1st Grade Crew // Learning From Experts!

Here at Detroit Prep, one of our favorite things about following the Expeditionary Learning (EL) model is the incorporation of Field Studies to enhance our learning experiences. In addition to going on many field studies throughout the year, students also learn from experts to deepen their knowledge on our topics of study. Throughout the year, our students at Detroit Prep have learned from experts through virtual experiences like Skype or by having various family members or community experts share their expertise with us. Having experts visit us at school allows students to make connections between our academic work and the authentic world.

Recently, our first graders were lucky enough to have a visit from our own amazing social worker, Mr. Anderson’s, father…. Mr. Anderson (Senior)! Mr. Anderson is an avid bird watcher who has taken trips to many places in search of different birds. He was so knowledgeable on bird traits, habitats, their mannerisms, and so much more! Recently Mr. Anderson had traveled to Costa Rica and shared many beautiful pictures and information with our students from his trip.

The 1st graders were also all able to browse his bird books and take a look at his different pairs of binoculars to see what it is like to be a real bird watcher. Since our last module of study this school year in 1st grade will focus on how to care for birds, our expert was able to answer countless questions that our very creative and curious students had come up with.  

Our students have learned so much about birds through research in high quality texts, videos, and a field study to the Belle Isle Nature Center, but we felt so lucky to have had this firsthand experience with Mr. Anderson that enhanced our learning in a whole new way! We are looking forward to learning more and growing with many more expert visits.

Enrichment // Soccer at Detroit Prep

At Detroit Prep we offer many after-school activities to enrich our students’ experiences and social-emotional learning: guitar, ceramics, dance, soccer and more. Over the past 2 years I have had the privilege of helping coach the DP soccer team!

Our team participates in the Detroit PAL League and the US Soccer Foundation’s Soccer For Success Program. This means that we compete in games on Saturdays against other school teams on the East Side of Detroit and follow a certain scope and sequence for teaching soccer as well as healthy living skills. Each day we practice, we have a quick snack after dismissal then walk 3 blocks to a nearby park. (We’re super excited for our new school next year which is a little closer to a safe place to play.) Once we get to the field we run, stretch, check-in about our how our days went and then practice. Soccer practice normally consists of a few drills focusing on foot skills, dribbling or passing then a scrimmage - which is undeniably the team’s favorite parts. We try to emphasize sportsmanship and having fun, along with building strong technique, coordination and skills. We also, when possible, teach about soccer as a global sport which might someday help students make cross-cultural connections.

As a teacher, the experience of coaching soccer is really rewarding. It gives me the experience to interact with current and former students (and families) outside of the academic day - to get to know them as people and to see their skills that might not be on display during learning time. For students soccer also seems to be a valuable time. Students playing together really build the sense of crew we aspire to at Detroit Prep and get “real-life” opportunities to practice Habits of Character outside our school community.

Social Work // Take-A-Break

Creating high quality work, remembering to practice the habits of character, managing peer relationships, transitioning from topic to topic and all the other day to day stressors can be a lot for a young mind to handle. It helps to just take a break.

Breaks have been proven to boost energy, increase focus and increase our ability to retain information.

At Detroit Prep, there are a few different ways students can appropriately take a break in order to ensure they are bringing their best selves to their learning.

Reset Space
Each classroom has a space where students are encouraged to “reset” if they are feeling overstimulated or overwhelmed. Using the reset space in a room is taking a short break while still in the classroom. It allows the student to take a few deep breaths or utilize another coping strategy and rejoin the crew in a short (3-4 minutes) amount of time.

Whole Class Breaks
Each day after lunch our crews practice mindfulness. This can vary from relaxing to the sounds of the jungle to a guided meditation to silent coloring to watching an aquarium live stream . The goal of mindfulness is to get everyone’s mind in a calm, relaxed, focused place where their best learning will be taking place.

Go Noodle Breaks
While mindfulness is a calm and restful way to take a break, Go Noodle is usually an active and energetic way to take a break. Often times during transitions the whole crew will follow the prompts of different Go Noodle videos. This allows the crew to dance and get all their wiggles out before heading to the next part of the day. See Ms. O’Donnell’s post about Brain Breaks for more information.

