At The New Century School, field trips serve multiple purposes: They are valuable learning and social opportunities, and they are fun—important respites from the classroom. Field trips at TNCS are thoughtfully crafted to effectively support student learning by exposing them to new experiences, increasing their interest and engagement in a topic, and being memorable and useful even long after the visit. They give students both cognitive and affective benefits.
Indeed, research shows that field trips work best when they provide support for students to explore in a personally meaningful way. This is especially true for the sciences. As a shared social experience that provides the opportunity for students to encounter and explore novel things in an authentic setting, a field trip can deepen and enhance classroom study. The National Research Council holds that a quality science curriculum “is one that extends beyond the walls of the classroom.”
Bird is the Word!
During Q1 at TNCS, science focused on two units, Macrobiology and Genetics. Accordingly, elementary and middle school science teacher Nameeta Sharma chose two field trips to align with those units. “The students visited Irvine Nature Center to understand more about the ecosystem and the organisms that live in it through hands-on field research experience,” she explained. “There was an emphasis on adaptation that supports survival.”
“[Irvine believes it is every child’s right, as an integral part of the natural community, to develop a foundation of academic skills through encounters in the natural world,” according to their website. While there, in two groups, students cycled through activities including hiking; attending a presentation on what makes owls such effective birds of prey (the adaption that Ms. Sharma mentioned); and exploring the interactive exhibits;
They also got the chance to discuss owl adaptations with Ms. Roman in an engaging question and answer session. Some of their contributions are positively brilliant!
The culminating activity, though, was dissecting owl pellets. Owl pellets are the regurgitated remains of an owl’s meal, including all the bones of the animals it ate (usually small rodents, such as voles). Owls typically swallow their food whole, digest the edible parts, and then expel the indigestible parts through their mouth as a pellet. Owl pellet dissection is a great way to learn about owl eating habits. Naturally, some students were a bit leery of this “gross” activity at first, but curiosity gave way. (And, no worries, parents—the pellets are sterilized in an oven to kill bacteria, and students wore gloves during the dissection and washed their hands right after.) Irvine instructor Diana Roman facilitated.
“The visit to the National Aquarium helped students understand biomes,” said Ms. Sharma. “They had a first-hand experience of visiting reefs and tropical rainforests and saw animals and sea organisms in their habitats. They had the opportunity to observe and touch (in some cases) and learn about unique adaptations that help them survive. The trip was also chosen to make students appreciate the bounty of the Chesapeake Bay.”
Here again, the research was “hands on,” as students dissected a squid.
Getting Some Space!
At least two more field trips will take place during the second semester of the 2018–2019 school year. Says Ms. Sharma: “I am happy to inform you that I have scheduled another field trip on January 16, 2019. That trip will take us to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center!”
Now that summer has unofficially ended, and school is back in full swing, The New Century School kicked off the 2018–2019 school year with its annual Back-to-School Night. The focus of the evening was to meet your student’s teachers and to present the student’s daily schedule, a curriculum overview, and school policies. In other words, students have had 2 weeks to acclimate—now it’s our turn!
As TNCS enters its 12th year, it’s worth noting how the school and its programs have expanded and grown to what they are today. Changes each year are inevitable, but TNCS has stayed true to its identity and has successfully weathered those changes, transforming would-be obstacles into opportunities and growing the student body to more than 200 children, 117 in the preschool and 88 in the elementary and middle schools.
An overview of tips and policies is given here, and specific documents can also be downloaded at the links provided at the end of this post as well as from the TNCS Parent Hub.
Welcome to Some Great New Enhancements!
The evening began in the gymnasium of building north with Head of School Shara Khon Duncan warmly welcoming parents, new and old: “It’s nice to see all of your faces again—welcome,” she began. She next introduced teachers, who then returned to their classrooms to prepare for the group breakouts by division. Sra. Duncan then addressed the parent audience and presented some important school year expectations.
Just a few things before we get started—that you’ll probably hear the teachers reiterate because these things are really important. First arriving on time to school is very important for all of our students. It gets the day started right, it helps the students feel that they are coming in and ready to go. So, please, as much as possible, arrive on time. That includes preschool. We have to get them modeled right from the beginning. I know from experience how hard it is to get out of the house—I had two girls who did not want to cooperate, so I totally get it.
Next, be sure that when you pull up into the carline rectangles at drop-off and pick-up times that you are actually in the lines and not blocking the crosswalk, so that walkers can cross safely. Also do not walk anywhere but the crosswalk for everyone’s safety. Again, we’re trying to model as best we can what we want our children to do.
