MD Secretary of State Visits TNCS!

On Wednesday, October 17th, The New Century School welcomed some very illustrious guests. Maryland’s Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith, Director of International Affairs Mary E. Nitsch, and intern Rosanna Mantova (Intern, International Division, Maryland Office of the Secretary of State) visited the TNCS campus to see the Mandarin Chinese program firsthand. Secretary Wobensmith met TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux earlier this year, who told him about TNCS. Based on her description of how Mandarin Chinese is taught at TNCS, he was eager to see it for himself. As part of the Maryland Sister States Program, Secretary Wobensmith and his team find ways to promote the connection between Maryland and Anhui Province of China, and education is a key area.

Ms. Nitsch explains:

Anhui Province, China, is one of 20 Sister States that Maryland has around the world. It is also the state’s oldest Sister State partnership, having been established in 1980. The program was established to provide a forum for the promotion of international cooperation and understanding. Through broad-based citizen participation in a wide variety of exchanges in areas of mutual interest, like education, arts, and culture, and economic development, the Sister States Program offers countless opportunities to develop partnerships around the world.

Mandarin Chinese Program at TNCS

It was easy to showcase TNCS’s program, owing to the amazing teachers and students who participate. The members of the Office were met at reception by Ms. Faux, TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, TNCS Dean of Students Alicia Danyali, and staff member Monica Li. After a brief welcome, the group began a tour of the school, starting from the ground up with Donghui Song’s preprimary classroom of 2- and 3-year-old students. Song Laoshi’s class is immersive; students are spoken to in Mandarin Chinese throughout the day. They are expected to understand and respond with the appropriate action to instructions given in Mandarin—and they do so beautifully. Not long after entering the classroom for the first time, they begin speaking a few words and singing songs.

The group next visited Lisa Reynolds’ primary classroom on the second floor. At ages 3 through 5 years, primary students are no longer in an immersion environment but are taught both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish (in addition to the Montessori curriculum representative of the primary program) and have native-speaking assistant teachers rotating through the classrooms and conversing with and instructing students in their native languages. At these ages, students are not just responding to instructions but are rapidly increasing their verbal skills. They demonstrate perfect intonation and pronunciation. They begin to recognize Chinese characters.

They charmed the visitors, saying “hello” and “welcome” in Mandarin.

Hope to see you again!

The group continued their climb through building south, headed next to Pei Ge’s kindergarten/1st-grade classroom on the third floor. The members of the Office of Secretary of State were very impressed by what they witnessed here. The entire classroom was bubbling with eagerness, a testament to Ge Laoshi’s teaching skills, and their Mandarin is nothing short of amazing.

Throughout the tour, Ms. Faux explained details about the school and its approach. “It’s less about being a linguist,” she said, “and really more about becoming a global citizen.” Thus, culture is an important emphasis and taught alongside the target language. So the visitors could get the full picture, the group also visited Barbara Sanchez’s 2nd-/3rd-grade Spanish classroom. These students also learn Mandarin, but, at the mid-to-upper elementary level, core subjects are partially taught in the target language, so, in addition to Spanish Language Arts, Sra. Sanchez integrates Spanish into her Math and Global Studies lessons.

Ms. Faux gave a quick powerpoint overview of the school, including the background, history, and overall ethos, and then the group finished up their classroom tour in Wei Li’s middle school lesson. Li Laoshi led the 6th- through 8th-graders in a conversation in Mandarin, then had them write sentences using Chinese characters and finish by making a presentation.

The group wrapped up the tour in TNCS’s beautiful Union Box space inside building North, which provided a chance to talk about the history of St. Stanislaus Cathedral and the Mother Seton Academy, and how they became part of TNCS’s campus.

Said Ms. Nitsch in a follow-up email: “One of the nicest parts of my job is having the opportunity to personally experience so many of the wonderful international programs and projects that are taking place around the state. As a former ESL teacher, I truly appreciate how important multilingualism and multiculturalism are to our state and country’s future success. And, as a Baltimore resident, it’s inspiring to know we have such wonderful resources like TNCS here in the city.”

For his part, Secretary Wobensmith declared himself “totally smitten” with TNCS. “Your enterprise. . .  is a remarkable effort, and it struck me that you have done it exactly right in all aspects. Congratulations!” he said. When he asked Ms. Faux about the possibility of expanding to other locations, she thought for a moment and then replied, “We have built a very strong community here, and that might be hard to replicate somewhere else.” It’s true—that foundation of families, teachers, students, staff, and everyone else who is part of the TNCS community is integral to the school’s continued success.

