1st Grade Crew // Field Study Fanatics! 

One of the most exciting and engaging parts of our EL curriculum is the incorporation of Field Studies into our everyday learning. Field Studies at Detroit Prep have a clear purpose that enriches the work of our module topics while allowing students to be researchers, scientists, and authors. First graders second module topic of the year was all about The Sun, Moon, and Stars! To launch this module and to build students’ curiosity and enthusiasm about this topic, we took a trip for our first field study of the year to Cranbrook Institute of Science.  

As a school we really want to focus on bringing authenticity to the forefront of student learning, and that is exactly what this field study did! Students were able to hear from experts, explore many exhibits about space and view a presentation in the planetarium about the nighttime sky and constellations. They were given opportunities to brainstorm, while recording observations, wonderings, and information. Our visit to this local museum directly connected our academic content to a specific purpose in the outside world. 

Later in the year, we moved on to our next module topic- BIRDS! We studied and become experts on birds through the end of the year. With such a long period of time, students were given the chance to dive deep in this content and go on more exciting field studies. First, we directly connected what we were learning in the classroom by observing local birds in their natural habitat and understanding different ways we can take care of birds. The experience of going on field study to gather information while building background knowledge is empowering and thought-provoking. Students put their knowledge to the test by “showing off” what they learned about birds by creating a high quality final product at the end of the year. We are so excited to continue to watch our 1st grade researchers in action!

The Importance of Summer Learning!

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School is officially out and we know teachers and students alike are looking forward to at least a few days of watching Netflix, taking naps, and relaxing in the sun. Relaxation and rejuvenation is a huge benefit of summer vacation for students and staff. How do we know when we’ve had too much relaxation and not enough education? How do we prevent our students from experiencing the “summer slide” of learning loss? 

Here are a few suggestions for keeping your kids learning this summer, and ways you can incorporate a little education each day to keep minds sharp!

  1. Purchase a summer workbook. I grew up using “Summer Bridge Activities” (linked here). My mom wouldn’t let me do anything fun (no pool, no tv, no joy) until I completed the daily workbook activity. I’m not saying you should be this strict, but having a routine of quick, daily academic activities can keep your student on track through the summer. 

  2. Pick a new skill relevant to the next grade level. Maybe you plan to learn a different set of multiplication facts each week of summer? Maybe you want to start learning greek and latin roots? Take 20 minutes each day to practice flash cards, play related computer games, or read and write together. 

  3. Enroll in a camp or class. The Detroit area is home to many free, low-cost and quality programs for students. We just had our Summer Activities Fair and have tons of information to connect you to some amazing partners in the area. Feel free to email us for more details.

  4. Sign up for Pinterest. One of my favorite things to do is to go on Pinterest.com and type “free teacher activities grade ____” and click away until I fall down the rabbit hole. There are so many ideas for teachers that could easily become great summer activities for families. Choose your favorite and make a day of it!

  5. Talk to a teacher. Many teachers would love to spend time in the summer tutoring or coaching students academically. Don’t hesitate to ask if your teacher is interested, or if they know of good tutors in the area.

  6. Hang out with each other. This is a no-brainer. The more kids are talking, creating, playing and interacting, the more their brain is exercising. Hang out with your friends and have all the kids play.

Enjoy the summer! A little education, a little relaxation. Find what works for you and run with it!

Social Work // An Introduction to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

When students are referred to me for behavioral or social / emotional support one of the most common tools I will use is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT has been proven to be successful in treating students suffering from anxiety, depression, lack of assertiveness, poor diet, specific phobias, grief / bereavement and many other common problems for children.

CBT is different from traditional “talk therapy” because it does more than offer advice to the client; it builds skills. A key component to CBT is it is a collaborative process in which the students are asked to test their learning or understanding of the skills in the real world.

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The basics of CBT is teaching how feelings, thoughts and behavior influence each other. By working on recognizing their thoughts, and challenging unhealthy or problematic thoughts, students are able to better their emotional state and improve behaviors.

Through the collaboratively setting goals and outlining agendas students have an opportunity to identify cognitive distortions, maladaptive thoughts and beliefs. After they have identified these pitfalls, we work to put them on trail, challenging the way the student thinks. We activate positive behaviors and see behavioral change.

