1st Grade Crew // High Quality Work

At Detroit Prep, we define high quality student work through three lenses: complexity, craftsmanship, and authenticity. For our most recent study on Bird’s Amazing Bodies, my fellow first grade teachers, Ms. Kimberly, Ms. Jackie and I wanted to focus on authenticity in particular. Literacy research shows that much of a students’ ability to write and read past their current level depends on their own investment in the topic and their perception of the work as meaningful or not. In order to push our students to read high-level non-fiction texts and write complex informational paragraphs of their own, we knew that we would have to convince our students that their work had an authentic purpose beyond the four walls of our classrooms.

After planning a field study trip to the Belle local Isle Nature Center to study birds, we thought of the perfect application for our students’ work. At the Nature Center, we noticed a bird-watching station by a window with two chairs and a coffee table. What if our students wrote informational pamphlets about local birds that could be seen out of this window? We decided that for our final product of this unit of study, students will write scientific riddles and drawings for children to read and solve about local birds-- “I use my long, sharp beak to drill holes in wood so I can eat the insects inside. What bird am I?”

By creating authentic work that connects our studies in crew to local, real-world contexts, we motivate our students to challenge themselves to read and write at higher levels, and we position them as impactful citizens whose work-- even in first grade-- has purpose and meaning beyond the classroom.  

1st Grade Crew // Energizing Brain Breaks!

brain break .jpg

School days at Detroit Prep begin at 8:15am and wrap up at 3:45. That’s a jammed pack seven and a half hours of learning and growing our brains! To keep our 1st graders engaged and refreshed for each new subject throughout the day, we do frequent brain breaks. Brain breaks are quick, whole-class activities that give students opportunities to pause, move, and interact in safe, structured ways. They are quick and effective ways of changing the physical and mental state of the learners in our crew.

Our crew’s favorite brain break is GoNoodle! GoNoodle is an excellent online resource that gets everyone up and moving while practicing math, spelling, vocab (etc. etc.) in many new and exciting ways. Our crew especially loves the different songs with movement that allow us to skip count to 100 in different ways. As a crew leader, I love the fact that GoNoogle provides many different mindfulness videos as well. These are a great opportunity for us to cool down with yoga poses, breathing exercises and meditation while focusing on the topics of managing stress, enhancing focus, building compassion, and practicing self control!

Brain breaks in our crew at times are also a fun read aloud, Simon says, or a coordinated dance break (our crew LOVES to dance). No matter what brain break option we choose, it is apparent that everyone has his or her mood boosted and feels reenergized and ready to learn when we are done.

Brain breaks are such a useful tool for our students to use to help activate, energize and stimulate their brains in a fun and safe way! `

Want to try some of these brain breaks at home over the weekend or on school breaks? GoNoodle is free website that only requires a parent’s email address to sign up. Head over to GoNoodle.com to check it out!

2nd Grade Crew // Field Study!

Field Study is an important part of the learning process that makes what students read about in the classroom more authentic to their lives.  Second grade has been studying pollination since February and we will continue our learning on this topic through June. This seems like a long time to spend on one topic, right?  It could be if students are not excited and engaged in their learning! How do we keep students engaged for so long? Well it’s a combination of reading nonfiction and fictional literature, hands-on play based learning, interviewing experts in the field, and FIELD STUDY!  

This year second grade visited Leslie Science and Nature Center.  Students were introduced to experts in the field and were able to get a close look at the pollinators they have been studying up close! Students went on a nature, worked in groups to discover the life cycle of bugs, and playing a exciting game of pollination tag.

When students attend a field study, they attend as researchers.  Their job is to take notes and learn as much as they can from their environment and the experts in the field.  Students explore with their note-catchers in hand so they don’t miss out on writing down any of the action.

Family members are invited and encouraged to join in on the learning fun. Most field study experiences offer an opportunity to families to have fun learning with their child.

Our next field study is planned and students are pumped to visit Belle Isle Nature Center to get a closer look at bees and their hive!

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.

March Is Reading Month!

The month of March is always a really exciting time of year in any school because it is known as Reading Month across the nation! For many schools, National Reading Month is kicked off with a celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday. At Detroit Prep, we celebrated Dr. Seuss’ birthday and National Reading month by reading Dr. Seuss books and filling out a fun rhyming activity on Cat in the Hat’s hat, mixing up crews for a weekly buddy reading schedule, and inviting guest readers into crews during labs time to read their own favorite books from home!

For our first week of the buddy reading system, all crews celebrated Dr. Seuss and his wonderful books by reading their favorite Dr. Seuss books with a buddy in another crew. After having some time to read with a new crew, students participated in a fun activity with a hat outline from the Cat in the Hat book. With the outline, students were able to channel their inner Dr. Seuss by filling in each stripe of the hat with their own fun and silly rhyming words! Once the rhymes were complete they colored in the hats to make the signature red and white stripes.

The Dr. Seuss celebration was not the end of the buddy reading festivities though! Buddy reading has continued all month with all of our crews meeting up every Wednesday to read books, fun stories, and work on cool new activities. The students love being able to buddy up with their siblings and enjoy a good story with responsible leaders from the first and second grade crews.

In addition to our weekly buddy reading system, all crews have also been open to guest readers during labs time. There have been several guests, families, family friends, friends of crew leaders, coming in to read their favorite books and expose all of the students at Detroit Prep to some wonderful literature both old and new. Detroit Prep has had quite an eventful reading month and will continue to use the momentum from this month to grow a love of reading from all of our students!


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”).

IMG_2897 (1).JPG

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

Screen Shot 2018-03-12 at 3.22.11 PM.png

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!