The visit by the members of the Office of the Secretary of State will not soon be forgotten. TNCS will cherish the memory of this great honor!

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TNCS Elementary and Middle School Students Get Moony!

On the last day of summer 2018, elementary and middle school students at The New Century School got a very special treat. In honor of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival coming up on Monday, September 24th, they spent Chinese class making the traditional Chinese “mooncake.”

Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival

The Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhōngqiū Jié [中秋节]) is a harvest festival, dating back many millennia as far as the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE). It is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, thus always on a full (harvest) moon. (Note that, although the day is always the same on the lunar calendar,  the date will vary on the Gregorian calendar used in the United States, corresponding to late September or early October.)

TNCS Lead Mandarin teacher Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”) explained that making and sharing mooncakes is one of the most representative and best-loved traditions of the Mid-Autumn Festival: “It is a time to be together with your family. We gather to watch the moon and eat special food,” she said.

<li>oll it out in a smooth circle.</li> <li>Add filling in the center of the flat dough circle.</li>  <li>Return to a ball shape, keeping the filling inside.</li> <li>Stamp with a special, symbolic pattern.</li>  <li>Steam for 30 minutes.</li> <li></li> 	<li>oll it out in a smooth circle.</li> 	<li>Add filling in the center of the flat dough circle.</li> 	<li>Return to a ball shape, keeping the filling inside.</li> 	<li>Stamp with a special, symbolic pattern.</li> 	<li>Steam for 30 minutes.</li>

Test run.

Her faithful assistant for the day’s cooking session, Qin (known to the TNCS community as “Monica”) Li gave a similar account:

On the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the moon is especially round. A Chinese tradition is to bring mooncakes and sit outside with all the family. Together, they appreciate the round moon and eat mooncakes, which are also round. Circles represent union, so the round mooncakes symbolize family reunion. Most people in China get 3 days off so they have time to return home if they have been away on business. Since I cannot go to China on Monday, I’m going to make mooncakes and eat them with my friends.

Because a round shape symbolizes completeness and reunion in Chinese culture, the mooncake tradition signifies the completeness and unity of the families who enjoy them together.

Making Mooncakes

There are many varieties of mooncakes, including baked or steamed and with all manner of sweet fillings and combinations. TNCS students made a steamed version using the following basic steps:

    1. Mix flour (wheat, rice, etc.) with water to make dough.
    2. Shape it into a ball.
    3. Place in foil and roll it out in a smooth circle.
    4. Add filling in the center of the flat dough circle.
    5. Return to a ball shape, keeping the filling inside.
    6. Stamp with a special, symbolic pattern (see photos below).
    7. Steam for 30 minutes.

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This video shows how Li Laoshi provides instructions in Mandarin, and students follow them easily. During activities such as this, in which students are absorbed mentally and physically (even through their senses), it all comes together, and their fluency increases by leaps and bounds. They comprehend without translating—they are thinking and doing in Mandarin.

Cultural Significance

Although cooking Chinese dishes—especially the ever-popular dumplings—is fairly common in TNCS Chinese class, this is the first time Li Laoshi has attempted mooncakes with her students. She explains why, this year, she felt it was the right time:

Recently, I was missing my family and felt homesick for China. But I have my students, I have my colleagues, I have my friends, so I feel so happy about that. That’s why I wanted to introduce it to students this year—we have all been enjoying ourselves and this special time together. It has been a lot of fun, and it’s a very meaningful experience.

Monica felt it was important also: “It’s a very special tradition in Chinese culture. I think kids should learn and explore the culture to better understand China.” The beautiful, traditional stamp patterns below indicate what the mooncake is filled with or what it represents.

Students and faculty alike enjoyed their red-bean-paste filled delicacies.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival, everyone!
中秋快乐!
Zhōngqiū kuàilè!

TNCS Hosts Chinese Teaching Interns, Summer 2018

To start off the 2018–2019 academic year, The New Century School hosted a group of 12 university students visiting from China to gain some intensive training in how to teach. In addition to sharing their talents and gaining insight into the American education system, they also wanted to experience what typical American daily life is like and were happy to be placed with host families to participate in cross-cultural immersion. Wenya Liu, Leisi Ye, Xiaohan Fang, Lihui Xie, Jianping Wu, Huizhu Gu, Bixia Wang, Yidong Fu, Buqing Sun, Ziyu Long, Qi Wang, and Xiao Ma, from Shanghai, China arrived at TNCS on August 22nd, and, although their visit was brief, they made a lasting impression on TNCS students.

