Meet the Teacher: Leslie Shaffer Joins TNCS Lower Elementary!

This fall, The New Century School welcomed Leslie Shaffer to teach kindergarten/first-grade for the 2018–2019 school year. Immersed had the pleasure of interviewing her recently and brings you the highlights in this post.

Meet Leslie Shaffer

tncs-k-1st-teacher-leslie-shafferMs. Shaffer is originally from New York state and graduated from Hamilton College in upstate New York in 2015 with concentrations in Government and English. She went on to get a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education at Bank Street College of Education in New York City.

Once she was out of college, Ms. Shaffer moved to Connecticut to take a position teaching pre-K and kindergarten at Greenwich Country Day School, in what she says was similar to an apprenticeship program. After 2 years, she returned to New York City to teach kindergarten at the all-girls school Sacred Heart and reports that she thoroughly enjoyed that 1-year experience.

So far, she has not merged her undergraduate Government concentration into her teaching, because once she realized later in college that reading books for fun could be a major, she was hooked. “I took an English class by accident and wound up loving it. It’s now something I use a lot in the classroom, and I’m so excited that I get to do so,” she said.

This past summer, she moved to Annapolis to be closer to family, who have a business on the Eastern Shore. When asked what inspired her to apply to teach at TNCS, she says: “I think a lot of it was the neighborhood. I knew I didn’t want to teach in Annapolis, even though I would be living there. Having just come from New York, I wanted to be in more of a city environment, with more going on. I wanted a little bit of excitement. Annapolis is a lovely place, but it’s not a city.”

The 15 students in her homeroom class plus the 14 students she co-teaches from Pei Ge (“Ge Laoshi”)’s homeroom are contributing to that excitement Ms. Shaffer enjoys. “I love it here,” she said. “I really do. I think what I’ve liked most is that the parents are so interesting, and so the kids are, too. Everyone is traveling to different places, has family in different countries . . .  I think it’s fascinating.”

Ms. Shaffer’s primary subjects are Math and English Language Arts, and she does the Daily 3 or 4 rotation for both (including a snack rotation). Her homeroom students spend the first 1 1/2 hours of the day with her, and then they move to Ge Laoshi’s classroom for Global Studies and Science. The two classes also switch for part of the afternoon. Many of her first-grade students came up through the TNCS primary program, and many of her kindergarteners are new to the school, but everyone has adjusted beautifully, thanks to the built-in differentiation that rotations afford. Says Ms. Shaffer:

I think my favorite parts about being a teacher have always been the small group work and working one on one with a student. I think that the day lends itself so well to having rotations, and although I enjoy my time with them, I make sure they stop at a good amount of independent stations, too. But also there’s always one more, and that’s just with me. I love that part of it.

English Language Arts Class

“In ELA, differentiation is crucial,” explains Ms. Shaffer, “because some of the students coming in could not yet identify all of the letters of the alphabet, while many of the 1st-graders can completely read on their own.” Thus, her ELA class will typically have a rotation that includes her reading with a small group in the “library” (pictured below) and another with her listening to a student reading independently as well as various exercises involving more intensive focus on individual letters. “For those who are still working on letter recognition,” she said, “each week we focus on a letter. For those who can read on their own, this becomes more like coming up with a list of how many words they can spell with the letter of focus.” Most of the books in the K/1 classroom are “decodable,” meaning that there are no tricky sounds or silent letters, to give young learners the chance to gain some confidence before encountering the many exceptions to the rule that comprise the English language.

The best part of the day for Ms, Shaffer takes place in ELA class, with her students circled around her:

My favorite part of the day is always doing a read-a-loud, which, for the past 2 months, has been a Marcy Watson book. They are chapter books, which seems like a lot for kindergarteners to listen to, but because the books are so funny, the students are really, really attentive, even from the beginning of the year.  I think it’s been a good place as well for the kids who are very comfortable reading. Every once in a while, they’ll want to read the next chapter, and the other students still listen to them, which is so nice.

Math Class

The Math curriculum for all TNCS elementary students is Singapore Math. For K/1 students, many who are transitioning from preschool, math class includes manipulatives, but, albeit quite similar, these are from Singapore Math rather than Montessori materials the students would have used in primary.

“The students have mainly been using the base 10 block so far, explained Ms. Shaffer. The 1 is represented by a tiny cube, 10 is a stick, 100 is a block of 100, and 1,000 is a cube. “This system works really well, especially for the 1st-graders, who are doing addition and subtraction, but also for the kindergarteners who are just starting to figure out what the numbers represent.” She is also incorporating bead rings, another way to represent smaller numbers, as shown below.

“They’re doing very nicely,” said Ms. Shaffer, “and we had a professional development training in Singapore Math earlier this year that really helped us understand how to use the materials most effectively.” (More on that in a future post!)


Ms. Shaffer is very much at home at TNCS, and her fascination with people and culture—and learning—makes her an ideal fit for the school. There is one aspect of the day in which her students have the upper hand over her: “They love it when they come back from Chinese class, and they know all these words that I don’t,” she laughed. But even here, she is picking up vocabulary and enjoying the fun of learning right alongside her wonderful students.

Welcome, Ms. Shaffer! Huānyíng (欢迎)!

