Monday, we get four boxes of fruit variety delivered to us, which has allowed us to start serving fruit salads, which the kids are not only really enjoying, but they are also tasting fruits they might have been unfamiliar with, such as pomegranates or persimmons. And, if there’s a fruit in the salad they don’t care for, they can eat the other fruits around it and still get the vitamins and nutrients. Today we had mango, strawberry, and melon, for example.” Last year, Chef Emma more or less had to rotate apples and oranges through the winter months. This year, “we get a crossfade. They get to experience some new things—satsumas, mandarins, pineapples—and they get some old favorites like clementines,” she said. “They are getting more fruit this way, too, which can’t be bad. There’s no peel or pith—it’s already in bite-sized pieces for them.” (By the way, the persimmons were sweetened and cooked down then mixed with Greek yogurt in case you were wondering how on earth Chef Emma got the kids to eat them! Which they did!)

Choose-your-own-adventure options are available, but TNCS lets Hungry Harvest select what fruit will be delivered and provides guidelines for what works, such as no highly perishable items, so single items, etc.

Surely the question on everybody’s minds by now is, “So what about the quality?” In Chef Emma’s experience so far, the produce has been completely edible and delicious, rejected only for visual imperfections such as shape or markings. It’s not soft or mushy, as might be the misconception.

But wait—there are even more great benefits deriving from this partnership! In an online chat, Hungry Harvest Customer Experience Hero & Academic Coordinator Katie Landry explained:

Our school pickup sites operate a really unique program called Produce in a SNAP that allows families in need to use their SNAP/EBT (Food Stamps). We currently partner with Baltimore City Public and Charter schools to subsidize our produce and they can use SNAP/EBT at these sites! Learn more about these sites by following the link below.

Hungry for More?

If you are interested in signing up for a harvest for your family, visit https://shop.hungryharvest.net/summary.php?go=products to see the goods. It couldn’t be easier to do, and you’ll not only be making a social impact and contributing to environmental sustainability, you’ll also have your family’s fruits and veggies conveniently delivered to your door! The online signup experience is a breeze, and super-friendly company representatives like Katie are available to answer any questions in an instant. (And they address you as a hero, so that’s added fun :).)

Pro Tip: Typing “Emma Novashinski” in the referral box earns you a discount as well as one for TNCS! Go reap your harvest!

Meet TNCS’s After Care Director: Aida Abebe!

The New Century School works diligently to provide students with a rigorous but well-rounded academic experience . . . and that same diligence is applied to after school programming as well.

In fact, you may have noticed a striking difference in extracurricular offerings in the last few years. In its infancy, TNCS relied on after school “clubs” designed and run by the after care staff (see, for example, Spaceship Club Elevates Aftercare at TNCS!). These imaginative and lively pursuits have been supplanted of late with sports, music, arts, and other programs offered both onsite at TNCS and offsite at partner organizations around the city to give older students a wider variety of choices in how they spend their after-school hours as well as to expose them to novel activities such as Parkour and FutureMakers.

Most offerings rotate by school quarter to keep the menu of activities fresh, while some perennial favorites such as sports at Coppermine at DuBurns Arena are constants. See the entire lineup of activities that were available to TNCS students this year on the Extracurricular Activities page of the TNCS website. Brand-new this year, students from local schools were invited to attend TNCS’s after school programming and could opt to be picked up from their school by the TNCS van.

Sound like a lot to juggle? Enter Aida Abebe, TNCS’s dedicated After Care Director, who assumed this role for the 2016–2017 school year. Ms. Abebe coordinates with partner organizations to establish programs; oversees all of the to-ing and fro-ing of students and activity providers; and, most importantly, ensures that TNCS students are cared for and happily engaged in that crucial time between school letting out and parent/guardian pick-up.

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Aida Abebe is TNCS’s simply wonderful After Care Director.