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For their initial tasks, they assisted teachers with classroom setup and new-student orientations. TNCS Chinese teacher Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”) was always on hand to provide guidance and help with acclimatization. In fact, she provided many of the photos in this post—xiè xiè (谢谢), Li Laoshi!

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When school began on August 27th, the interns supported TNCS teachers inside the classroom.

Toward the end of their 2-week program, they were given free reign during Chinese class to take over. The videos below show them instructing TNCS middle school students in some games—the Chinese charades was especially fun to watch!This is the second annual hands-on training program that TNCS has hosted for the start of the school year. Last year, a group of nine college sophomores and juniors majoring in teaching were the first group to have come out of this partnership with a Chinese organization and the University of MD. Other similar groups (interns, teachers, families, etc.) visit regularly throughout the year.

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.

Hosting exchange students is a wonderful way to engage the entire family in a cultural exchange, and these relationships can last a lifetime. For this particular program, hosting families received a per-student stipend to cover any associated expenses like food and travel. The interns partook in daily activities during regular school hours on and off site. Outside of school activities, host families provide any number of enjoyable excursions and recreation.

Veterans at hosting, TNCS families like the Eibs and others curate activities to give their guests authentic and meaningful experiences true to the setting. To provide a taste of Baltimore, for example, they took interns to Oriole Park at Camden Yards for some good old American baseball. For some good old American history, they traveled to Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, to see actual the United States constitution, perhaps the single most important symbol of this country. (See TNCS Hosts Education Training Program for Chinese Interns! for more fun from last year.)

Said Mr. Eib:

We took our interns to Philadelphia to see Independence HalI; to Washington, D.C. to visit the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, the National Gallery, the Washington & Lincoln Memorials, and to my favorite bookstore in the world (Kramer’s in DuPont Circle); and, in Baltimore, to see the Orioles take on the Yankees, the zoo and the Baltimore Museum of Art, to Hampden to experience a local neighborhood for dinner and bubble tea, to Great Wall Market to show them that we can actually get a few Chinese food items, and to Blue Pit Barbecue for a nice divey dining experience where (probably) no tourist has ever visited before.

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The big thing on every visitor’s mind, is, indeed, usually food. The best way to experience a new place is to sample its cuisine, and sample they did!

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September 5th was their last day at TNCS, and the closing ceremony, moderated by TNCS Co-Executive Director and Co-Founder Roberta Faux with assistance from TNCS Chinese teacher Wei Li, was held in their honor. The group was awarded certificates earned for completing their training; they also gave and received speeches of gratitude that 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. In the words of Yidong Fu, “it’s so wonderful to see what American school is like–it’s completely different from what we have in China! We have had an amazing experience!”

For TNCS, too, Fu Laoshi, the experience was unforgettable, having an incalculable impact on students’ cultural learning. You all will be missed! Until next time, zài jiàn 再见)!

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TNCS Welcomes Visitors from China for the Lunar New Year Holiday!

In China, the weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year, culminating on February 16th this year, are generally a time off for many Chinese. For the past few years, The New Century School has hosted many visitors from China coinciding with this break, with 2018 seeing the largest overall numbers of visitors yet.

The first group comprised 15 university students, who clearly wanted to have a good time in addition to learning about TNCS’s unique educational approach. They had fun and made sure everyone around them did as well. They all came from various cities in Hunan Province—Chongqing (Holly), Wugang (Phoebe), Zhuzou (Dragon), Changde (Bella), Zhangjiaie (Jamie), Beijing (Elaine), Hengyang (Tiffany), Wenzhou (Bunny), Urumqi (Michelle), and the capital Changsha (Fire, Miki, Ishine, Shirley, Jane, and Smart).

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Their stay at TNCS was brief, as they had lots of sightseeing around the country on their trip itinerary. So, to make sure they got the most of their time here, their 2 days at TNCS were very full. They visited classrooms and interacted with students among other activities, divided into two alternating groups. They were eager to learn firsthand how education is handled in an independent school, and they were very receptive to the innovative ideas presented to them.

They even got the chance to participate in some group exercises designed to get them thinking and problem-solving creatively. While one group played “Lost at Sea” in the Ozone Snack Bar with half of the upper elementary students, the second group joined the remaining upper elementary students in a bucket band with Mr. Yoshi. The late January day was surprisingly warm, so the bucket band played outside.