Building a Strong Foundation in Math: Tips, Resources, and Activities to Foster a Love of Math at Home

The New Century School is unique in combining a robust music and arts program; triple language-learning; and a student-driven, inquiry-based approach with a competitive academic environment. Although TNCS embodies the antithesis of the “three r’s” (reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic) approach to education that focuses on rote learning, math is a paramount discipline that is duly emphasized.

Math Programs at TNCS

While doing math includes a certain amount of repetition, the purpose of math does not reside in knowing the times tables for the sake of knowing them. Applying math to real-world problems makes math dynamic, interactive, and meaningful at TNCS. Math hones powers of reasoning, creativity, abstract/spatial thinking, critical thinking, problem-solving ability, and communication skills. Math opens up possibility.

At TNCS, math starts early. The youngest preschoolers on up through the primary division have access to Montessori math materials, for example, which help children progress from concrete/discrete “manipulatives” to abstract concepts. Once TNCS students graduate to the elementary program, they have dedicated math classes that consist of some combination of a Daily 4 rotation. They work independently, in small groups, one-on-one with the teacher, and with a computer.

The crux of the elementary math program is Singapore Math, the basic components of which are 1) a Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract approach, 2) model drawing, 3) teaching to mastery, 4) spiral progression, 5) and metacognition. In middle school, the Go Math! curriculum is used that emphasizes conceptual understanding, fluency, and application.

Differentiation is a part of every math division—wherever a student happens to be on his or her math journey, that student is supported and guided forward. Moreover, math is taught as a uniting, globalizing force. While students are doing math, everyone speaks the same language no matter what country they are from. This concept is conveyed best by TNCS’s annual participation in the Math Kangaroo competition, a math contest with 6 million participants worldwide. In Maryland alone, over 800 students participate. TNCS has had multiple students place nationally since joining the competition.

tncs-math-kangaroo-national-winners

In the 2018 Math Kangaroo competition, three TNCS students placed in the Top 20 nationally!

Math in Summer: Practice Makes Progress!

Beloved-School-Building1Math is a constant presence in our lives, whether or not we are always conscious of its ubiquity. Sunflowers, snowflakes, nautiluses, and even Romanesco broccoli are geometrically inclined examples of how the Golden Ratio, also known as the Fibonacci sequence, manifests in nature. (Need a Fibonacci refresher? Each number is the sum of the two numbers that precede it: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, and so on, ad infinitum). This cosmic numbering system is phenomenal enough, but animals even down to the Arthropoda actively employ math–cicadas count years, butterflies use physics to plot and adjust complex flight trajectories, ants calculate the fastest paths to their destinations, and now bees are thought to understand zero.

Just as math is a part of everyday life, for students to excel in math, they should do math every day. Summertime is no different: Daily math is critical for optimal student success. Each summer, TNCS offers resources to support student gains made during the school year and to combat the summer slide. (Scroll below for a list of where you can access past years’ offerings.)

Research has shown that math achievement is often the hardest hit over the summer months, if math practice is not kept up. TNCS administrators recommend that TNCS students practice math every day (or at least three to four times per week) and have made summer workbooks available to help students get in the habit of daily math.
The workbook is ideal for summertime, because it can be done in the car during road trips, while vacationing, before and after mealtimes, and on days of inclement weather. Its convenience makes it easy to work in frequent small increments.tncs-summer-math-resources

“My strong feeling is that children should do math daily,” said TNCS Co-Executive Director/Co-Founder Jennifer Lawner. “Just like music. It is hard to get kids to practice if you make them do it intermittently, but easy if it is a required part of the day. Even if they only do 15 minutes of math on a given a day, it keeps the mind going.”

An essential component for daily summer math success is parent involvement. Parents are encouraged to review work completed periodically to ensure students are staying on the right track. Make and post a schedule to help your student maintain discipline and to avoid fights.

If daily math is not possible, encourage as many days of the week as possible with a schedule like this:

  • Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: Math practice from 8:00 am–8:15 am
  • Sunday: 15 minutes of math practice for bonus

Bonus can be whatever your family enjoys doing together, such as taking a walk or bike ride in the park, making a trip to the library or the zoo, and so on.

The workbooks will be collected and reviewed the first week of the 2018–2019 school year by your child’s math teacher.

tncs-summer-math-resources

“The reality is that there is an entire globe of students doing daily math through the summer, and, if our children are not doing it, they are not going to be competitive,” said Mrs. Lawner.

Although workbook practice is the preferred method of doing daily summer math, math game apps and websites are another option that can be used supplementally. However, these are not as effective at keeping skills sharp, and they have the added disadvantage of contributing to screen time, so, ideally, they should not be the exclusive means of math practice during summer. A more effective supplemental way to encourage daily math is to help your child work it into other daily activities. Find some creative ways to “Get into the Daily Math Mindset This Summer” on TNCS’s brand-new web page: Summer Learning Resources.

The bottom line is, if you set expectations and work with your children at home, you will foster strong mastery and a love of math that will serve them well academically and professionally. As math is necessary for art and music, it is also a bridge between the humanities and the natural sciences. Said mathematician-turned-philosopher Bertrand Russell: “Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty — a beauty cold and austere . . . without appeal to any part of our weaker nature . . . yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.”