Another thing I’d like you to remember is that you have been sent the Parent Guide by Admissions Director Mrs. Sanchies, which is a fabulous resource that breaks down all the essential things you need to know—such as signing up for before and after care or school lunch, what happens when it snows, and so on—so please refer to that often. You also should have received the Family Handbook, so please take some time to look through it and sign the second page.
Yet another exciting new thing this year is that, in addition to receiving weekly emails from your child’s homeroom teacher with pertinent information about what’s going on in the classroom and what’s coming up, we’re moving toward implementing software called Sycamore that will allow teachers to have class web pages. This will be very easy to log in to and use to see class-related information. The weekly emails will be sent every Friday around 5; emails about specials will be sent every other week.
Finally, please remember that we are a nut-free school and are also committed to having a sugar-free environment. So when it comes time to celebrate birthdays, for example, please make sure that you talk to the teacher ahead of time and discuss what kind of treat might be appropriate.
With that, have a lovely evening and a great year!
Elementary and Middle School Breakouts
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 specific class-related expectations are of both parent and child. Upper Elementary and Middle School was jointly hosted by veteran Math and Science teacher Nameeta Sharma and veteran English language arts and Global Studies teacher Ilia Madrazo.
Ms. Madrazo handled many of the practical details, reminding families of the importance of being on time. Class begins promptly at 8:25 am with key information and planner assignments, all things you don’t want your child to miss. She promised parents that any questions or concerns about anything going on in the classroom would be responded to within 24 hours. She also went over the handout that enumerated class and school policies as well as gave a deeper dive into each subject’s curriculum. First up, the fun stuff!
New art teacher Jia Liu will be profiled in an upcoming Immersed “Meet the Teacher” post, and art happens twice weekly. Students also have music taught by the illustrious Martellies Warren twice a week. Physical education now includes 1 day of teacher-led PE consisting of yoga, plus 1 day of regular coach-taught PE each week. Teacher’s Choice is also now considered a once-weekly special, and this 45-minute block can be used for exploring a topic students want to learn more about, an activity the class collectively would like to pursue, or anything different from the usual academics, explained Ms. Madrazo. This might even be making a fun visit to the Ozone Snack Bar!
Ozone Snack Bar
Speaking of “the ‘zone,” students can also visit the snack bar housed in the second-floor Union Box space of Building North, from 8:10 am–8:25 am on Tuesday and Thursday mornings starting the week of September 10th. Teachers will have sent permission slips that allow parents to set a spending limit for their children as well as opt for cash payment or convenient billing through FACTS. Li Laoshi will supervise these morning visits.
New this year, students will be going outside every day, regardless of weather. “Rain, shine, snow,” said Ms. Madrazo, “whatever happens, we’re going out every day. We’re taking them to Thames Street Park currently, so they have plenty of space to run and have fun.”
At least four trips are planned this year (at least one per quarter). Parents–chaperoning field trips is a fantastic way to not only experience a fun trip with your child but also to rack up some of the obligatory 10 volunteer hours! This quarter, a trip to the Irvine Nature Center is scheduled (9/17). Next up, the ever-popular National Aquarium! Successive trips will be announced as they are confirmed.
Ms. Sharma took over to explain the math curriculum. “We have four rotations,” she explained. “Students will work on the computer on Success Maker, in small groups playing math games, independently in their workbooks, and one on one with me.” The primary resource is Singapore math, which returning students are already very familiar with and probably worked with over the summer to stay in practice. Middle school students will use the Go Math curriculum. TNCS students may also once again opt in to participate in the Math Kangaroo competition in March—TNCS’s third annual!
English Language Arts
Ms. Madrazo took back over for ELA. “I had the pleasure of going to New York this summer,” she began, “to take training in teaching writing. We will continue using the Lucy Calkins writing curriculum.” (See State-of-the-Science Elementary Writing at TNCS for more on Calkins’ acclaimed approach.) “We will use ‘mentor texts’ that are great works of literature that help students figure out what was done really well that they can incorporate in their own writing. They write every day in class for 20 minutes. The biggest indicator of success in high school is the volume of writing they have already done. It is extremely important for them to be able to take notes, to write deep and long, and to develop ideas.”
ELA uses the Daily 5, which consists of: Read to Self, Read to Someone, Listen to Reading, Work on Writing, and Word Work.
Wordly Wise 3000 will once again be used for ELA homework. Wordly Wise 3000 focuses on improving students’ vocabulary by furthering their understanding of new words and concepts. By focusing on vocabulary development, students are able to read increasingly challenging texts with fluency and improve their chances for success in school and beyond. Additionally, spelling practice will also help improve student writing. (See more on ELA homework below.)
