Check-In with Mr. B: How Is TNCS Science “Faring”?

At The New Century School, STEM subjects are extremely important. Rob Brosius, who we all know as “Mr. B,” handles three of the four subjects that make up that acronym–science, engineering, and technology. In Mr. B’s first year at TNCS, he taught English Language Arts (ELA) and Global Studies to 3rd- and 4th-graders and Science to 3rd- through 8th-graders. He also had a homeroom. Since then, he has specialized and is now TNCS’s “Science Guy”! (Sorry, Bill Nuy.)

So let’s see what Mr B has been up to in his third year at TNCS!

TNCS Science Program Developments

Right off the bat, Mr. B points out that science is a hands-on subject. “Last year was nice because we had drifted away from the virtual model, and it allowed us to get back into the kind of hands-on centric nature of this program,” he explains. “Over this past year, I helped to amend some of the science curriculum to make sure that anything that I tried to add over the past 2 years was present in our curriculum.”

One big adjustment was to rework the Science Fair.

We’re now calling it the STEM Expo, which Jennifer Lawner helped a lot with—she has provided a great framework for us. This year, we hope that we can continue the trajectory that we started last year, where we encourage students to compete at the regional level at the Morgan State University STEM Fair through their Center for Excellence in Science and Math Education (CEMSE) that happens each March. We’re calling it a STEM Expo because we are trying to negate the competitive nature of it. If students have an interest or a specific desire to do a project that is a little more complicated, we want to make sure that they have the resources and the mentorship that they need to get to that level. Because the Science Fair has been done at school, it has focused my mind in terms of how to rework the other parts of the curriculum as well. Essentially, the first two quarters of the year are supposed to inspire students and build enthusiasm for the STEM Expo. Last year, we had engineering at the beginning of the year, and I encouraged students toward robotics types of projects that required wires, magnets, and an electricity source. This year, we have microbiology and physics, so I’m going to nudge students in those general directions. This way, they have the knowledge base to actually do the research and get the results they want.

Given the microbiology theme, expect some projects inspired by virology and immunology projects! In fact, microbiology projects have happened in the prior year as well, due to the overwhelming nature of the pandemic (see Science Fair 2021 and photos below). “This year, my goal is to make sure that students get a full understanding that there is a larger network outside of themselves. That’s why we really want students to explore the topics they want to know more about. I’ve found before with the Science Fair that students get into a project, and there’s not enough time to complete their project and get to the next level. So this time we want to start early and make sure they are successful,” he said.

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As part of helping students understand the larger science community out there and that science really impacts all areas of life, Mr. B and students have been taking field trips to see it all in action. These include walking field trips around the neighborhoods near TNCS as well as bigger ones. Earlier this school year, 4th- and 5th-graders hopped on the water taxi and headed to the Under Armour headquarters. Tipped off by a TNCS parent who works there, Mr. B thought students would enjoy seeing the beehives there and their community garden. “With microbiology being so pervasive, it’s easy to connect this topic to things in nature even though the organisms are microscopic. So I wanted to take students somewhere that is an institution that is a huge part of Baltimore City. It’s not just a building, not just a company but part of the community.”

Middle schoolers also got their science-themed field trip late in October, taking a tour of several microbiology labs at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. At the Molecular Biology lab, University of Maryland students and postdoctoral fellows showed TNCS students the equipment and explained its use in Western Blots, DNA gels, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and so on. At the BSL2 Virus lab, they learned about equipment for working with biosafety level 2 viruses, such as tissue culture hoods, incubators, plaque assays, and microscopes. At the BSL3 Virus lab, looking through a hallway window for safety, students learned about working in the BSL3 lab with SARS-CoV2 and related viruses. Middle Schoolers also visited the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The whole idea is: hey kids, careers in science are not only possible, they’re exciting, engaging, and everywhere!

Mr. B has other plans in the works as well. In keeping with quarter 2’s physics unit, he wants to take students to see physics in action also. He’s considering both the Maryland Science Center and the Baltimore Museum of Industry. (Where do we sign up as chaperones?).

Third quarter is the STEM Expo, and geology will be the last quarter’s topic. Geology definitely invites being outdoors, so Mr. B is thinking about taking students to local parks in North East Baltimore to look at geological records, for example. “Baltimore has a very interesting geological history,” he said. “The soil is inundated with minerals.”

Another rationale behind expanding Science Fair to become the STEM Expo this school year is to allow students to pursue math-related projects, should they choose. Such projects present their own kinds of challenges, like not being as hands-on as more science-y projects would be and requiring no fun materials to work with—just good old pencil and paper. “But I’m trying to provide as many options as possible so students can do what they really want to do,” he said. “We want to both increase their science literacy and to keep their level of confidence high.”

What methodology students adopt to execute their projects will depend on what kind of topic they choose to explore: traditional experiments call for the scientific method, whereas other projects might need an engineering design process approach.

“The science curriculum is very well developed. Since I’ve been at TNCS, I’ve been able to tweak it so that it really works for us,” he said. “I have the ability to adapt the program as I need to meet the students where they are within the parameters we’ve established.”

“When you really start to get into science, you realize, a lot of the things you’re taught are from the past. When you’re learning science, you want to understand what discoveries allowed us to arrive at what is currently cutting edge. You can’t jump into quantum mechanics without first learning basic physics. You can’t understand the true nature of an atom and probability fields without first seeing the simple orbital models. You don’t get the full picture because your mind isn’t ready for it. Cycling back to topics, you can really see what kids gravitated toward and help them really dig into that as well as see what was successful during the 3-year cycle we use at TNCS.”

The 3-year cycle, by the way, goes like this: 1st year: Q1, (macro)biology and genetics; Q2, engineering; Q3, STEM Expo; Q4, astronomy. Year 2 is where we are now, with microbiology, physics, STEM Expo, and geology. Year 3 is, electricity and magnetism, chemistry, STEM Expo, and oceanography. And there’s always room to add additional topics, he explained, as students show interest.

Thank you for helping our students understand that science reaches every corner of our lives, Mr. B!