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Not only was it a special treat to be outside in the middle of winter, but there were some subtle messages here as well. The Chinese university students saw that TNCS is an urban school, asphalt and all, and they also saw that with so much going on around the school campus, adaptability and flexibility are necessary (not to mention often make for fun surprises). Mr. Yoshi first gave a short talk, describing his background and explaining that he is a proponent of El Sistema—using music to promote social change. From there, he demonstrated some simple techniques until the group was able to play “Rufus My Dog.”

Then, it was time for the group to go off script and add their own flourishes, working in pairs of one university student and one TNCS student.

They all enjoyed that a lot. As one put it, “This kind of activity makes kids very creative and is very interesting. In China we just repeat, repeat, repeat.”

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Back in the Ozone, TNCS Co-Founder and Executive Director Roberta Faux led the group in playing “Lost at Sea,” working in teams of four or five. “Imagine you chartered a yacht and are sailing from Baltimore to New York,” she instructed. “In 100 miles, your boat blows up. You’re on a little raft, wearing a life vest waiting to be rescued. There are 15 items listed. Number your paper from 1 to 15 and rank the items you would want from most to least. There are no right or wrong answers, and you have 5 minutes.”

The results varied widely, but no teams would have survived and only one individual scored high enough to just barely make it! Despite the high number of casualties, this exercise got everyone thinking as well as collaborating. Oh, and laughing.

Download the rules and how to play here. It’s loads of fun and would be perfect for Family Game Night!

The day ended with a cooking lesson and dinner from Chef Danielle.

The group left Baltimore a day later but were unanimous in saying that they would not forget TNCS and the fun they had while there!

Part 2 continues next week when Immersed checks in with the second group who came to visit TNCS during the Lunar New Year holiday. Stay tuned!

 

Hosts with the Most, Part 2: Interns!

As promised, this week Immersed brings you what the hosting experience is like from a slightly different host family experience: hosting The New Century School interns!

Meet the Interns

First up, let’s meet the interns! “Rocky” and “Carlson” (nicknames) are both from Beijing, China and attend (Rocky) or attended (Carson) Beijing Normal University, although they did not know each other back home. They served as TNCS in-class assistants from January 17th through February 15th. Both had wonderful experiences and were thrilled to have been at TNCS. They loved every minute of it! As you will very quickly see, TNCS was incredibly fortunate to have welcomed them. They are two very special people and were universally loved by staff and students alike during their stay.

img_0710Rocky, age 23, was in Kiley Stasch’s kindergarten and 1st-grade classroom and also helped Wei Li (“Li Laoshi”). A graduate law student in his first semester, he naturally organizes his thoughts and draws logical connections. Thus, he describes the three aspects of his visit to the United States that made it so meaningful to him:

The first is travel. I used my free time to visit places around the United States, like New York City, Philadelphia, and New Haven to visit Yale University law school. I also went to a lot of museums. The second is the time I spent with my host family. They are so nice and so good. They provided a lot of resources for us and a lot of help. [Ed. note: Awwwwwwwww!] The third part is the volunteer experience. I’m enjoying this time with the children very much. It’s hard to express how much knowledge I learned from this experience, but I can say that it was a very valuable time for me and for my life. I will never forget it. It’s going to be a very beautiful memory.

You might be wondering how and why a future criminal lawyer ended up volunteering in childhood education. Rocky explains, “The answer is very easy. As an undergraduate, I majored in physical education.” Not surprisingly, then, one of his favorite teaching moments at TNCS was when he got to teach t’ai chi to the elementary and middle school students. “I’m so happy they liked it!” he said. As it turns out, Rocky is a national champion (and now the origin of his nickname starts to become clear) of t’ai chi in China.

Regarding the students, he found them “open” and “full of energy,” qualities that he found both endearing as well as helpful. Communicating and interacting with them was very easy, he says, whereas Chinese kids of the same age are generally pretty shy. “They don’t want to talk. They’ll just work by themselves. I was glad to find that Ms. Stasch’s students had no trouble asking for my help or to play games.”

After departing Baltimore, the two interns were headed to Chicago. From there, Carlson headed home and Rocky made one final trip to Los Angeles to visit some Chinese friends studying at UCLA before returning to China by February 25th to resume graduate school studies.

img_0714Carson, age 25 and a postgraduate in child development psychology, interned in Mr. McGonigal’s 2nd- and 3rd-grade homeroom. Although not his first time to North America (he was once an exchange student in Canada), this was his first visit to the United States. He describes his experience this way:

During this month, the experience has been very special and a chance to compare the characteristics of Chinese and American educational systems. I think they are very different. American students are very active, especially in the class. In the classroom I volunteered in, the students are so open. The answers they gave to questions from the teacher impressed me. They are very clever and very cute.

