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.

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 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!

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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)!

TNCS’s Annual Elementary & Middle School Information Nights: An Overview

On the first two Thursdays of December, The New Century School hosted Information Nights about TNCS elementary and middle school programs, the first for current elementary/middle school families, the second for prospective families including those currently enrolled in TNCS’s preschool program.

The event is the best opportunity to get an in-depth look at the various curricula. After an introduction by TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali, each teacher described his or her classroom approach and particular subject area. Following these teacher presentations, audience members asked specific questions of the presenters. They also had the chance to flip through relevant curriculum materials.

The TNCS Difference

Mrs. Danyali first explained that one big change from the primary program is that, beginning in elementary, students have a homeroom teacher but then cycle through other classrooms throughout the school day, receiving instruction from a “team” of teachers, who each teach by subject area, rather than remaining with primarily one teacher as in preschool. Another key difference is that fewer Montessori elements are incorporated in the curriculum, although certainly the spirit and even some of the math materials are retained, depending on grade level.

Aspects that do continue from the preschool program include combining age groups within individual classrooms. “Staying true to our philosophy that students learn best in a mixed-age environment, we do combine ages in our elementary and middle school programs,” Mrs. Danyali explained. Thus, there are currently two K–1st-grade homerooms, one K–2nd-grade homeroom, a 2nd–3rd-grade homeroom, and a 4th–6th-grade homeroom.

Another continuous feature is individualized instruction—meeting the child at his or her academic and social level.

Her discourse then turned to what sets the TNCS elementary and middles school programs apart from those of other schools: “One thing we really believe in is learning languages,” she continued. “Every single day, your child will have individual time with their language educator, so they get a 45- to 90-minute block of Spanish and another with Mandarin Chinese. As their skills develop, they do more focused reading and writing, math, and culture in those two languages.”

Another difference she mentioned is the degree of depth in Science and Global Studies. “These disciplines are theme based as well as cross curricular,” she explained, “resulting in deeper exploration of the topics. For example, in Quarter 1 of the 2016–2017 school year,  students studied Egypt, with projects differentiated by grade level. The topic of Egypt carried over into English Language Arts as well as art class. We ensure that they get the full experience across the curriculum.”

Finally, so-called “specials” classes—that is, art, music, physical education—each take place twice weekly, which subjects get squeezed out of many public and charter school curricula to make room for disciplines more geared toward “what’s on The Test.”

Mrs. Danyali also has implemented twice monthly assemblies that explore aspects of character development, each assembly devoted to a particular theme. So far this year, elementary and middle school students have been taking a deep dive into the four Core Values and have enacted skits, made drawings, and told storied to illustrate what these concepts mean to them. Service learning, in particular, has been a key focus in the elementary and middle school program, and students have regularly participated in initiatives both in and around school as well as for the surrounding communities such as by serving as “safeties” who escort younger students from the car line into the school building a few mornings per week, cleaning up Gunpowder Falls State Park, and serving as “blanketeers” through Project Linus.

Science & Math, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade

fullsizerenderKiley Stasch is in her second year at TNCS. As Science and Math instructor for K–2nd grade, she explained that in Kindergarten, the Montessori approach to math is used, which relies on manipulatives to demonstrate increasingly abstract concepts. The “Daily 5” (or some permutation thereof) is also used for classroom management as well as to provide very individualized instruction.  Divided into small groups, students rotate with their group through a series of five stations: computer technology time (ABC Mouse, SuccessMaker, Khan Academy, depending on age and skill level), hands-on math games with partners or individually, meet the teacher, read to self (math- and science-related topics), and a science center.

“Although all levels are doing an energy unit, currently, what I’m doing with my Kindergarteners will be different from what I’m doing with my 2nd-graders and different from what Mr. McGonigal is doing with his 6th-graders,” she explained. “We try to build our instruction on whatever the students need, what they are capable of, and guide them as far as they can go.”

