1st Grade Crew // ALL the Habits of Character!

If you have ever visited Detroit Prep, and had the pleasure to step into one of our incredible crew rooms, you may have been surprised to hear our students (some as young as five years old) using some pretty impressive language to appreciate friends, discuss how lessons went, or set goals for themselves or their crews. Words like perseverance, integrity, compassion, cooperation, curiosity and creativity, and responsibility are common language used by all of our students and staff because these words represent our six Habits of Character.

At Detroit Prep, our Habits of Character are just as an important as any academic subject. We teach each of them separately and they are integrated through every part of our school today. We focus on developing the habits that will ensure our students meet our mission of being ready to succeed in life and positively change the world in any way they choose!

Every day in our first grade crew, we meet together for our morning crew meeting to develop and strengthen our relationships and practice our Habits of Character. One activity we worked on recently together at crew can be seen in the below photograph. Our crew greeted each while simultaneously creating a spider web with a ball of yarn.

Spider Web.jpg

At the end of the activity, students reflected on how much perseverance this took to keep going even if the yarn was dropped or tangled. Another friend added on that we would not have been able to create our special web without curiosity and creativity and compassion to help each other continue on. Debrief conversations like this one are very common in all crews at Detroit Prep. Students as young as kindergarteners learn to intertwine the world of academics and our habits of character because we place such an important focus on both!

Teachers and staff at our school are passionate about providing opportunities for students to use and practice all six of the habits of character. We want students to be able to dig deep and push themselves beyond what they think is capable. The students at our school are so enthusiastic about utilizing and showcasing their knowledge of these habits and I’m excited to see how much they are able to do with them this year!  

Habits Of Character.jpg

Kinder Crew // Making Learning Authentic and Relevant Even in the Youngest Years

At Detroit Prep, we pride ourselves on being an EL School. As an EL school, we work to make sure our students master rigorous academic content, develop strong character and create high-quality work. Though we follow the EL Curriculum for English Language Arts (ELA) instruction, we constantly strive to make our students’ learning experiences more relevant and authentic to their lives here in Detroit.


The first ELA curriculum module for Kindergarten centers on making students experts on Toys and Play. This year the Kindergarten team decided to make the task of becoming a Toys and Play Expert more authentic by involving our students in a service learning project. We introduced students to the idea of donating toys to children who might not have access to them in our launch week via sharing videos and texts. Then in our second unit of the module, we got our students in touch with a real live expert - the volunteer coordinator at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. She generously gave her time and let us interview her via Skype about what toys the patients at the hospital need, how they like to play with them, et cetera. After our interview, we decided to host a toy drive for the hospital in the month of October.

We will be collecting donations of toys at our school then making tags for them; the tags will let our students showcase the drawing and labelling skills they have been working to master in the first weeks of Kindergarten. Involving community partners and creating an authentic purpose for learning gives students a drive to acquire new skills and brings joy to the classroom even at the youngest age!

1st Grade Crew // High-Quality Work Protocols


It’s important for students to have rubrics when completing a project. We have known this for a long time -- I’m sure all of us can think of countless rubrics that we received when completing a book report or a science project in school. The teacher hands you the rubric describing what excellent work means in this context and you try to match it. This process has become so automatic that it’s shocking when someone suggests, what if students created the rubric? What if allowing students to develop their own definitions of excellence and high quality in writing, social studies, science, and math were an essential part of the learning process?

As an EL Education school, we believe that high quality work protocols can powerfully impact a student’s competency on a given topic and help them develop academic mindsets that push them towards a disposition of continual growth and revision. Here’s how it works. At the beginning of one of our units of study, students analyze a student-made example of a product they will create by the end of the unit. For example, for our last unit, students made a scientific drawing of a bird and a riddle describing some of its adaptations and attributes as their cumulative task. As our first lesson in the unit, students observed one of these drawings and riddle cards and made a list of it’s high quality attributes. “I noticed that they used adjectives to talk about the bird,” one student said. “They had neat handwriting,” said another. As a crew, we used these student observations to create a “High Quality Work Checklist” that students would use to analyze and revise their own writing throughout the course of the unit. When it came time to create our own bird riddle cards, students were well versed in the criteria list they had created for themselves at the beginning of the unit. They were already fluently using the criteria that would make up the rubric for the final product. So, the rubric was not handed to them as the teacher’s expert, adult definition of excellence, but created by created for students, by students, about work done by other first graders. By creating rubrics of excellence themselves, students develop a sense of ownership over their work and the quality of it. They begin to see themselves, and not just their teachers, as the holders of knowledge, and when students feel this level of competence, their investment in high quality work skyrockets.

Restorative Practices: Responding to Off-Culture Behaviors

Creating a strong culture in which every member of our crew embodies the habits of character is an ultimate goal for our school. What do we do when a member of our crew isn’t using the habits of character? What do we do when a member of our crew is causing harm?