CBT is just one tool that can be utilized when students receive extra social-emotional or behavioral support. It is proven effective and holds students to a high standard of being in charge of their change.

3rd Grade Crew // Social Emotional Needs

Education at Detroit Prep is not only about academics, but includes non-academic developmental skills all children need. As children grow, it is crucial to integrate social and emotional learning skills like self-awareness, decision making, self-management, and social awareness.

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In the 3rd grade crew room, there are several ways students work through their social and emotional needs. As you watch our 3rd grade friends arrive in the morning, you will observe them putting their belongings away in their cubbies, turning in their communication folder, and checking in. Crew members move their magnet to one of the four zones of regulation: green, yellow, red, and blue. This gives me, their crew leader, a quick glimpse into their emotions as they join crew. While most friends start the day feeling happy and ready to learn, we sometimes have friends who have different needs for the morning. During our morning crew, I make it a point to greet any students outside of green during our greeting.

Just like adults, children experience a multitude of emotions throughout their day. As we transition in and out of our crew room from specials, lunch, and recess, crew members are also able to change their zone of regulation. This gives me an update on how they are feeling and allows me to check-in after their time away from me. 

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Another way crew members can address their social and emotional needs is by visiting our crew room Calm Down Corner. Crew members are encouraged to visit this space when they feel frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, or experience other strong emotions. This space gives them 5 minutes to calm-down or remove themselves from an unfavored situation. Friends can sit and read a book, play with a fidget, write, or color. Once their five minutes are up, they can return to their activity with a clear mind.

These small steps can help crew members in any room learn about their social and emotional well-being. They take no extra time out of the day and put the choice in the child’s hands. By visiting the calm-down corner, crew members are practicing self-management and decision making. Checking in through zones of regulation are a step in self-awareness and encourages positive relationships between crew members and leaders.

Calm Down Corner Book Suggestions:

Be Kind //Teal // Even Superheroes Have Bad Days // Mindful Me: Mindfulness and Meditation for Kids

My Magic Breath // Eraser // I Am Peace // Mixed // Allie All Along // Zen Ties

Kindergarten Crew // Diversity and Inclusion

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As educators, we hope to create safe spaces for all of our students.  In order to create safe spaces for children, we strive to incorporate culturally responsive teaching in our classrooms.  Culturally responsive teaching is a way to teach in a cross-cultural or multicultural setting in which teachers give students opportunities to relate content being learned to their own cultural context. The main goal of culturally responsive teaching is to help students grow their ability to show respect and empathy towards the diverse group of people they will encounter throughout their lives.  From weekly crew units on diversity and inclusion to the simple routines in the classroom, DP strives to continue to grow and improve our culturally responsive practices. Some examples of steps towards culturally responsive teaching in our classrooms and school include:

  • Providing students with opportunities to share about their home lives, families, beliefs and traditions

  • Sharing family holiday traditions

  • Teachings students about multicultural role models

  • Representing people from different cultural backgrounds through photographs, books, and stories

  • Community meetings

  • Welcoming diverse groups of guests to come and speak to students and families at school

  • Providing students with opportunities to go on field studies to have culturally diverse experiences (plays, museums, speakers)

  • Teaching students to not only respect the culture and heritage of others, but their own culture and heritage as well

  • Exposing students to diverse positive role models in our community and other communities as well

Ensuring a culturally responsive approach creates opportunities for students to explore, ask questions, and learn about subjects of race, class, gender, and ability in a safe space. If you would like support on ways to talk to your child about diversity and inclusion, please reach out to your child’s crew leader for more awesome ideas and resources on how to get the conversation started!

Social Work // Guided Meditation

Guided meditation can help mitigate stress and anxiety, improv focus, and increase self-esteem. Facilitating a guided meditation begins with providing a tranquil space.

The school social work office includes soft-lighting, comfortable seating, and lavender aromatherapy. In the background I play calming audio such as rainforest sounds, ocean waves, or gentle acoustics.  

