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.

 1st Grade Crew // Social Emotional Learning Through Character Building


School at Detroit Prep is much more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. Developing these skills is certainly necessary for our students’ future success. However, it is not sufficient. In order to set our students up for the best academic and career success, we know that we must spend just as much time developing their social and emotional skills. Social emotional learning in the primary years has been linked to later career readiness and even to happiness levels well into adulthood.

One look at our daily schedule will demonstrate how critical we believe social emotional skills are, which have just as much time allotted on the schedule as math, reading, and writing. Twice a day, we meet for “crew” where we practice activity and self-reflection built around six habits of character: compassion, cooperation, curiosity and creativity, integrity, perseverance, and responsibility. During this time, you might find us playing “I spy” and then reflecting about how it helped us meet our compassion goal for the week: “I can put myself in someone else’s shoes.” At our end of the day crew meeting, you’d notice students giving each other appreciations for how they showed these habits of character during the day or making amends with students whom they have hurt.

While crew meetings give students many opportunities to reflect about their own social emotional learning throughout the week, we know that we must help students explicitly make connections between these skills and academic work. So, for the past few weeks, our crew has been spending a few minutes following each academic period reflecting about how we used the habits of character during learning. Students share responses like, “I showed compassion by using kind words when I worked with my table,” or “I had to persevere when I felt confused during the math exit ticket.” These few minutes allow students to make clear connections between the work they do in crew and their academic learning, ultimately teaching them ways to integrate social emotional skills throughout their daily life. So, at Detroit Prep, it’s more accurate to say that we learn the three “r’s”, as well as the four c’s curiosity, creativity, cooperation and compassion.

2nd Grade Crew // Literacy Labs

Monday through Thursday you will see our 2nd grade crew returning from recess, heading straight to our carpet spots, and eager to begin Literacy Labs.  The very first part of lab time is dedicated to a read aloud.  Our crew is reading Charlotte’s Web because we are focusing on compassion. Students listen to how the characters include others, help others, and use their words and actions to make others feel good.  We make connections between the characters actions and their actions towards others during lab time.  Next students focus a few minutes of their time to set a goal for labs that day.  Goals students have set recently are: 1.  I can use materials with care, 2. I can use kind words, 3. I can listen to others ideas.  Once goals are set, it’s time to jump into the labs!

During our first module students went to the Engineer, Imagine, Create, and Research Lab.  In the Create Lab students started by drawing self portraits and then  drew portraits of their lab partners. If students chose the Create Lab during the Choice and Challenge week, students worked on a portrait of someone important at Detroit Prep.  In the Engineer Lab, students used a ruler to draw an open face drawing of our classroom.  Next, students worked on designing an ideal space for students at Detroit Prep.  Students created designs for a new playground and classrooms that had their own kitchen!  In the Imagine Lab students use their curiosity and creativity to play.  Students use cooperation to share materials like blocks, whiteboards and markers, legos, and puppets.  The Research Lab was a place where students created surveys to get to know their crew a little better.  Students worked with their lab group to create a research question and possible answers.  The next week they surveyed their crew and worked together to create a bar graph to show the data.  Students learned: 1.  What our crew likes to do at recess, 2. What our crew likes to do best at school and 3.  What our crew likes to do after school.

Second grade LOVES Lab time.  It gives students a chance to practice and show our habits of character: responsibility, compassion, integrity, cooperation, perseverance, and curiosity and creativity.  It also gives students a chance to show what they’ve learned during module time in creative ways. It is the perfect way to end our day!

Social Work // Just Take a Deep Breath

“Just take a deep breath.”

This is a piece of advice that we all have heard. Maybe you have even given this advice to your child or a loved one while they were feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, sad or angry.  

There is a reason why this piece of advice is tried and true; it works. Deep breathing releases endorphins throughout the body, slows heart rate, promotes blood flow, promotes better sleep and stabilizes blood pressure. Deep breathing is an effective method to control emotions and regulate problematic behaviors.

This is more than just huffing and puffing. It is being intentional, mindful and thoughtful with your breathing.

Here are some of the basics of deep breathing:

Posture: One of the most important aspects of deep breathing is the how your body is set before you begin taking your deep breaths. If you are sitting, standing or lying down your spine should be straight. Think of the top of your head and your tailbone point A and point B. Draw as straight of a line as possible between those two points.

Belly Breathing: Now that you are in the correct posture, it is time to take a few deep breaths. Place one or both hands on your abdomen (between your belly button and rib cage). Take a slow deep breath through your nose and exhale through your mouth. You should feel your hand rise and fall with each breath. If it helps, you can imagine there is a balloon in your abdomen, with each breath in it should inflate and deflate. Repeat the cycle 5-10 times.



Variations: Now that we have the basics down we can throw in some different variations to more effectively take deep breaths.

  • 4-7-8 Breathing: Check and correct your posture. Breath in through your nose for 4 seconds. Hold for 7 seconds. Breath out through your mouth for 8 seconds. Do this cycle for around 5-10 times. Note: it is difficult for some children to breath out for 8 seconds. Encourage them to breath out slowly and “empty their balloon.”
  • Bumble Bee Breathing: Check and correct your posture. Take a deep belly breath through your nose. Exhale slowly while making a loud “Hummmmm” or “Buzzzzzzz” sound. Try again with your eyes closed. Focus on the sound. Notice how the vibration feels on your mouth. Do this for 3-4 times. Next, close your eyes and block your ears. Notice how this changes your experience. Continue to repeat a 3-4 times. You can try different sounds when breathing out. This is a good introduction to feeling all the different senses and general mindfulness.
  • Mantra Breathing: Check and correct your posture. Begin with a few deep slow breaths. As you breathe in say, “Breathe in Compassion.” As you breathe out say, “Breathe out Hate.” This can change to any skills you would want to be working on (i.e. Calm / Anxiety, Peace / Turmoil) Another alternative, as you breathe in say, “I change my thoughts.” As you breathe out say “I change my world.” The selection of your mantra is personal. Whatever has meaning to you, will work best.  

Hopefully now the next time you hear or say “Just take a deep breath” you will know exactly how to best take that breath.