Carson found that the lack of reserve he saw in TNCS students led them to make intellectual discoveries and be receptive and curious. This was a very positive aspect of American education in his estimation. On why he wanted this volunteer experience, he says, “I wanted to learn more about the characteristics of children and the differences in the psychology between American and Chinese students. It’s interesting and useful research for me in my future career.”

He also enjoyed traveling to various cities around the country, with the museums in Washington, D.C. being a highlight for him. “It was amazing for me to learn more about American culture,” he said.

Carson says he will miss a lot about his experience once he has returned home, but one thing he will remember fondly was celebrating Chinese New Year abroad for the first time. “It was a very special experience for me,” he smiled. Top of the list, though, is his host family [Ed note: Awwwwwww!].

Meet the Host Family

As described, a huge part of the richness of both interns’ exchange experience was their host family, the Browning/Desais. After reading TNCS Admissions Director Dominique Sanchies’ email describing the need for wintertime host families, they thought hosting would be a lot of fun for their three children. “The process through the agency was very easy,” said Ms. Browning, “we just filled out a 1-page form and were sent a 25-page handbook. The agency checked in with us after the first day and went over everyone’s roles and responsibilities.”

We wanted two interns,” she explained, “and that worked out really well. They did their homework [assigned by their agency and related to their volunteer program] together, hung around together, compared notes, etc.”

Fun for the children happened in spades, but Ms. Browning was pleasantly surprised by how much she and her husband also enjoyed hanging out with Rocky and Carson after the kids went to bed. “They were super interesting to talk to,” she said, “and we all had a lot of fun together.”

It was clear to the Browning/Desais that the interns were reaping a lot from their exchange experience. “They were so nice and so grateful to be here. Everything was an honor for them, they said—even washing the dishes, which we did not expect them to do! That was an added perk!” she laughed. They lent their helping hands frequently—and, with two students to get to TNCS plus a baby (and a cello), Ms. Browning was appreciative of their innate desire to be of service in small ways such as holding doors open for her.

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Besides the fun it promised, the Browning/Desais had another impetus for becoming a host family. The saw it as a way to make a statement about welcoming people from other countries: “We want to show our kids who we are and what this kind of ‘mini-activism’ can do” she explained. Hosting also ties into TNCS’s ethos, and the Browning/Desais have been part of the TNCS community for years.

“We got to experience Chinese New Year (Rocky is a rooster in the Chinese zodiac and Carson a goat, by the way) with them, and that was great. We went to D.C. to see the celebration at the Sackler and Ripley Center at the Smithsonian, which was spectacular. Rocky and Carson then took the “wheel” and escorted them to Chinatown for a hotpot meal, a new experience for the Browning/Desais and featuring such exotic ingredients as cowtail.

As other host families have similarly described, time together was precious, and there never seems to be enough of it. “They traveled around some,” said Ms. Browning,” “but when they were in Baltimore, they were with us 100%.” Other outings they enjoyed together included TNCS’s night with the Baltimore Blast. Rocky and Carson had never seen a soccer match, let alone a live one, and they were amazed. They also got to watch their first Super Bowl, but Ms. Browning reports that despite the excitement of that game, they were much more impressed by Lady Gaga’s halftime show. (Of course, things would have been different had the Ravens been playing.)

“Other than that, we spent a lot of time just hanging out,” said Ms. Browning. Both interns liked to work out, and Rocky gave some more personalized t’ai chi lessons to the Desai children, which the kids not only loved but was also a great way for them to expend energy before bedtime!

The difference in personality between the two interns also played well with the Desai children. “Rocky was the energetic, playful one, and Carson was the love-bug,” said Ms. Browning. The two complemented each other perfectly, she said. Another unexpected benefit was hearing about their kids’ academic performance, especially regarding their Chinese language ability, from the interns’ unique vantage point as classroom volunteers and native Chinese speakers.

