TNCS STEM Fair 2015 Makes a Huge Splash!

engineering-design-process

Engineering design process.

The past week at The New Century School was devoted to the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Fair, and what an exciting, inquiry-filled week it was! This year’s was the biggest ever, with three classrooms participating—Dan McGonigal’s upper elementary students, Adriana Duprau’s lower elementary students, and even Teresa Jacoby’s K/1st students—each class taking a slightly different approach to their projects, but all loosely unified by the common theme of water.

Mr. McGonigal took the lead on this endeavor, as appropriate, given his specialization in this area. You may recall from a Meet the Teacher post last fall that he is part of the very first cohort in a pilot program at Towson University for STEM certification to earn the new Maryland State Department of Education endorsement, “Instructional Leader—STEM (Pre K‑6)” this spring.

He is passionate about the value of STEM teaching and with good reason. “STEM is an integrated instructional strategy—there are no borders or boundaries,” he said by way of introduction. STEM pursuits will ensure that students develop “21st-century skills”—those skills they need to navigate this exciting new era of globalization, connectivity, and continuous technological advancement. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, these skills include “critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration,” which intersect with social and media literacy, among other critical disciplines. You will see how these features were implemented throughout the TNCS Stem Fair projects as well as how they employed their engineering mantra: Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve, and Ask.

The week started with the upper elementary presentations on a chosen problem facing the Chesapeake Bay and how to act as “better stewards of the environment” by addressing the problem, such as litter or erosion. Taking a very sophisticated approach, these students presented their projects to attending parents electronically. During project execution, in fact, they used technology in various ways to document their process, such as videotaping and recording details regularly via Glogster. Their “glogs” are akin to electronic journals. Mr. McGonigal said, “This was very much a project-based learning experience for the students, who were in charge of their own direction. I was there to help, prompt, and encourage along the way as much as they needed.”

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Mrs. Duprau’s first- and second-graders presented their Life Cycle of a Plant projects on the following day inside the TNCS gymnasium. Their presentations took the more traditional approach with the trifold poster boards used by science fair presenters for decades. Note that these persistent, hard-working students took the “improve” part of the engineering design mantra very much to heart—be prepared to discreetly cover your inevitable chuckles if the kids are nearby. Scientists have feelings, too ;)!

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Finally, on STEM Fair Day 3, Mrs. Jacoby’s kindergarteners and first-graders took over the stage. Not yet being the consummate presenters that their older colleagues are, they used a video directed and produced by Mrs. Jacoby and Señora Tyson to debut their work (there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience; the video is wonderful). Parents were then asked to direct specific questions to the students about their projects. Although this was the first year that kindergarteners participated in the STEM Fair, you will see that they held their own amazingly well!

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Please see Elementary Science Fair and TNCS Elementary Science Fair 2014 for prior years’ STEM/Science Fair projects. and, if you’d like to view Mrs. Jacoby’s masterpiece video, you can do so here: 

Thank you to Mr. McGonigal and the other TNCS teachers who made this STEM Fair such an unqualified success! We are already excited for STEM Fair 2016!

TNCS Elementary Information Night Rounds Out a Great 2014!

Refreshments were thoughtfully provided by Chef Emma Novashinski.

Refreshments were thoughtfully provided by Chef Emma Novashinski.

The New Century School‘s fifth year has been undeniably amazing. Rounding out 2014 with yet another breakthrough, Admissions Director Robin Munro announced Thursday that TNCS received a record number of K–5th applications by the 12/17/14 due date. That TNCS’s elementary program has earned its bragging rights—and is attracting hordes of new enrollees—was made clear at the Kindergarten/Elementary Information Night held 12/11/14.

The event was well organized, informative, and fun. Yummy refreshments were provided by Chef Emma Novashinski (who also gave away lovely little jars of homemade pickles), and free childcare including dinner was also offered. Recognizing that parent involvement is vital to student success, TNCS makes it so easy—no, appealing—to participate in school functions.