English Language Arts, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade

tncs-elementary-and-middle-school-programs-information-nightAdriana Duprau has been with TNCS for 7 years and is the lead for English Language Arts and Global Studies for K–2nd grade. “We have 45 students in our cohort [about 12 but no more than 16 per class], which includes many different personalities and abilities. Our goal is to make sure they get the personalized instruction they need. They also stay motivated to progress by their peers who might be working on something they aspire to.” This class also uses the Daily 5 approach. Here it is read to self, read to someone, word work, listen to reading (on the computer), and writing work. “Even my youngest 5-year-olds can quietly and independently rotate among these stations. It works very smoothly and allows me to work with at least four groups a day, meaning that students get one-on-one teacher time virtually every day.”

She incorporates Junior Great Books, which is a monthly whole-class exercise that encourages sharing new ideas and rich conversation; Lucy Calkins and Just Write for writing instruction; Fundations, for beginning readers/spellers; and Wordly Wise 3000.

“It’s nice to see my students working at their own level, not necessarily their assigned grade. Because I have mixed ages and therefore multiple curriculum materials, I can provide higher level materials for the student who is rapidly advancing,” she said.

Spanish Language Arts, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade

fullsizerender-02Profesor Manuel Caceres is in his second year of teaching at TNCS and teaches Spanish speaking, reading, writing, and grammar to the K–2nd cohort. “I know you hear about me a lot,” he joked. “Each teacher has his or her own recipe to provide each student with the best academic experience.” He uses the Santillana platform for helping students develop skills and achieve fluency but was quick to remind us that there’s no magic bullet for learning another language.

He uses Daily 3—writing, reading, and speaking—in the classroom. He approaches the curriculum by school quarter, starting with the basics of vocabulary and handwriting and building on reading comprehension and, for example, verb conjugation, as the year progresses. He also incorporates games, singing, and media to keep them moving and engaged. “Academically, they will be at a very high level in terms of Spanish proficiency when they eventually transition to high school,” he said. “It’s a really amazing opportunity that the school provides.”

He explained that he also tailors his lessons to connect with the areas of exploration happening in other disciplines, such as the unit on Egypt (Egipto) already mentioned. As with other teachers, he also makes sure that instruction is individualized and sees a wide range of abilities and skill level among the cohort.

Mandarin Chinese, Kindergarten through 6th Grade

fullsizerender-03Another teacher in Year 2 at TNCS, Wei Li, or “Li Laoshi,” teaches Mandarin Chinese to all elementary and middle school students. “We use the same methods here as were used in preschool to teach Mandarin,” she explained. This method centers on Total Physical Response (TPR), a proven strategy that incorporates movement to deepen comprehension. “So, we sing, we dance, and we play games in Chinese class. But, we focus more on Chinese characters and reading skills in elementary and middle school, so they can read books independently,” she explained.

“Another way we incorporate TPR is with acting out stories each Friday,” she went on. They write these stories and act them out on stage. “Books are the backbone of the curriculum,” she said, “and students can progress at their own pace through them.” Here again, due to the mixed ages and as well as the varying degrees of skills among them, individualized instruction is paramount. To achieve this, Li Laoshi uses the Daily 5—meet with teacher, write sentences using Chinese characters, read books, play games, and use the computer.

jianzi-1Cultural elements are also emphasized, so they do a lot of cooking and eating Chinese food as well as playing traditional Chinese playground games, such as jianzi, a feathered shuttlecock (see photo) played similar to hackey sack, and Chinese squash. Calligraphy and painting is also taught to further promote the students’ interest in learning Chinese.

Art, Kindergarten through 6th-Grade (So Far)

fullsizerender-07Elisabeth Willis has been at TNCS for years and in different capacities. She now, in fact, teaches art to all TNCS students, including pre-primary and primary students. By Kindergarten, her students have attained functional skills and can apply them ever more masterfully. She also incorporates Art History at this point, which is her specialty. Her students can now recognize artwork by artist.