The major science themes throughout the year that will guide learning and understanding will include Unit 1: Macrobiology and Genetics, Unit 2: Engineering, Unit 3: the Scientific Method (Science Fair), and Unit 4: Astronomy and Weather.
Interdisciplinary learning is a big part of TNCS’s approach, so ELA and world language reading will routinely relate to science and global studies units.
Global studies will comprise both United States history and World history. The Elementary and Middle School programs will focus on the same unit of study but will be differentiated based on grade level:
Quarter One, Ancient World Cultures with focus on India, Greece, and Rome
Quarter Two, World Cultures and Geography with focus on India and Africa
Quarter Three, Civics
Quarter Four, American History
Surprise! Ms. Madrazo plans to teach in and incorporate as much Spanish as possible here! (Reinforcement in English will always be available, but learning a subject in another language deepens language fluency exponentially.)
Spanish learning will be taught through the use of different games, dances, and songs. I was born in Chile, and this is my third year as lead Spanish teacher,” said Sra. Sanzana. “Spanish class is a little bit of everything—grammar, culture, vocabulary, talking, reading, and listening,” she said. As in other subjects, teaching is differentiated. “I divide students into groups based on levels after making a differentiation plan for each child,” she explained. “Don’t be afraid of whatever comes; I will be here helping them.” Note that, as TNCS has evolved, Spanish class now happens daily, with Friday being reserved for fun and games in Spanish.
Spanish class will adopt a Daily 4: Read to self, read to each other, independent work in their folders, and work with the teacher. Reading comprehension will be a big emphasis. A big addition this year for students who are ready for it will be writing 100-word essays in Spanish. For everyone, learning by teaching will be introduced—the big kids get to read to their smaller compatriots in Spanish and work with them on vocabulary and so on. “They will become the teachers,” said Sra. Sanzana. “They will solve their own problems to do so, such as figuring out how to pronounce an unfamiliar word.” This idea was happily embraced by parents, who well know the benefits of this popular TNCS approach.
Li Laoshi believes Mandarin Chinese is best learned through pursuing various real-life activities that connect to what lesson is being taught. “I really believe that interest is the best teacher,” she explained, “so we cook, do calligraphy, go on trips, and other do other activities that the students really enjoy.” Project assessments are mainly performance based—in other words, she wants to see her students successfully using their Mandarin skills. Like Spanish, Mandarin class now happens daily.
“Better Chinese will continue as our backbone curriculum as well as our Daily Four,” said Li Laoshi. In Daily Four, students are divided into small groups and use different levels of books according to their language proficiency. The students rotate among the four centers, which are meet with teacher, computer, reading, and games. “Friday will be the weekly Activity Day featuring various activities that integrate Chinese culture, such as calligraphy, Tai chi, Kung Fu, Chinese games, and cooking Chinese food,” she continued. “On Friday, September, 21st, we will make mooncakes in honor of China’s mid-Autumn Festival, and the students are very excited!”
Li Laoshi got big laughs when she suggested that parents allow themselves to be interviewed by their students as part of homework and thereby begin to pick up some Mandarin themselves! Around the room, parents began counting to themselves (“yī, èr, sān, sì, wǔ, liù, qī , bā, jiǔ, shí . . .”), rightly proud of their Chinese prowess! She suggested the websites Hello World for beginners and Duolingo for other students to get further practice at home.
Students will be assessed the traditional way (pencil and paper); however, the main approach of assessment will be performance based. For every new unit, formative assessment will be used daily and summative assessment will be used at the end of each unit.
The big question on BTS attendees minds’ was, “what’s up with homework this year?” There’s good news: The bottom line is, homework is necessary but should never be onerous. “Our purpose here is to help the kids to succeed,” said Ms. Madrazo, “not to have unrealistic expectations and make everyone unhappy.”
Homework in math, ELA, and world languages will be assigned each Monday and is due on Friday. Other important points to note are:
Students are expected to record their homework assignments each Monday in their planners, but please check that they are doing so.
Students are expected to complete this work independently with minimal support as needed from parents. This is key—helping your child to an extensive degree will not show teachers where and how they need to adjust assignments and better meet students where they are.
After care participants are given time to complete homework as well as as-needed support from Sra. Sanzana.
Your child’s teachers are flexible. If a student needs more time to complete an assignment well, communicate this, and teachers will work with you to accept it the following Monday.
Mandarin and Spanish alternate weeks for elementary students, whereas middle school students should expect weekly Spanish homework.
Additional Internet research may be assigned when pertinent to, for example, specific global studies or science lessons.