Each grade is given two recess periods throughout the day. This is a time for active, imaginative play. It is a time to brush up on their soccer skills or participate in a game of freeze tag. It is an exploratory time to allow students a break from structured activities.

Sensory Breaks
Use of a sensory tool can be a powerful way to refocus a student. Sensory tools can be thought of much like a pair of glasses. They are a tool that help a student overcome a barrier in the way of their learning.


There are many different sensory tools that students have found effective. Bubbling timers (as seen above) are students favorites. Weighted blankets or vests help with feeling overstimulated or overactive. Handheld fidgets are also helpful with feeling overstimulated, anxious and overactive. Even bouncing on a balance can give the student time to recenter and focus.  

Physical Activity Breaks
While calm, quiet, restful breaks are useful for some students, other students need active, physical, exercise driven breaks. This can be as simple as doing some jumping jacks to taking a few laps around the gym. Twice a day recess allows us to be active and physical multiple times a day. Students love to be able to walk and play outside, observe nature and just be KIDS!


Scheduled Breaks
When our team identifies that breaks are an effective intervention for students, we will incorporate the breaks into their behavior plan. Students will have a set time during the day they know they will be able to recenter and reset to bring their best selves to class.

Taking a break has been proven to increase students ability to focus, increase energy and retain information. Allowing students the time and space to be able to take breaks is all about them being able to be the best learners possible.

2nd Grade Crew // Habits of Character

At Detroit Prep we value character development equally to academics.  Our six habits are responsibility, cooperation, compassion, integrity, perseverance, and curiosity and creativity.  We link our daily conversations and lessons to one or more of our habits. Even our adult crew appreciates each other using habits of character!

Fostering students ability to show compassion and cooperate is essential while simultaneously asking them to work together in a small group during center times.  At Detroit Prep we work hard to create a classroom that is self managing. That means that students are able to work, get materials, and move onto another activity without the continual guidance of an adult.  When a classroom is self managed, we can work closely with small groups of students to promote growth in all areas. Students love small group time and it would not be possible without a self managed classroom.  

Providing opportunities for students to use curiosity and creativity allows students to go above and beyond with their knowledge .  Second graders are so eager to utilize this habit of character that they suggested we open a curiosity and creativity lab during the end of the day.  Last week they used their crayon boxes, popsicle sticks, and other materials to engineer rocket ships. Some students even linked their lab learning to their reading lesson and created flowers and pollinators.

Detroit Prep is project based learning.  At the end of a learning unit students create a final product that shows high quality work.  In order for students to create a final product they feel proud to present to families and the Detroit Prep community, students must spend hours throughout the week working on multiple drafts to get the product to be exactly what they envisioned.  This kind of quality takes perseverance along with curiosity and creativity.

Detroit Prep values the whole child.  In a fast paced world, we want to ensure that our students are prepared and ready.  We encourage students to use integrity and cooperation to work alongside others, use curiosity, creativity and perseverance to create beautiful things, and show compassion and responsibility to help make the world a better place.

Kindergarten // Zones of Self-Regulation


This year at Detroit Prep we are working to help students with their social-emotional learning by introducing the Zones of Self-Regulation.  After many of our team members attended the EL National Conference this fall in Chicago, they came back inspired by the work of our mentor school, Polaris Charter Academy. At Polaris, students not only learn about the Points of Polaris (core values similar to our Habits of Character) but also about the Zones of Self-Regulation. The Zones framework teaches students to recognize their emotions as falling into one of four categories:

  • Blue Zone - being in a low state of alertness: sad, tired, bored or sick
  • Green Zone - being calm and positive: happy, focused or energized
  • Yellow Zone - being slightly agitated: anxious, silly, excited, frustrated or nervous
  • Red Zone - being in a heightened, intense emotional state: angry, enraged or scared

Once students understand how to categorize their emotions without attaching value to them, they learn self-regulation techniques that help them stay in the green zone (“focused and ready to learn”).

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The Zones framework has really empowered the young learners in my Kindergarten crew. They understand that ideally in order to be ready to learn and to have fun at school they need to be in the Green Zone. They also understand that not being in the Green Zone is something natural and use a repertoire of tools and strategies to get themselves back to this calm, positive emotional state. Though my students are small, they are developing the strong self-regulation skills they will need to blossom into strong students and, one day, successful adults.