Ms. Abebe only just took over as After Care Director on November 1, 2016, but she lost no time in making it fully her own. She says that it was a lot to absorb at first, but she enjoyed the challenge and likes the work. She describes a typical day as including interviewing, hiring, and training staff; making schedules and programs for classes; interfacing with other area schools to spread the word about extracurricular activities at TNCS for non-TNCS students; and overall making sure that the programs are running smoothly, that a robust assortment of programs are available to appeal to a wide range of students, and that the programs are both educational and fun.

Her arrival at TNCS came after staying home to raise her son, now almost 15 months old. She looks forward to enrolling him at TNCS for the 2017–2018 school year. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, Ms. Abebe attended both Penn State and UMBC and now resides in Nottingham, MD. Her degrees are in Psychology and Sociology, both of which serve her well in her current position. She says she has always loved children and wanted to study specifically how the brain develops. Her previous positions include elementary school counselor and preschool teacher. She enjoys kids of all ages—“the toddlers are just adorable, but I get to do a lot more with the older kids,” she said.

Both her parents are from Ethiopia and came to the United States as teenagers; however, they only met in Washington, D.C.—they were not acquainted back home. Thus, Ms. Abebe was fortunate to grow up in a bilingual household, speaking both English and her parents’ native Amharic, a branch of Arabic and Ethiopia’s official language.

Looking forward, Ms. Abebe has already begin devising plans for the future of the After Care/Extracurricular Programs. “One of my biggest goals is to retain a caring and committed group of staff members,” she explained. “After care is not full time, so it can be challenging to find applicants willing to work so few hours each day. They tend to be students, and students are going to be temporary. But we find them!” Another plan she has is to bring back the clubs so that “we have tons of after-school activities going on.”

Each TNCS instructor also lends his or her skills to the lineup. Take, for example, K/1st-grade teacher Kiley Stasch’s cooking class, in which students had a wonderful experience, learned some cooking basics, and expanded their taste horizons. As an end-of-quarter bonus, Ms. Stasch compiled all recipes that the class tackled in this downloadable cookbook: 2016–2017 Cooking Class Recipes.

What are the most popular extracurricular activities? Latin dance, run by Professor Manuel, was the runaway favorite so far this year. “The kids also really enjoyed duck-pin bowling at Patterson Lanes and swimming at the MAC,” she reported. Especially exciting, kayaking debuted for Q4. All of these wonderful and diverse offerings come with administrative strings attached, which Ms. Abebe deftly manages. Minimum enrollments must be met to run certain programs; costs must be monitored to keep programs affordable for parents. When something doesn’t work out for one of those or other reasons, she has a back-up course ready to launch.

Speaking of launching . . .

“I love this school,” said Ms. Abebe. “It’s by far the best school I’ve worked in. There’s such a great staff; they really care about their students. I also love the emphasis on nutrition and time spent outdoors. It’s an all-around great school, and I’m happy to be here.”

And TNCS is happy to have you, Aida Abebe!

March STEAM Madness: Squaring away the “A”!

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math: These are the STEM subjects we hear so much about these days because of their value in getting students solving problems and honing skills. Some believe that the Arts is the Elmer’s glue that holds them all together—turning “STEM” into “STEAM.” This is because studying the Arts enhances students creativity, and visual learning is how many people learn most effectively. Innovating and finding new ways to solve problems are highly sought-after and necessary qualities in this 21st century.

The New Century School curricula never stray far from the Arts, finding ways to integrate all subjects, but perhaps especially the Arts. Students are asked to illustrate pieces of writing, science projects, etc.; adapt books they have read into plays; sing and dance in other languages; and so on. The Arts are inextricable from learning at TNCS as well as discrete subjects in their own right.

Which brings us to another initiative begun last month: Square 1 Art, a fundraiser for school art supplies based on TNCS K through 6th-grade students’ artwork! Brought to TNCS by art teacher Elisabeth Davies, Square 1 Art puts your child’s artwork on an array of products that you can purchase and enjoy while earning money for TNCS (up to 40% of total proceeds).