Mrs. Willis encourages her students to bring their ideas for projects to her, and, as such, did some bookmaking with them earlier this year. She also encourages them to embrace their own styles and adapts assignments as necessary to accommodate, for example, a student’s inclusion of more detail than was called for. Instead of using oil pastels to add color to such a piece, she allows that student to use a different medium.

Importantly, she links art class with other content areas, to deepen and enrich the student’s experience. When they were studying Ancient Egypt, for example, she introduced them to hieroglyphics, and some students even began sending notes to each other written in this representational alphabet. The older students even designed cartouches to feature their hieroglyphic messages.

“Art is a more meditative place in the school,” she said. “The students relax, do some introspection, and really put the work out there. I’m very proud of them,” she said. “All of my students are doing art past what they would be learning in their assigned grade. Kids are more than able to make really good art, despite what a curriculum made by adults says.”

English Language Arts & Science, 2nd Grade through 6th Grade (So Far)

fullsizerender-04Dan McGonigal is in his third year at TNCS, having worked in different capacities in the elementary program and teaching English Language Arts and Science for the 2016–2017 school year. Mr. McGonigal also taught for 8 years in the public school setting. With his dual perspective, he says, he clearly sees the advantages that TNCS students have in this program. “As several teachers have mentioned,” he explained, “we are highly individualized with students’ education, and this is certainly also true for 2nd- through 6th-graders. We try to meet students at their ability level rather than their assigned grade level, whether it’s a 6th-grade student reading at a 4th-grade level, or a 4th-grade student reading at a 6th-grade level.”

The focus of his reading class is to get students thinking more deeply about the content, to pick up context clues and infer the author’s meaning. “We also do a lot of discussion-based learning when it comes to language arts acquisition,” he said. “Building on the skills that students have learned earlier and applying them to higher-level texts, we are developing a love of learning in students.”

Regarding writing, he says he tries to find opportune moments to ask for a piece of writing to make it “real.” “Instead of doing writing in isolation,” he explained, “we apply it to a real-world situation. We integrate writing not only with what we are reading but also with science topics and any other content areas.” Chapter books, teacher-led discussions, and student-led discussions comprise a big part of class time, and he also incorporates spelling and vocabulary acquisition with Wordly Wise, which puts challenging vocabulary in context and gives words multiple meanings. In spelling, he emphasizes patterns rather than rote memorization in order to build up skills.

Moving on to science, he describes himself as a “passionate science educator.” “I recently got certified as a STEM Education Leader, among the first cohort of only eight teachers to receive this certification from Towson University.” He says he integrates engineering everywhere he can, always applying it to solving real-world challenges and problems. “For example, he explains, “we have just started our energy unit, and after we have learned all about energy and how it works, what it is, and its different types, we will then put that knowledge to use in an engineering challenge. It’s a way to really bring that instruction alive, and it’s also a great way to assess students insofar as their designs and creations reveal the thinking and understanding that went into them. We are developing 21st-century skills and instilling the kinds of habits that The New Century School embodies.”

Curriculum materials include Engineering is Elementary, Fox Education Systems, and a lot of teacher-created items designed with individual students in mind. “In 2nd through 6th grade, we are getting more serious in terms of holding students accountable for their learning. We start to see quizzes and tests, for example, all to make sure each student is getting what he or she needs,” he concluded.

Math & Global Studies, 2nd Grade through 6th Grade (So Far)

fullsizerender-05Beatriz Cabrera is new to TNCS for the 2016–2017 school year (look for a Meet-the-Teacher post on her in the coming weeks) and teaches Mathematics and Global Studies to 2nd- through 6th-graders. But that’s not all—Sra. Cabrera teaches her subject areas in Spanish, thus providing an authentic immersion experience. Thus, students enhance their Spanish language acquisition and also learn core content in that language.