To great applause from parents, weekly science homework will not be assigned, however.
Altogether, weekly homework assignments should take about 2 hours or less, depending on division, apart from daily reading and writing and any music practice (if your child takes instrument lessons).
Here is the breakdown:
Math: Homework will consist of ~30 minutes per week of problem solving or Workbook completion (translating to four pages in the workbook for 4th- and 5th-graders and two or three for 6th- through 8th-graders).
English Language Arts: Each week, there will be one lesson (~30 minutes) in Wordly Wise per week, which includes a list of vocabulary words to know, and various assignments to complete.
In addition, this year, students are expected to spend 20–30 minutes reading independently and at least 10 minutes writing (or mind-mapping, which is a critical part of the writing process) every day.
Daily writing should be in cursive and in pen; students will have been given prompts from Ms. Madrazo or can free write. Journals are provided, but separate sheets of writing are also acceptable when a student forgets to bring the journal home.
Spanish: Grades 4 and 5 will work on a small packet the 1st and 3rdweeks of the month; 6th- 7th, and 8th-graders will have homework weekly. Homework will be reading-comprehension based.
Chinese: Grades 4–8 will work on a small packet the 2nd and 4th weeks of the month.
What Lies Ahead!
Although BTS night is over, know that teachers and administration are always readily available to answer any questions regarding your student’s development. Also know that you’ll be meeting teachers new to TNCS in Immersed profiles throughout the coming year as well as hear more from staff and administration who are adopting new roles and taking the school in new directions.
Finally, expect to hear more about forthcoming parent volunteering opportunities and service learning initiatives. Stay tuned!
To get a look at past year’s back-to-school nights or just to reminisce about the school’s early days, read:
The following is transcribed from a recent The Nature of Things broadcast by W. Brooks Paternotte on WYPR. The message—that kids need to play outside and get into some dirt—was so well crafted that it is quoted here for The New Century School community in its entirety.
Remember playing outside until mom called you in for dinner? Me too. I would ride my bike in the twilight and listen to cricket and cicada songs. My sister would be searching the nearby woods with a magnifying glass, in hopes of finding fairies. My brother would be painstakingly making mud pies. Today’s kids, though? I don’t think they’ll have those kinds of memories.
In the last two decades, childhood has overwhelmingly moved indoors. Children are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago. In fact, the average American girl or boy spends an alarmingly low 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each day. But, he or she might spend 7 1/2 hours each day in front of an electronic screen. That’s about 53 hours of screen time a week.
This shift toward staying inside profoundly impacts the wellness of our nation’s youngsters. Childhood obesity rates have more than doubled over last 20 years. The United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world, and pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have risen exponentially. And yet, in a typical week, only 6% of children ages 9 to 13 play outside on their own.
So what’s a parent to do in the face of such startling statistics? As with many problems, the first step is getting help. You’ve heard that it takes a village to raise a child? Well, environmental educators believe it takes a backyard, a playground, or a park.
Start getting in touch with nature by spending time outdoors with the children you know. It could be as simple as taking a walk through the neighborhood or lifting up a rock to see what’s underneath. Every moment in a child’s life provides an opportunity for discovery—whether it’s seeing tiny turtles emerging from the sand and making their way to the ocean, or watching a spider weave its delicate web. These are experiences that will inspire them. My favorite suggestion for families is to try to grow something together. It could be flowers or vegetables, or even something imaginary. But get kids’ hands in the soil! When they play in dirt, we’re not only allowing them to explore the wonders around them, we’re also exposing them to healthy bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can create a much stronger immune system.
Study show that simply having contact with dirt can significantly improve a child’s mood and reduce their anxiety and stress. In fact, multiple studies have shown that childrens’ stress levels fall dramatically within minutes of seeing green spaces. Even more studies have concluded that outdoor time helps children grow lean and strong, enhances imaginations and attention spans, decreases aggression, and boosts classroom performance. In addition, children who spend time in nature regularly become better stewards of our environment.
Maybe try volunteering for organizations that support wildlife or the outdoors. Or get an amazing dose of vitamin D, which can help protect children from future bone problems, by going camping. You don’t have to go far—Irvine Nature Center recently doubled in size and has out-there-feeling camping experiences that can make even the grumpiest of teenagers nicer and more social. Really! Studies have shown that connection to the natural world can make that big of a difference for all of us!
As a community, I think we can change the nature of childhood for the better—we can put nature back in it! For more ideas, check out Nature Rocks, a program of the Nature Conservancy. it’s an online resource that makes it easy for families to have fun in nature.