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Square 1 Art is committed to uplifting the children, families, and communities we serve through promotion and support of the Visual Arts. Our passion centers on putting the students and families first; raising funds for educational communities; creating a sustainable, positive, family environment for our team; and manufacturing quality, long-lasting products in the most innovative way possible. We strive to be the best, most respected educational fundraising company in the United States.

Imagine greeting cards personalized with your child’s amazing art! Potholders, calendars, phone cases, coffee mugs—you name it! These items make wonderful gifts, too (think: Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, folks!). Said Ms. Davies:

The way Square 1 Art works is that they send specific papers for the students to make drawings on with very specific instructions so the art would be vivd enough to be picked up on the company’s scanners. We did a practice round first so we understood exactly what was required. The art came out really well and looked very polished. TNCS parents will get to order various household items either on the paper form sent home with students on April 6th or online, featuring their kids’ artwork. We’ll receive our order packets after Spring Break. Then, we’ll use the funds raised to buy art supplies for the school. I liked this option among all of the art fundraisers I explored because students were asked to create a new piece of art instead of using an existing piece, so we were able to make a separate project out of this effort.

Regardless of whether you opt to buy anything from Square 1 Art, your child will receive a free sheet of stickers of his or her piece of art just for participating! If you do choose to order, visit https://shop.square1art.com/ soon—orders are due by April 24th for merchandise distribution by May 11th!

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.

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Which figure is missing from one of the pictures?

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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?

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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?

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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.”
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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

March STEAM Madness at TNCS!

As The New Century School entered the third quarter of the 2016–2017 school year, things started to get pretty “STEAM-y” for elementary students, curriculum-wise, that is. This post will be the first in a series that explores some of the many Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math–related activities they undertook.

“Cool” Engineering Challenge

In science class, STEM teacher Dan McGonigal transitioned into a unit on heat energy and how it transfers. He gave students a fun engineering challenge to “save the penguins.” Working in pairs, students were tasked with developing a dwelling that would keep a penguin made of ice from melting. To do so, they investigated how different materials act as insulators against different types of heat transfer.

Field Trip!

As February wound down, elementary students began looking ahead a bit to their fourth-quarter science unit: the Industrial Revolution. On February 28th, 2nd- through 6th-graders took a field trip to The Baltimore Museum of Industry to learn more about energy as well as to experience what the Industrial Revolution was like in Baltimore: “The Baltimore Museum of Industry celebrates Maryland’s industrial legacy and shows how innovation fuels ongoing progress. . . exhibitions, educational programs, and collections engage visitors in the stories of the people who built Baltimore and those who shape the region’s future.”

In addition to touring all of the amazing galleries that allowed TNCS students to relive Baltimore’s early days as a trading port and manufacturing hub and featuring the authentic tools and machines used back then, they also got to put their engineering skills to work.

First, they learned how mass production revolutionized the car industry and manned their own assembly line.

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They were also given the chance to engineer a ramp to send cars down and see who’s car traveled farthest and to design other transportation-related innovations. Time-traveling back to the present day temporarily, they also got to design their own video games.

Next they got a close-up of what it would be like to work in 1929 in the garment industry, which Baltimore was a major player in, in the 18th and 19th centuries. TNCS students were spun a tale of strenuous but monotonous toil for very long hours, poor working conditions including overcrowding and extreme heat, and little pay. Although fascinated, none of them will be sitting down at a sewing machine anytime soon!

Other interactive exhibits they toured included the 1865 Platt and Company oyster cannery (the only surviving cannery building in Baltimore and the museum building), a 1910 pharmacy (or “Druggist’s shop,” much like the one where Noxzema skin cream was invented), a print shop (the linotype was also invented in Baltimore), and a machine shop.

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TNCS elementary students enjoyed their taste of old industrial Baltimore and learning the roots of their 21st-century engineering projects. More importantly, they were inspired by this special field trip to begin working on their STEM Fair projects the very next week and threw themselves into those endeavors with zeal—stay tuned for more on the TNCS 2017 STEM Fair as well as posts featuring other elements of STEAM (hint, Math and Art)!