“I came from Spain 2 years ago,” she said, “and I am really happy to join The New Century School. My students are learning Spanish very quickly.” She describes the process by which she pulls of the amazing feat of teaching Math and Global Studies in Spanish to mostly nonnative speakers as one of accrual. Initially, she repeated everything she spoke in Spanish, in English, so she could be sure they understood their instructions for a given lesson, until she observed that her students were comfortable enough to go full Spanish. “They are very bright,” she said. Her materials are also in English, so those she translates herself into Spanish.

Sra. Cabrera also implements the Daily 5 rotation approach to class time and dedicates more time on Fridays to playing games. “By the last day of the week, they are tired, so I try to make it fun. They love it,” she said. In fact, this game-playing is strategic in another way by preparing her students to participate in Math Kangaroo, an international competition that U.S. students will join on March 16, 2017.

In keeping with the theme of individualized instruction, she says she also allows students to work where they are. “Students can have the perception that math is hard or that they cannot do math, so I try to make them feel comfortable. ‘You are here to learn,’ I tell them, ‘and the most important thing is to try. You do not need to be afraid if you don’t know how to do something. That’s what you are here to do—to learn how,'” she explained.

Currently, in Global Studies, they are studying the Ancient Roman and Greek Empires, having completed their “Egipto” unit in the first quarter. Here again, she translates her class materials into Spanish and encourages students to also speak and write in the language, often offering extra credit if they do so. In this class, the focus is not so much on proper usage as on just usage. Grading on grammar and the like is reserved for another class.

Spanish, 2nd through 6th Grade

fullsizerender-06Fabiola Sanzana is another TNCS veteran, having been with the school for many years. She teaches Spanish to the 2nd- through 6th-graders. “I am from Chile,” she began, “and in my culture, the Spanish language is very, very important, especially in terms of writing.” All of her materials are Latin American based that she obtains from her teacher networks.

Sra. Sanzana is currently teaching her students how to interpret instructions. Nothing is in English, and she expects them to figure out and understand their instructions in Spanish, which they manage very well. “I give them the tools,” she says, “such as how to use online Spanish dictionaries and to choose the most accurate translation, so they can proceed with a given activity.” She describes how, at the beginning of the school year, students relied heavily on the dictionaries (parents may recall this during homework time), but now they have progressed beyond the need for such help and can read and interpret the instructions independently. “They have assimilated an enormous amount of vocabulary,” she said.

They are also learning syllables, nouns, big numbers, and more. “They are not little kids anymore. They are ready and able. Also, if they have been with Profesor Manuel, they come to me with very advanced vocabulary,” she said. “Here they are facing more difficult lessons and advanced Spanish.” She emphasizes correct pronunciation in speech and correct orthography, including accent marks, in writing.

She implements a Daily 3 rotation in the classroom: one-on-one instruction, in which they address specific concerns about assignments or cover new material if appropriate; read to self or others, in which they have begun reading short novels and answering related questions to test comprehension (which Sra. Sanzana deems “amazing”); and group work that might include dictation, role-playing, games, or songs. Her students always want more, she says, which is a very good sign indeed!

Regarding instructional differentiation, her class is composed of a spectrum of levels from native Spanish speakers to novice speakers who just joined TNCS this year. “I prepare materials for each student,” she says. “I meet with all of them to determine where they are and teach accordingly.”

All Wrapped-Up

After the teachers each spoke, Mrs. Danyali explained some administrative points that are always frequently asked about, such as that TNCS sends out report cards four times a year, with a specialized reporting system that accommodates a multilingual school. TNCS is also MSDE (MD State Department of Education) certified. Parent–teacher conferences are held twice yearly, and teachers may be contacted separately at any time to address specific concerns or just to check in and keep the lines of communication open. Homework begins in Grade 2 and is given on Mondays, with the remainder of the week to complete it. Prior to Grade 2, nightly reading is encouraged.

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The evening ended with Q&A between staff and audience on specific points, and curriculum materials were made available for parent perusal. Current families appreciated the in-depth look at the elementary and middle school programs and the amount of preparation that went into each teacher presentation. Prospective families were surely impressed by the robustness of education at TNCS. From the academic rigor infused into core subjects, to the multilingualism, to the emphasis on The Arts, coupled with the customized instruction each child receives, these elementary and middle school programs are truly unique in Baltimore.

