1st Grade Crew // Author’s Chair Share

Writing time in first grade is serious business. Not only are we learning basic grammar, practicing spelling patterns, writing in different styles, expanding our expedition mastery, we become published authors! There are many steps along the way to publish our work, like editing, revising, conferencing, giving and receiving feedback, but one of the most important parts is the continual opportunity to share our work.

In most of our writing, each week represents one of the stages of writing: brainstorming, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing! During each stage, students are given the opportunity to share their work with the crew. Not only does this give students incentive to do their best work throughout the entire process, but it also provides opportunities for the students to authentically learn from each other. One of the most important aspects of teaching writing is having high-quality examples to show the crew.

We as teachers could spend hours making lots of examples to show students, but why do that when there is usually a goldmine of high-quality examples right in the four walls of the classroom? When students share their work with the crew (which is oftentimes a confidence booster for our writers), the sharer receives feedback on their writing, and they all learn what good writing is by pulling out criteria of what makes the writing high-quality as they move forward through the writing process!

Second Grade Crew: Creating Passionate, Lifelong Readers

In second grade, students build upon the basic foundations of literacy.  As they master basic phonics and move on to literature, they begin to create their identity as a reader.  Studies of best practice indicate that allowing students to select their own reading books highly increases their interest and motivation.

To make sure we encourage our students’ interests and motivations, our literacy block is set up to enable and encourage this best practice!

Students get to go “shopping” weekly.  They absolutely LOVE going to the classroom library to look for new books.  Each student is allowed to have 7 books in their book bin.  

The library is set up with a wide range of genres to ensure students have access and exposure to a variety of literature.

The first requirement for book selection is finding a just right book.   Students use the anchor chart posted in our room as a guide, but then take ownership of their own levels and learning by determining what book they think is just right for them.

Being cognizant of their own level helps them reflect on what they know and where they need to get.  Also finding “uphill” books encourages students to work even harder at reading so that they can read those books.

2-3 books match the spiral/genre that we are learning about, so after students have time in independent reading, they use books of the correct genre to work on their own strategies.

The amazing part of this is that all students are utilizing essential strategies that help them become strong, functional readers - but doing it with books that they are interested in and that match their reading level.  This differentiation allows each student to feel confident while independently applying reading strategies, rather than providing a single text that doesn’t meet the needs of every single student.

For example, one second grade standard is about making text to text, text to self, and text to world connections.  Students learned about the process through interactive read alouds, modeling and mini-lessons.  They then applied the learning to books they had self selected for their book bin.

The most amazing part of this literacy experience is the joy, motivation and love that students begin to find in reading.  They learn that reading is not just for school, work, but for pleasure.  They learn that reading can take you all over the world, that it can make you cry and laugh.  They learn that reading is not a task, but a way of life.

Family Volunteers at DAA

At DAA, one of our goals is to have 100% family attendance at all school-wide and classroom-wide events. We also ask our families to give at least 10 hours of volunteer time each year, in their student’s classroom, on field work, or at home working on crew activities. To some this may seem like a lofty goal for busy families with busy schedules, but at DAA we believe that if you set a bar high, not only will people meet it, they will exceed it! Research also suggests that student achievement can increase, and a student can feel more connected to their school when their family is involved and committed to the school’s mission and vision.

Since DAA opened, we have had a consistent group of families who have gone above and beyond in giving their time to the school. You can find them directing traffic in the mornings and afternoons during drop off, chaperoning field work, volunteering at fundraiser events, and helping during read-a-thons, book fairs, and other fun school-wide activities. Our families and teachers are also engaging via phone, text, email, and Facebook, as a way to stay connected throughout the year. Our families and staff members also interact on weekends at school events and sporting games.

Our hope is that all DAA families continue to feel welcome and get involved in a variety of ways! Every family member that wants to volunteer attends a Volunteer and Chaperone Training that is offered multiple times throughout the school year. Once you have been trained, you are set to help out at DAA for the next three years! As a staff, we are committed to continuously seeking new ways for families to be present at school, and then recognizing them for all of their hard work, perseverance, and responsibility to our DAA community. Stay tuned for a post at the end of this school year about our above-and-beyond family volunteers.

2nd & 3rd Grade // Becoming Experts on Native American Cultures

Over the past few months, 2nd and 3rd grade crews have been focusing on the true founders of North America: Native Americans. Through our expedition, our students are expanding their knowledge on the culture, importance and history of all Native Americans. We had a lot of fun making totem poles and wrote a paragraph describing how it represented us. We were surprised to find out that only Northwest tribes were the only tribes to create totem poles.

Also, thanks to our amazing art teacher, Beth Maddens, we were able to take a guided tour to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) Museum to see actual art and artifacts from Native American history.