2nd Grade Crew // Student Led Conferences

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Conference time at Detroit Prep is a time for celebration!  Students get amped up three times a year to share their growth and discuss their goals.  Conferences are a mandatory event for Detroit Prep families because we believe it is important for students to have moments with their family and teacher to boast about how hard they’re working.  It is important for students to understand their accomplishments and areas of growth and feel empowered by sharing these with families.

For those fifteen minutes, they run the show. Students spend time preparing for their conference at different points throughout the year.  Preparing for conferences is a time where students think deeply about what they are proud of and areas they feel they still need to grow in.  Students create goals for reading, writing, math, and habits of character.

When families meet their child in their classroom, students begin with a greeting [just like we do each morning in our crew meetings].  Next students move onto sharing all of they have worked on so far this year and what they are excited to continue to learn about. Students continue to flip through their prepared SLC folder which contains all of the work they have decided to keep and share.  When students are finished sharing their work they then encourage their families to ask questions! Students answer questions independently and confidently. The ending of SLCs at Detroit Prep is open for students to give appreciations to their families. We spend time in our crews talking about how families support them with their learning at home.  Students appreciate their families for things like “helping with homework”, “making breakfast each morning”, or “reading to them”.

Prior to working at Detroit Prep, conferences were a time when I would gather data on students and share what they have accomplished and areas they could grow.  Detroit Prep provides children with the opportunity to show off their hard work and practice articulating areas they feel are challenging.

The next Student Led Conferences are coming up this month! Can’t wait to see all of our families there!

1st Grade Crew // Math Talks

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“We want to help our students deeply understand numbers in the primary years,” said my fellow Detroit Prep teacher, Shelly, at our school’s beginning-of-year curriculum night. “For example, you might know the number five as a kindergartener, but do you know that 5 is 3 less than 8? And 5 less than 10?” These questions and further discussions with Shelly made me think about how I teach math to my first grade students. I began to ask myself while planning lessons, “How can I push my students’ number sense here? How can I ask them to confront deeper questions about math than this word problem presents?”

One strategy I use to help my students more deeply expand their understanding of numbers and math concepts is through a 10-15 minute segment of my daily math lesson called a “Number Talk”. During our Number Talk, students are given one problem-- sometimes involving the strategy taught the day before with higher numbers, or a word problem, or a set of numbers that must be added together. After hearing the problem as a group, students have thirty seconds to think about how they will solve. Then, they go back to their tables to work with a group of 3-5 mixed-math-ability students. I only allow students to have one white board and one marker so that they must reach consensus as a group about how they will solve and which answer they will choose.

This practice allows students to deepen their understandings of previously taught strategies and concepts by explaining their reasoning to classmates and by applying math concepts to new problems. It also encourages students to use their deepening number sense by looking for patterns that might help them solve. For example, recently I gave students a set of numbers: 8, 4, 5, 2, 6, 5…. and asked them to solve as quickly as possible. Most groups chose to simply draw dots and counted the dots all-together, but one group noticed that they could quickly add the numbers by finding sets of 10: 8 + 2, 5 + 5, 6 + 4 and then adding those 10s together. During a follow up discussion, this group was able to share their thinking with the whole crew who asked questions and eventually joined in a chorus of “ohhhs!” and smiles once they understood the strategy used. I love seeing the look of awe and joy as students help each other reach new understandings in math! Math talks have made math more rigorous, fun, and communal in my crew.

1st Grade Crew // Using Curiosity & Creativity to Explore Labs

This year at Detroit Prep, we are so lucky to be learning from a Language Arts curriculum that provides us with an extra hour EVERY day to ensure all our students get the support they need. This extra time- called Labs- is how we end every school day. Labs are an important feature of the 1st grade curriculum because they support and extend student learning from the module lessons. They are designed to help all students get the time to play and explore, become immersed in academic language and content knowledge, and practice skills and the Habits of Character that they need to be joyful, successful, and proficient!

Our labs have four stages built into each module topic, which for Mrs. Jackie’s crew, has been the Sun, Moon, and Stars for the last few months. Students are introduced to their Create, Explore, Imagine, and Research labs during the Launch stage.  Next, during the Practice stage, students work in two labs each day for 20 minutes each. From there, we move into the Extend stage where students become more independent and their work becomes more complex. Finally, towards the end of our Module study, Labs conclude with the Choice and Challenge stage, where students work on a final product through the process of feedback, revision, and group work.