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The school social work office includes soft-lighting, comfortable seating, and lavender aromatherapy. In the background I play calming audio such as rainforest sounds, ocean waves, or gentle acoustics.  

Students are instructed to sit or lie down in a comfortable spot. We spend one minute breathing deeply. With each breath, students are asked to picture a balloon filling up with air as they breathe in and deflate as thy exhale. I guide students through their meditative experience by asking them to envision their stress and imagine it floating away. Guided meditation can be facilitated via online audio clips or facilitator script:

Think about a moment in your day when you experienced a difficult emotion. Maybe this was this morning when you were on the way to school or this afternoon at recess. Maybe you were feeling sad, or lonesome or maybe you were feeling anger toward someone. Take a deep breath in, and blow that negative feeling into your balloon. Fill that balloon big as you can….one more time...blow out all that sadness, and all that lonesomeness. Now, tie the end of your balloon nice and tight. Hold your balloon with two hands, now gently throw it up in the air...then watch it come back down into your hands. Throw your balloon into the air nice and strong now... watch as the wind catches it and it floats up and up into the sun….watch it as if floats away...far, far away.        

At the end of each session, students are asked to notice how they feel. The sense of tranquility and calm is something they can carry with them throughout their day.  Guided meditations can be done at home

Special Education // Color-Coding: Above & Beyond Art Class

I remember when I was in 1st grade and my teacher told me she loved they way I colored. I was so proud of myself after that and felt so good that all I wanted to do was to color. Lucky for me, this passion grew into an organized chaos in which helped me learn best in school.

A lot of the accommodations that I use with my students is color coding words, phrases, texts, and anything that may help them organize their thoughts and keep everything in order.

Color coding can be beneficial to any student from any age. Did you know that color-coding improves recall time and can be an effective performance factor? It’s amazing really, what a little bit of color can do to help your child stay organized and on track with their assignments. Although we use it a lot at school, there are definitely some things you can try at home:


Color-code To Do’s: Do you have a system in place for after school activities but your child has a hard time keeping on task? A few colored sticky notes, or highlighted tasks  can help them remember when it’s dinner time, homework time, and play time!

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Rainbow Spelling: At school, a lot of our spelling words involve color! With just 2-4 different colors, you can have students learning to spell words correctly. First start with a light color then build up colors spelling that word. It’s a fun way to switch things up!

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Highlighting key words/symbols in word problems: This one would help everyone doing any basic computation! Start by highlighting math symbols so you know your student is computing problems correctly. At school, I usually highlight the subtraction sign for students who struggle to compute subtraction problems to remind them that it’s a “take-away” problem instead of addition. Sometimes they just need a little reminder. For word problems, I have students highlight key words that may help them solve the problem. For example,

“De’Andre had 8 markers. Liza borrowed some markers. De’Andre now has 3 markers. How many markers did Liza borrow?”

In this problem, we highlight the word ‘borrow’ as well as any important numbers we
need to solve the problem. This helps keep their thoughts organized while knowing
which operation to use. In this case, students would use subtraction.

It’s always fun to add some color to get away from the ordinary. Enforcing these habits early on might help them in the long run when they are more independent with their learning!

1st Grade Crew // Experts

As one of our Core Practices in Expeditionary Learning, we seek out experts to involve in every one of our Module topics of study. We define experts simply as people who provide knowledge on the subject being studied. We find experts working as professionals in their field of study and as members of our school or Detroit community with experience in the topic of study. Ideally, students will interact with experts on multiple occasions through their Module unit, and experts will give students feedback on their products as they work.

For our unit of study on the Sun, Moon, and Stars, we have connected with both experts working in the field of astronomy and members of our school community. During our first week of Module 2, we spoke with an astronomer working at the University of Michigan over Skype. She taught students about the planets and answered their many questions about how large the universe is and why stars are so hot! Students were dazzled by Ms. Wormley’s knowledge about the Sun, Moon, and Stars, and could not wait to start studying space themselves!

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After becoming experts on the Sun, Moon, and Stars, students worked on meeting their reading and writing goals for the year by writing poetry about the sun. We thought-- who better to teach our students about poetry than their own poetry-loving families? We have had several parents in first-grade read their favorite poem to our crews, explain why they like it, and introduce some of the technical elements of poetry, like rhyme and simile. As we work on our final poems, we hope to invite these experts to come back and give us feedback on our own poetry writing.