 

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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For their presentations, please download the following powerpoints:

TNCS Hosts a Special 10th-Anniversary Back-to-School Night!

This special Immersed blog post was written by first-time Guest Blogger as well as first-time Class Parent Michael “Mike” Horvath. Mr. Horvath explains Back-to-School Night from the perspective of a TNCS elementary parent.

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Welcome Back to School!

It’s that time of year when the summer ends and new seasons begin. At The New Century School, the 2016–2017 school year kicked off with its annual Back to School Night. The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Alicia Danyali welcoming parents, new and old, introducing TNCS teaching staff, and recognizing Executive Directors and Co-Founders Jennifer Lawner and Roberta Faux.

It’s worth noting that this is the 10th anniversary of TNCS! What an amazing job they have done to expand the school and its programs to where it is today. Roberta Faux then addressed the parents, sharing some of the positive changes that have happened since the end of the spring semester. One such change was turning the previous school office, located inside the main doors of building south, into an additional classroom. The school office is now located on the second floor of building north, where soon there also will be a snack bar…more news on that to come. Also new to TNCS this year is the introduction of the school’s Core Values. As the school’s foundation, these values of compassion, courage, respect, and service will be displayed throughout the school and will be emphasized daily by all at TNCS, as well as during classroom lessons, assemblies, and restorative circles. You can find more information about these pillars of TNCS in the Family Handbook and in last week’s blog.

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Second- through sixth-grade STEM instructor Dan McGonigal welcomes parents and gives them a snapshot of what they can expect from the 2016–2017 school year in his classroom.

Once the initial introductions and welcome message concluded, parents moved on to spend time with their child’s teachers. This was the opportunity to learn about what the school day looks like, what the educational goals are for the year, and what the expectations are of both parent and child. One of these break-out groups was helmed by Mr. Dan McGonigal and Sra. Beatriz Cabrera for grades 2–6. With about 15 parents attending, it was a cozy, informal gathering with returning parents reconnecting with one another and meeting new ones, too.

One very important takeaway message from the evening was to be on time. The class begins with key information and planner assignments, all things you don’t want your child to miss. As for the planners themselves, well, there was overwhelming parental excitement when Mr. McGonigal brought up the topic. Remember to initial them each night and remove any papers from the take-home pocket.

All homework is individualized, with Spanish and Mandarin alternating every other week, reading 20 minutes each night, and Math will consist of problem-solving or Workbook completion. At the end of each quarter, students will receive a report card, and parent/teacher conferences will take place twice during the year. Mr. McGonigal made it a point to mention that he and Sra. Cabrera are always available via email if you have any questions or concerns, and they will be prompt to reply. Throughout the year in Global Studies, students will be learning about Ancient Egypt, Greek and Roman Expansion, European and Asian Progress, as well as The New World and the Industrial Revolution.

The major Science themes throughout the year will include Microbiology, Energy Concepts, Geology and Changes to The Earth’s Surface, and Simple Machines and Programming Innovations. Students will also begin to learn how to use microscopes. These microscopes were provided to TNCS thanks to its partnership with Towson University. As for language immersion, we are fortunate to have two wonderful, enthusiastic teachers in Wei Li, Mandarin, and Fabiola Sanzana, Spanish. Chinese will be learned through various activities and projects with assessments being mainly performance based. Spanish learning will be taught through the use of different games, dances, and songs. On top of all of this daily learning there will be a number of field trips throughout the year, with the first one being a return to the popular Milburn Orchards, also visited last year. There will also be planned trips to the Baltimore City Library each month.

So hold on to your hats, the 2016–2017 TNCS school year is shaping up to be one exciting, action-packed year of learning!

Goodbye 2015–2016 School Year! It’s Been Great!