Our responses to these off-culture behaviors are grounded in restorative practices. Our aim is to respond to the off-culture behaviors in a way that builds community, fixes the harm that was done, helps students learn from their mistakes and empower students with the skills to resolve conflicts.

Daily Crew and Community Building

Every morning and afternoon we circle up. This is part of our intentional community building.

Our morning crew starts with a greeting, followed by a share, and lastly an initiative.

The greeting is a way to say good morning to the crew. This could be a one minute greeting-- where each member of the crew greets each other with a handshake, a high five or a hug for one.

Next up would be a share. Often times shares are grounded in our habits of character [link to blog post outlining the habits of character]. We will turn and talk or share out to the whole group about certain topics.

Lastly is the initiative. Initiatives are team games designed to create teachable moments surrounding our habits of character.

In the afternoon, we circle back up for announcements and appreciations.

The idea behind these circles are intentionally building community and teaching social-emotional skills. This is preventative work and is truly a foundation of our school.

Harm Was Done: Now What?

Inevitably students will have some actions that are not aligned with our culture. Members of our crew will hurt other members. Harm will be done. So, how do we respond when harm is done?

Restorative Conference
When students have conflict we bring them together to fix the harm that has been done.
A series of questions are asked, for example:

For offenders:
What happened?
What were you thinking at the time?
What have you thought about since?
Who was affected by your actions?
How have they been affected?
What can you do to make things right?
How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?

For Victims:
What did you think when you realized what happened?
How has this affected you and others?
What has been the hardest thing for you?
What should happen to make things right?
How can we make sure this doesn’t happen again?

Guiding the students through this restorative practice allows them to be a part of the solution, feel heard and take ownership over the school culture.

Peace Path
Another avenue to empower students is a peace path. This is a process that can be taught to students. After a few rounds of the peace path students should be able to walk the path by themselves!

The path goes as follows:

Student A: I feel _________ when you _________ .

Student B: I know you feel _________  when I _________ .

Student B: I feel _________  when you _________ .

Student A: I know you feel _________  when I _________ .

Student A: Next time, I need _________ .

Student B: Next time, I agree to _________ .

Student B: Next time, I need _________ .

Student A: Next time I agree to _________ .

Student A and Student B agree on a handshake, high-five or hug.

Giving students this framework empowers them to solve issues other members of the crew.

Restorative circles allow students to speak freely and openly while working towards resolving a problem.

A circle views of-culture behavior as a teachable moment, separates person from the deed, focuses on fixing the harm done, encourages authentic participation and allows for successful reintegration.

A few elements I find are common in highly successful circles are:

  • Use of a talking piece to allow for equal voice

  • Speak from the heart

  • Listen from the heart

  • No need to practice or rehearse

  • Without being rushed, just say enough

  • Work is ongoing, things won’t be fixed after one circle

Restorative practices take more time and effort than more traditional discipline models. The reason they are worth the extra time and effort are because they create students who are empowered by being a part of the process, enable crew members to restore and build community.

Art // Tracking Student Work in the Art Room

Screen Shot 2018-07-17 at 12.36.31 PM.png

Crew leaders help students track their progress in core subject areas such as math and ELA, allowing students to reflect on their own abilities and track their progress and growth in an area, while also providing teacher perspective and feedback.

Assessment in the art room has not been my strong suit thus far. While I often assess from  my own observations and have students offer feedback to one another, I have struggled to find meaningful ways for students to self-assess and measure their own progress over the course of a unit.

I decided to try tracking in the art room with a weaving unity I designed for first grade. Knowing that I wanted students to be able to measure their growth, I would need to provide a gradual progression of skills under the umbrella of weaving. Yardsticks tell us that first graders are work-oriented at this point in their development. They are less concerned with perfecting the outcome of their work and more focused on the process (How ideal! If only things could always be this way.) This provides a great opportunity for creating units in the art room that focus on a single skill, as students are less likely to tire from repeating the same techniques over the course of several projects. No one ever complained when I announced that we would be embarking on *another* weaving piece.

Our unit unfolded like this:

  • Learning the basics with paper weaving.

  • Preparing for loom-weaving with radial weaving.

  • Creating a small loom-woven piece of wearable art.

  • Using needle and thread to create basic embroidery stitches.

At some point along the way, students were also taught how to finger knit. Little did I know how popular this would become and doesn’t seem to be losing steam, as students are frequently asking for yarn, or bringing in pieces they’ve made at home :)

Overall, the goal was for students to master the “under/over” weaving technique that ensures fibers are binding together in such a way that they won’t come undone from one another. This is one of my favorite media to teach, and I was happy to find that students seemed to enjoy it as much as I did! Tracking student progress through this unit helped me see how much students truly progressed over the course of the projects, some tremendously!

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.