Once again, feeding their interns proved to be one of the biggest surprises the Browning/Desais met with, but not in the same way that some of TNCS’s other host families have described (see Hosts with the Most, Part 1). They happily ate whatever was served to them (spaghetti was not a breakfast requirement!), but, given his energy expenditure and to maintain his muscle volume, Rocky has to eat four times the amount of protein an average adult male consumes. Ms. Browning quickly adjusted and quadrupled every recipe she cooked, and she made sure she prepared a wide variety of foods so they could try lots of new things, such as tacos and lasagne. “It was a real ego-booster—they even took pictures of the meals.” Fortunately, the Browning/Desais got stipends for hosting each intern that covered the cost of room and board. Also, whereas the younger exchange students were not accustomed to eating cold meals, Rocky and Carson fell immediately in love with sandwiches. Chili was Rocky’s favorite, though, which they ate for the first time while watching the “Big Game,” and sweets also were a big deal, because at home he’s always training and has to avoid sugar altogether. They also enjoyed a visit to MOM’s organic market and were amazed by some of the unfamiliar vegetables, let alone the section of sustainable proteins (colloquially known as the “bar of dead bugs”).

The Browning/Desais also hosted a student age 7 during the Winter Exchange Program and so have a dual perspective on hosting. The student’s stay overlapped with Rocky’s and Carson’s, but she was shy and did not interact much with the interns. The Browning/Desais are emphatic that they would host again but feel that having interns rather than students was a better fit for their household, at least for the time being.

Carson sums up the experience he and Rocky shared with the Browning/Desais with these heartwarming words:

In my homestay, something very good happened. They are very nice and made me feel at home. I have many words to express, but it’s very difficult. In one word, I would say, “unforgettable.” If I have any opportunity to come again, I definitely want to. It was very special.

Two TNCS Elementary Teachers Lead Education Conference in China!

At the end of October, The New Century School elementary teachers Kiley Stasch and Dan McGonigal traveled to Beijing, China to present at the International Cooperation Project for RiSE Teachers. The actual conference was held in a town that was a 2-hour drive outside of the city.

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Our fearless conference leaders!

Mr. McGonigal explained that TNCS Co-Founders approached him and Ms. Stasch with the idea to lead a 3-day conference in China involving extensive educational professional development at the “RiSE Center,” which is an afterschool and weekend educational program. “In China, afterschool and weekend programs does not have the same meaning. There, such programs mean extensive education, so RiSE takes advantage of that time and immerses students in the English language by teaching all of their subjects in English. Very much like what we are doing at TNCS—teaching core content in another language. So they want to Americanize their approach to get students more engaged, incorporating more hands-on activities. They wanted to see how we handle classroom structure and appealing to different learners,” he said.

For some background, in China, younger students have about 6 hours additional learning each week; older students have about 8. This is on top of an already 10-hour school day, so on the 2 days a week the students attend the RiSE Centers, their school day stretches to 12 hours. They will also spend 4 to 6 hours there in weekends.

Many of the approximately 100 conference attendees were teaching at the pre-Kindergarten level and looking for tools for English language learning. “So, we had to adapt some of the materials we had prepared in advance to better target their needs,” said Ms. Stasch. “Yes, they were especially excited about the Language Arts aspects,” agreed Mr. McGonigal.

Ms Stasch provided this overview:

With one exception, the RiSE teachers were native Chinese but had all taught English abroad and spoke English very well—no translators were needed. They were all so excited and really enjoyed the opportunity we were bringing to them. Some of the STEM-teaching concepts were different for them and a little harder to grasp, but they were  eager to implement a lot of our teaching recommendations in their classrooms. Their curriculum is already designed, and they do not have a lot of say in that matter, but some of the founders and top members of the program were participating and were listening very carefully to our presentations. They seemed amenable to restructuring some of the curriculum to incorporate more STEM and maybe the Daily 5, for example.

The teachers were trying to convey two primary concepts: the value of independent learning and how to better manage the classroom. Their presentations are available for download at the end of this post.

Said Mr. McGonigal:

What they kept coming back to in their questions was how to get and keep students engaged. As part of their culture, Chinese students are naturally reserved and maybe a little shy, so getting them to actively participate can be a bit of a struggle. Instructors also wanted suggestions on how to help their students understand that answers are not always black and white and that they do not always have to be ‘right,’ or perfect per se. But they are scared that if they share something in class that they will be wrong and will be shunned for it.

“Yes,” agreed Ms. Stasch, “they seem to have a very matter-of-fact way of thinking. Rather than explore ideas, they want to know what is the correct answer because they know they will later be tested on it. Even the RiSE teachers had some trouble understanding how to teach using questions and open-ended lines of inquiry. They were bewildered that we were giving them questions instead of answers!”