We find that involving experts in our studies motivates and excites our students. When they can put a face to the title “Astronomer” or “Poet-- especially the face of a community member, students can begin to imagine themselves as experts or future experts too! This critical role that experts play in student motivation can be amplified even further when students develop relationships with their experts over time, consistently receiving feedback on their work from their real-world mentors.

We can’t wait for you to see who will join our students as experts during their next unit of study on birds-- maybe you!

2nd Grade Crew // How to Create the Perfect Field Study Experience

I feel safe in saying that most people remember attending and loving field trips. My teachers took us on numerous and I still remember the excitement on the day we went.  However, I don’t remember much afterwards. The excitement fizzled out and we moved on quickly. When I plan a field study, I want the experience to last longer than the few hours we’re there.  The purpose is to expand their knowledge and engage just like experts in the field would. But, how do you get students to not only be excited about going somewhere, but also ready to critically think and ask questions?  Here are a few important steps I take so students engage with the experience.

1. Plan Ahead - I do my best to sift through all of the field study opportunities for one that fits best with what students are studying.  I look for an opportunity for students to become involved and do more than just look around at things. I want them to be fully engaged and ask an expert questions.  So, I have to do my research ahead of time.

2. Create the Hype - Now the fun part starts because I get to share the news with students and families.  Students prepare for the field study by learning as much as they can beforehand. When students are knowledgeable about the subject matter, they’re able to ask and answer questions before, during, and after our field study experience.

3. Journal your Learning - There is so much excitement going on the day of the field study; I need to make sure students are prepared to capture as much new learning as possible.  Students use a note-catcher to record new learning, make connections to prior learning, and draw/write down anything cool and exciting. Students also take pictures using our classroom iPads.

4. Reflect and Share - Now the field study has ended.  Students come back to school and share what they have learned with their crew.  We continue to make connections to our field study and use the note-catchers in daily lessons.  This past field study, students took photographs and used them to inspire their personal narratives.

When all four steps have been taken, students are getting the most learning out of the experience.  Field studies are about so much more than getting out of the classroom for the day. They have potential and hold so much value but students must be engaged and teachers must remember that the experience doesn’t begin and end of the day of the trip.  

Kinder Crew // Literacy Labs!

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At Detroit Prep, literacy is embedded throughout the day. My Kindergarten crew works on literacy for almost 3 hours each day! We spend an hour each morning working on phonics (letters, sounds, sight words, et cetera) during Skills Block, an hour after lunch working on reading comprehension and writing during Module, and an hour each afternoon working on speaking and listening during Literacy Labs time. In this post, I’ll give you a glimpse into Literacy Labs time in Kindergarten and explain how this time of day helps support our development as readers, writers and thinkers.

We have five Literacy Labs that guide our active, play-based learning each afternoon: Create, Engineer, Research, Explore and Imagine. For each module teachers plan labs for at least 4 of the 5 categories. The activities at each lab currently all have something to do with weather since we are in the process of becoming meteorologists!

  • Create: At this labs, students practice their high-quality coloring by coloring different pictures of weather or they write and draw their own weather story.

  • Engineer: Students' work here is guided by a weather-related challenge. Inspired by our cold Detroit winter, we have worked on building sledding ramps, hibernation stations and snowball structures.

  • Research: We use the Epic! Reading App on our iPads to explore weather books and videos. We also sometimes revisit texts we have read together in Module time.

  • Imagine: A parent volunteer graciously helped me build a mock weather-station for students to pretend they are news meteorologists. Students imagine they are giving weather reports or talking with eye-witnesses affected by weather.

At each activity, students cooperate with one another - whether it be to share materials, work on a common structure or craft an imaginary story. As students work together, they practice using content vocabulary and cooperative problem solving centered on the Engineer or Imagine task. While Literacy Labs sound like (and are) a lot of fun, they also help students build valuable speaking and listening skills and prepare them to be impactful readers, writers and world-changers.