Well folks, another school year at The New Century School has just ended. Immersed finds this news bittersweet—grateful for all the good times, learning, friendships, and memories it gave us, but also wistful that it’s over. Sniff.

To cheer ourselves up, let’s take a look at all the special ways TNCS teachers and staff made the end of the school year one big, happy celebration. Overseeing each event with warmth and grace was Head of School Alicia Danyali.

Primary Field Day

Although the scheduled Elementary Field Day got rained out, TNCS Primary students dodged the weather a week before school let out and had a . . . “field day” in Patterson Park! Primary teachers Maria Mosby, Catherine Lawson, Lisa Reynolds, and Martellies Warren pulled out all the stops, with games, snacks, and even a special guest performance by former TNCS Primary teacher, Ms. Laz! (Read more about Ms. Lazarony’s alter ego as Planet Uptune songwriter and vocalist here!)

There were beads, balls, bubbles, balloons, badminton, and bats—and that’s just the b’s! Frisbees, kites, and even baby ducks were also on hand to make this event the perfect send-off for the 3- to 5-year old set. See for yourself in this slide show that will make you wish you were a kid again.

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All-School Picnic

Next up was the chance for parents to join their kids during the annual TNCS outdoor picnic lunch. Initially rained out, the weather cooperated beautifully on Monday, and the playground was full to capacity of happy TNCS community members. Mrs. Duprau brought along a special new guest (and future TNCS enrollee), and Mr. Warren once again got mauled by his adoring fans. (But seemed to be okay with that ;).)

Grade 5 Graduation Ceremony

The following day saw a truly momentous occasion unfolding, not to mention a huge TNCS first. The oldest cohort of TNCS students graduated out of the Elementary program. You can read on their faces the many emotions this inspired. From pensive to elated to quite somber, they are clearly aware of the significance of graduating. This event not only means that this group, whom we have watched grow and mature into fine young ladies and gentlemen over the years under the expert tutelage of Elementary teachers Dan McGonigal and Kiley Stasch, will embark on a whole new scholastic phase—Middle School—but also that TNCS itself has grown and will embark on its own Middle School journey. These are wonderful tidings . . . notwithstanding their undeniable poignancy. Such great things lie ahead.

Kindergarten/Grade 1 End-of-Year Celebration

On the penultimate day of school, another graduation ceremony of sorts transpired. What started as a low-key, in-classroom potluck brunch grew into a full-on TNCS event, courtesy of K/1st teachers Teresa Jacoby and Manuel Caceres. They even had the kids collaborate on a “quilt” of self-portraits that will grace the halls of TNCS in perpetuity.

The Kindergarteners were awarded diplomas to signal their imminent passage grade-school status.

And the first-graders passed on some pearls of wisdom to their junior counterparts to ease their transition to the Big Time.

So thanks for the memories TNCS . . . and for making school such a positive experience for students and their families. What a profound gift this is. Other than being able to share these memories, the only other thing that makes closing out the school year bearable is knowing we’ll be back for 2016–2017 to share more great times :)!

 

TNCS Upper Elementary Bond in the Great Outdoors!

Last month, The New Century School 4th- and 5th-grade students went on an overnight field trip to Echo Hill Outdoor School, in Warton on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Chaperoned by teachers Kiley Stasch and Dan McGonigal, girls bunked together in a cabin, and boys bunked together in a separate cabin. “I did this trip when I was in Middle School,” said Ms. Stasch, who initiated the excursion, “and it was a fantastic bonding experience.”

Echo Hill Outdoor School’s mission is “to provide students with positive experiences in the outdoors that are exciting, interesting, and fun. Through [their] programs, students learn more about the wonders of nature, the value of history, and the diversity of individual qualities. [They] are dedicated to creating a safe and supportive environment for students to feel challenged and successful with the freedom to think, question, and express themselves.”