“But we helped them see that if students ask their own questions, they are in charge of their own learning and will get them thinking on their own,” said Mr. McGonigal. He continued:

Another recurring topic was behavior management. We tried to instill in them the idea that these are practices that help manage behavior, too, because if you get students asking questions they are more focused and there are naturally fewer behavior problems as a result. In everything we did, we tried to incorporate why independent learning is so valuable. Using a stations approach instead of whole class is also helpful because you’re more able to meet students at their particular levels and help them individually, which also helps reduce behavior problems.

Believe it or not, even given the respect for teachers and for the classroom ingrained in students since before kindergarten, they do “act up” from time to time. Ms Stasch explained that, “this might be because the RiSE teachers tend to be newer teachers with less experience and therefore less-developed classroom management skills.” Another factor is that because this is an afterschool and weekend program, the kids probably feel more relaxed than they would in regular day school, where the environment is more rigid (see TNCS Visits Schools in China!)

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RiSE students

“We saw this when we did our demo lessons,” said Mr. McGonigal. “The kids were very loose and relaxed with their teachers. It was similar to an America classroom. But the minute we started teaching , they became very attentive, very minds on. Part of this might be because we were speaking in English so they had to pay close attention in order to understand what we were saying. Some other reasons could be that we were new faces to them and also that there were cameras in the room. But I think behavior is always relative. What is considered a behavior problem there might not be here.”

When asked about their overall impressions of the trip, Mr. McGonigal replied, “One of the things that really hit home with me is that the teachers there are amazingly dedicated. We were doing this professional development with them until 5:30 pm, and then they were also given homework to complete before the next day’s session. They would often be up until midnight working with their teammates.”

Ms. Stasch agreed: “And they ask lots and lots of questions. They really needed to know that they were headed in the right direction and are eager to please. They expected assessments the next morning and were very excited about those. They charted the assessments and then had a cumulative assessment at the end. We really adjusted our process to add these assessments and to allow more time for questions.”

Mr. McGonigal explained the rationale for the cumulative assessment: “They did this to determine who was the valedictorian. They also wanted a points system for in-class work. Everybody earned their certificates at the end!”

Although with 3 days for their conference, 1 day for teacher interviews, and 1 day for the demo lesson, it sounds like an all-work, no-play trip, they actually also had 2 1/2 days for sightseeing and visited the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and the Forbidden City. They loved the food and tried lots of unfamiliar dishes. (However, eating fine-boned fish with  chopsticks proved a challenge.) “It was a really great experience,” said Kiley. “For both of us it was the first time to take on a leadership role in professional development, and we both learned a lot,” said Dan.

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TNCS Lower Elementary Goes Around the World in 80 Days

Global studies is always an important theme in Ms. DuPrau's classroom.

Global studies is always an important theme in Ms. DuPrau’s classroom.

All while never leaving the classroom! The New Century School lower elementary teacher Adriana DuPrau designed a project to stimulate her 1st-graders and expand their horizons—passports to circumnavigate the globe! They created passport books to prepare for their global “travel” beginning the first week of the 2014 school year. In less than 3 months, the class visited six of the world’s seven continents, missing only South America. (It really was just about 80 days, just like in the original 1873 Jules Verne adventure novel. No hot air balloons, though.) To launch this fantastic and inspired undertaking, Southwest Air pilot and TNCS dad “Captain Marc” visited the class to talk about air travel, time zones, airplanes in general, and airplane safety. Each child then got a Southwest travel pack with pretzels, activities, and even a pair of wings to pin on their lapels! Ms. DuPrau says, “the kids were so excited and asked Captain Marc lots of very good questions, like ‘how do airplanes fly?'” Captain Marc managed to fly above that one.

Having gotten their passports in order and received their wings, the kids were ready to set out. Oops! One more thing. Before exploring each new country, the students profile a day in the life of a first-grader from that country to compare and contrast it to their own lives. Africa was their first destination, Kenya, to be exact. The students had learned that classrooms in Kenya comprise as many as 60 students—quite a difference from what they are used to!  Two guests spoke about this exotic country. One class mom lived there for a year and brought in lots of pictures and taught the kids to carry things on their heads, just like the Kenyans do. She also talked about climate, geography, culture, cuisine, and the native animals. The other guest spoke about his experience growing up on a giraffe farm, such as awaking in the mornings to see a giraffe poking its head through the window of a bedroom conveniently located on an upper floor. The kids were utterly enchanted!

From Kenya, the class traveled on to Switzerland, escorted by another class dad who once lived there. Before moving on to a new country, however, says Ms. DuPrau, students color the flag of the country they just visited and will compile these in a special flag book. Skiing, chocolate, and watches were the highlights of the iPad presentation on Switzerland. The kids were very interested in Swiss culture, and they especially loved hearing about the extensive rail transportation system. Swiss money was another object of fascination, and from here the kids began collecting currency from each new place.