Our second module of study- The Sun, Moon, and Stars has exposed our 1st graders to some hands on, exciting, and engaging labs. Listed below is a description of what they’ve gotten to experience using so much of their curiosity and creativity!

Create Lab: Students learned how to blend watercolors together to create the colors of the sky at different times of day or night. They were able to add to their artist tool belt by creating their very own palette of colors to use to create the sky.

Explore Lab: This lab station allowed students to explore light and shadow using their very own flashlights and a variety of classroom materials (such as blocks, paper, writing utensils, etc.). Students used the flashlights as their ‘sun’ source and were able to model how the sun circulates the earth, causing different shadow patterns.

Imagine Lab: The imagine lab is one of our favorites in Mrs. Jackie’s Crew! This is a free choice lab rotation that allows students to choose from finger puppets, costumes, blocks, white boards and markers, puzzles and much more! The main goal of the imagine lab is for students to work together and use the materials from the imagine lab to bring stories we read this module to life.

Research Lab: 1st grade students were introduced to the research lab during our second Module of study. This allows students to learn new information about the sky using research materials (mainly our anchor texts about the sun, moon, and stars!). Students were encouraged to think of questions they had about this topic and to record new information into their lab notebooks.

Lab time is one of the major highlights of our days! Our 1st graders have become such independent, creative thinkers with the support of our labs and it has been amazing to see them become content experts during this time!

Kindergarten // Working with Experts


For our second module of the year, Kindergarteners at Detroit Prep have been studying weather. We have immersed ourselves in everything weather: reading nonfiction texts, performing science experiments and comparing weather around the world.

While our study of weather has been guided by the EL Primary Language Arts Curriculum, we have worked to put our own local spin on the topic. As an EL school, we strive to make learning authentic and connect the curriculum to our community; EL Core Practice 7 suggests that teachers make learning meaningful and rigorous by incorporating fieldwork, experts, and service learning. Essentially, we try to make sure any unit includes experiences in nearby places, interactions with professionals and contributions to the greater good.

Our fieldwork for the weather unit was hyper-local. We spent many mornings observing the sky outside our school, peering out the classroom window and recording our observations. We were also fortunate enough to have two weather experts share with us: a crew family member (and former meteorology major) and a weather forecaster via the Skype a Scientist Program. These experiences enriched our understanding of weather and made our unit more exciting and fun! As we continue learning this year, we will continue to connect our crew room to places, people and causes in our local community.


Kindergarten Crew // Mindfulness

Mindfulness, “The psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment,” is an integral part of our daily lives at Detroit Prep.  Every day after lunch, our students (and staff) embark on a fifteen minute psychological journey of self awareness through various forms of meditation and calming strategies aimed to refocus attention on the present in order to be ready to learn.  Though mindfulness may vary depending on the crew and crew leader, all students are participating in some form of meditation and calming strategies during this fifteen minute period daily.

One of the common ways to help crews become more aware and present during mindfulness time is through breathing exercises and yoga.  Every Monday in community crew, the students are taught a new breathing exercise in order to gain a vast library of strategies to use for self regulating their emotions and to incorporate during mindfulness time.  Along with new breathing exercises being taught every Monday, a great resource that crew leaders use during mindfulness in the classroom is GoNoodle.com.  This website includes categories of mindfulness and yoga videos aimed specifically for children.  Whether the students are doing yoga with Maximo, or practicing meditation and breathing techniques from the Flow Channel the website is sure to keep a crew entertained, invested, and mindful.

Other mindfulness strategies that have been incorporated in crews around Detroit Prep include: quiet rest and reflection time while sitting in a seat or lying on pillows and carpet area, free drawing, free reading, and playing with tactile materials such as play doh.

This time of the day can look many different ways and may vary from crew to crew because there is not just one right way to be mindful.  In order to create an organic and authentic space where a crew can be mindful, crew leaders must also be mindful and receptive to the needs and ideas of their crew.  As long as students are finding a way to be calm and mindful in the way that resonates most with them, they can grow to understand how to carefully observe, not judge, their own thoughts and feelings so that they can appreciate their current experience and live in the moment.