Ms. Stasch explains that of the many different kids of curricula EHOS offers, team-building was what she wanted to focus on to tie in with what they had been doing in class to strengthen their ability to work together. There’s also an adventure course with ziplining and other activities, bonfires, hikes, etc. TNCS students would have loved to stay longer and participate in some of those activities, but they managed to fit a lot in even with their short stay. Their first day started with a basic team-building activity, in which they each had to get to a platform opposite where they were standing without crossing a line drawn on the ground—the “hot lava.” Their means of conveyance was a 5-foot rope, but the rope hung over the platform, meaning that they first had to figure out how to obtain the rope. They eventually arrived at the solution of tying their shirts and jackets together in a long line and sort of lassoing the rope in their direction.

“They found this very challenging at first and were expressing negativity about their ability to see this through, but once they pulled together, it was really great to see them come up with a successful solution,” said Ms. Stasch. Each then caught the rope and swung across to the platform, which was part two of the challenge. They all had to assemble on the small square platform without falling into the “lava,” which meant catching each other and helping each other steadily dismount onto it. This got harder and harder as more students reached their goal and space inversely decreased. It’s not only a great solution, using what materials they had at hand, but it also demonstrated their collective efficacy when working as a unit. “No one fell in the lava, joked Ms. Stasch. “At this point in the exercise, they were working very well together and encouraging each other. It was a flip-flop from the beginning of the challenge when they were having difficulty working together. When they figured it all out, there was this sudden switch, which is exactly what we wanted to see with this group, and this great collaborative spirit has continued back at school.”

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Another fun exercise they did was to practice echolocation in which one blindfolded student pretended to be a bat in search of food. This was pretty much a dry version of that pinnacle of pool games, Marco Polo. “Food” in the form of the other students, formed a circle and clapped to indicate their whereabouts for the hungry bat, who had to tag his prey to be successful.

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Their next activity was a night hike, and they loved that. The teachers let their students embark on that activity with the staff alone so they could feel as far removed from school as possible and really embrace the environment they were in. They heard owls and other wildlife.

The next day started with canoeing, another activity that requires a certain degree of cooperation in order to be able to move across the water purposefully. This was their “survival day,” which also included building a fire and experimenting with what material burned best, what building technique to use (e.g. “log cabin” style versus “tent style”), and what could be done to make the fire stronger. It took TNCS students a bit longer than usual due to the long stretch of rain that bookended their trip and dampened the kindling, but under normal circumstances, Echo Hill campers would also build a shelter from wood found on the beach. Nevertheless, this was nearly unanimously voted to be the best activity. They even used the ash to decorate their faces afterward in a show of . . . tribal solidarity? Creative expression? Plain old outdoor fun? (Probably all three.)

For dining, they mingled with other non-TNCS campers and tried to meet someone new at each meal. They also minded their intake very carefully so as to prevent unnecessary food waste. “They loved the food, but took only what amount they were certain they could eat. If they were still hungry, they could get more.” At the end of each meal, plate scrapings went in a slop bucket, which was then weighed—the goal being to reduce the weight of the bucket contents. “They were constantly aware of the bucket and their desire to keep it light, which was a nice reminder of food waste.”

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“I wanted to do this trip,” said Ms. Stasch:

because I knew we’d all get to see each other in a different setting. It was a lot of fun. We all hope to do a longer trip—more than just a night—next year. The staff were amazing. They were so well trained, and every activity was so well planned out and so well structured. The students were really enthusiastic and happy that we had gone. Overall, it was a great experience, and I’d like to take them again. They reflected verbally afterward on how important collaboration is. Some students were starting to ‘check out’ out of frustration in the beginning, but when they came back and worked together, they saw that that’s when it all comes together. We had some good discussion on that theme. It was a good age to be away from home for a night. They’ve grown and matured a lot this year, and hopefully they will internalize what they learned about collaboration from Echo Hill and can take it with them in their future endeavors.

Mr. McGonigal agreed: It was really great—a cool trip. We got to see the kids outside their element from a different perspective, and we could see the kids really working together. At first there were a couple of kids who were apprehensive about joining in, but by the end of the trip, everyone was into it and having a great time.”