With Chinese New Year looming, the class went on to China, with presentations by Wen Laoshi and Xie Laoshi as well as by Ms. DuPrau herself. The class had learned that first-graders in China have much longer school days and felt pretty lucky by comparison. They delved into holidays and cooked Chinese dumplings together as part of their cultural exploration of China.

All aboard for India! Next, “Ms. J.” (TNCS aftercare teacher) came in to take the kids to her native India. Ms. J. focused on music, cuisine, religion, and traditional clothing. She also sang a classical Bharatanatyam South Indian song, which is her special talent, and passed out honey and fennel pastries—“the kids loved them!” They washed it all down with mango juice, which was another wonderful new treat.

A quick stop in California represented the class’s North American visit, and a class grandmother came in to present this one. She created an interactive map that the kids could place stickers on after hearing about a particular part of California’s geography (e.g., mountains, desert, beaches, etc.).

From the west coast of the United States, the class returned to Africa with another member of TNCS staff who came to us from Ethiopia. This presentation took a slightly different tack. Ms. Kipnesh first prepared a written overview of her country. We learned that Ethiopia has a very temperate climate, ranging from 50°–70° and that it’s the second most populous country in Africa, after Nigeria, comprising over 80 nationalities within its narrow borders! It has several other important distinctions as well, we learned, being the only African country to resist colonization and having maintained its independence for more than 3,000 years! It’s also where a very early human ancestor was discovered—“Lucy“, an Australopithecus afarensis, is about 3.2 million years old. For the presentation itself, the first-graders trooped down to the TNCS kitchen where they got to watch Ms. Kipnesh in action, preparing an authentic Ethiopian dish, while teaching a few words in her native language and donning Ethiopian fancy dress, called habesha kemis. During the preparation of Ethiopia’s national dish, enjera (also injera) be doro wot, Chef Emma helped out by explaining how Ms. Kipnesh made the dish step by step and providing other useful information about Ethiopian cuisine. This highly nutritious and delicious dish traditionally is made with chicken and eggs, cabbage, and cheese, but TNCS students got a lentil substitute for the chicken and eggs.

Back to Asia! Saudi Arabia was the next stop, which a class mom originally from that country spoke about. She brought in headdresses for the boys to wear and showed traditional women’s garb. She made a big poster detailing the climate, the geography, and the animals living there. Did you know that Saudi Arabia is one of just a few native camel habitats? The fun didn’t stop humped beasts, however—fig cupcakes were next! We have it on good authority (i.e., Ms. DuPrau) that these cupcakes were the best anyone had ever eaten.

Next they headed west back to Europe. (This was a zig-zagging journey of necessity.) A British class dad presented Wales and Scotland to the class. Rugby and biscuits were a big part of this talk, natch. Wales is notable for having one of the world’s longest place names. (Serendipitously, the class was able to visit the place with the longest name before their journey’s end.) Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch and its surrounds were full of interesting facts, even if no one was able to pronounce what sounds those 58 letters combine to produce. If you have given up and the suspense is killing you, click here!

And on back to Asia for a Skype visit to former class assistant teacher Ms. Chae in Korea! This trip wasn’t as strictly educational—the kids were just eager to catch up with their dear friend! However, they did learn about the Korean flag, the cuisine, and traditional Korean clothing in between the flurry of news exchanges!

Veering southeast, the class finished up with a trip to Thailand. The kids learned about Thailand’s tropical monsoon climate, why elephants are immensely important, and that rambutans and mangosteens taste sublime but that durian is extremely off-putting to the foreign nose! They also learned how to properly wai their ajarns. Finally, it is Bangkok that actually has the distinction of having the world’s longest place name. With 163 Thai letters without spaces, “กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยา มหาดิลกภพ นพรัตนราชธานีบูรีรมย์ อุดมราชนิเวศน์มหาสถาน อมรพิมานอวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยวิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์” (or, Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit) translates to “The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (unlike Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.” Who knew? Click here for audio pronunciation.

It goes without saying that our now seasoned world travelers enjoyed themselves tremendously and learned scads of information about each country but also broadened their mental vistas. Volunteer speakers also benefited greatly by sharing their cultures or reliving once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Ms. DuPrau, this was a truly wonderful class project, combining the best elements of learning—discovery, interactivity, and real life. Wherever you take TNCS elementary students next along their scholastic journey, the destination will be well worth the visit!