Elementary Program Overview

Mrs. Munro sent out an agenda before the event to help parents make the most of their time there. The schedule started with her Welcome speech, followed by a program overview by Head of School Alicia Danyali and a brief question-and-answer session. The elementary program—“where traditional and progressive education meet”—provides a solid foundation in the liberal arts by incorporating the following elements:
  • Small class size: Keeping classes to no more than 16 students allows for individualized, differentiated instruction. 
  • Daily language classes in both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish: Younger students begin with conversation and vocabulary building. As their written English language skills progress, they begin to work on reading and writing in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Introductory character work in Chinese begins immediately. 
  • Specialty classes: Students have music, art, and physical education classes twice every week. Creativity is encouraged through music and art, while body awareness and health is taught in phys ed class. 
  • Inquiry- and skill-based curricula: We provide a solid foundation in the core subjects of language arts and mathematics, and our teachers develop auxiliary science and global studies lessons based upon student questions and interest. This approach encourages critical thinking and allows children to work to their fullest potential. 
  • Field trips: Teachers take students on weekly trips to our on-site greenhouse and into the school’s extended classroom, lower Fell’s Point. Students take a full-day trip at least once each quarter. Past field trips have included the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the Confucius Institute at University of Maryland College Park, the National Aquarium, and more. 
  • Emphasis on values: Students learn to treat others and themselves with respect. 
  • Mixed-age classrooms: Students to work to their skill level, not just their grade level and benefit both from mentoring and being mentored. 
  • Enhanced learning via technology: Students use children use multiple apps and programs, learn proper keyboarding skills, and begin to learn basic programming.

After the initial gathering, parents were asked to “self-sort” (love that new term coinage!) into three groups and rotate among the three elementary classrooms. In his classroom, Dan McGonigal, the upper elementary mathematics and science teacher, demonstrated a unit on bridge construction in the science curriculum, Engineering is Elementary (scroll below for photos of the students executing this project). Adriana DuPrau, the upper elementary English language arts and social students teacher showcased the English, Chinese, and Spanish curricula. Teresa Jacoby, the K/1st generalist teacher discussed integrating traditional Montessori materials with more progressive curricula and how she differentiates to the various levels in her class. Mrs. Danyali and Mrs. Munro circulated throughout to answer questions.

Elementary Program Philosophy and Approach

As an independent private school, TNCS does not follow the Common Core standards. Individual grade standards set forth by the Maryland State Department of Education are met—and in most cases surpassed—through the use of carefully selected curricula which best supports our mission to challenge students to realize their richest individual potential through progressive, multilingual education and meaningful participation in the world community.
Students are placed according to their birthday into one of three mixed-age classes: K/1st, 2nd/3rd, and 4th/5th. As the student body matures, upper grades will be added (through 8th) each year, accordingly. Mixing ages is part of the school’s Montessori-inspired vision. Research continues to prove what Maria Montessori observed over 100 years ago, which is that children learn best from their peers. By mixing ages, students can work to their own skill level and not be boxed in by grade-level expectations. TNCS students learn to be friends with everyone and to solve social problems without aggression.
A day in the life of a TNCS elementary student. Looks pretty engaging!

A day in the life of a TNCS elementary student. Looks pretty engaging!

The TNCS format of mixed-age, skill-based classrooms allows our teachers to truly teach and inspire students to reach, or more typically exceed, grade expectations. Through inquiry-based lessons, TNCS teachers can educate the whole child and are not limited by the constraints of a standardized test.

Tools they use to help accomplish these goals include the following.
In Language Arts:
  • The Daily 5 consists of reading to self, reading to someone else, listening to reading, writing, and doing word work.
  • Junior Great Books brings high quality literature and student-centered discussions to the classroom.
  • Wordly Wise 3000 improves student vocabulary.

In Mathematics:

  • Singapore Math is the backbone of the mathematics program.
  • Montessori math materials are used in the K/1st classroom to provide a solid foundation for the transition into Singapore Math in upper elementary.
  • The Daily 3 consists of doing math individually, math writing, and doing math with someone else.

In Science and Technology:

  • Engineering is Elementary allows for learning scientific principles through hands on experiments. The photos below show an example of one project in the bridge design unit.
  • SuccessMaker software is aligned with national grade standards and

Now that’s something to brag about, kids! And keep up the great work, TNCS!