We are now focusing more specifically on the Sioux Tribe. We are reading TONS of books we got from libraries all over Michigan and learning about the Sitting Bull, why buffalo and teepees were so important to the tribe and how connected they felt to the natural world. We showed our learning about the Sioux Tribe through informative paragraphs about different aspects of it, such as housing, tribe roles, tools/products and hunting. We are also learning about the current day Sioux Tribe and how the Dakota Access Pipeline is affecting them. We are starting and can’t wait to publish our hardback book, which will include a letter and illustration from each student to the companies funding the Dakota Access Pipeline persuading them to stop their financial contributions. We are sending a few of these books out to the companies, local libraries and schools. If you would like a copy (they’re around $20), please don’t hesitate to reach out. ☺

Kindergarten // Research, Plan, ACTION!

Ms. Carter’s kindergarten crew at DAA are hard at work to solve the problem of litter and garbage at DAA and in the city of Detroit. First they walked around the campus of DAA and on the sidewalks of Detroit to observe and record just how much litter and garbage has been thrown to the ground. They came up with the idea to write a letter, postcard, poster, and or a video to get the word out about the garbage and litter and explain the steps you can take to help keep our community clean.

Of course we cannot tackle everything on our plan list at once! So we voted to see which plan of action we should do first. There was a tie between making a video and a poster. Our next steps was to break into expert groups according to their interest. Let’s face it, garbage and litter affects so much in our community including humans, water, and animals.

During our Expeditionary Learning block, the DAA kindergarten crew split into 3 expert groups and began discussing what they could include on their posters to help others learn about the effects of littering and garbage.  Their background knowledge comes from numerous informational texts and videos which allows them to have a visual understanding of litter effects and recycling. They have also learned about rainwater, the relationship between plants (cutting of trees specifically) and humans, and even the recycling process. Who knew scientist came in such little packages.  

Hopes and Dreams at DAA

As the school year began a new batch of first graders buzzed with excitement for the year to come. They noticed immediately the differences between our classroom and their former home in kindergarten. Now that they were no longer the youngest, they recognized they would need to be leaders and set an example for others.

During the first few weeks, students were asked to share their thoughts on being a first grader. What they were looking forward to most? What did they hope to learn? And what did they hope to be able to do? “I can’t wait to count to 100!” “I want to write a book!” And, of course, “I can’t wait for recess!” Students brainstormed and we made a visual chart that listed all the different things members of our Crew want to accomplish this year.

Students reflected and thought to themselves about the ”one thing” most important to each of them—that they want to accomplish this year--their hope and dream. Students took their time and worked hard making sure their hope and dream captured their vision for the year.

Once our hopes and dreams were written down, students shared them with their Crewmates. Their hopes and dreams had us thinking, if we want our hopes and dreams to become a reality, we need certain norms and expectations to exist within our classroom. Students brainstormed various ideas such as “I want to be a great reader, so I am going to need quiet during reading time” and “I want to become a light leader, so I am going to need to show all of the Habits of Character everyday!”. We categorized and synthesized our norms into our “Crew Promises”. Students agreed these were the 5 norms/expectations that would govern our classroom and help us achieve our goals. Every student put their handprint around our Crew Promise poster and agreed to follow them as best they can every day. We refer to our norms regularly and they will be a great guide to help first grade reach their hopes and dreams.

4th Grade Compassion Mini-Course

At DAA, one of our core values is empathy and caring. That goes hand in hand with one of our Habits of Character, Compassion. We are lucky enough to have an incredible community that wholeheartedly supports dedication to these values. In Fourth grade, we are taking it a step further. As the oldest crew in the school, the students take it on as their responsibility to be leaders in everything they do. Compassion is no exception.

We’ve been spending the first few weeks of school working with our school social worker, Mr. B, taking a mini-course on compassion. In our course we’ve been learning about how to show compassion, how to build compassion between others, and what compassion looks through our everyday actions. For some students, talking about emotions and understanding another person’s feelings was incredibly difficult. It’s not easy to understand and accept the emotions of another, even as an adult. So working to build this kind of compassion in a classroom of 4th graders was not an easy task.

The first few days of the course consisted of some students ready to share while others looked around uncomfortable, laughing at the very real feelings of their crew members. Through different activities the crew began to build its compassion with each other. They built a lego tower where each student got to add a lego piece on for each compassionate action they did. The students shared tough emotions they were feeling so they could understand each other better. They built methods for solving conflicts peacefully. But most importantly the 4th grade worked together to begin understanding what true compassion means - showing kindness, care, and understanding in our everyday actions.

Second Grade Crew: Interactive Math Notebooks

Second grade is delving deep into number sense and place value.  To promote student engagement, our class is using an interactive magic notebook in this unit.  The purpose of the interactive notebook is to enable students to be creative, independent thinkers and writers. The notebooks are used to keep track of information presented in class, as well as create activities and learning experiences that meet auditory, visual and kinesthetic learners’ needs.  Students can process the information presented in minilessons and have unique interactions with the information, as opposed to simply using a worksheet.  As an initial review, second graders have started out with number sense, identifying how to find 10 more, 10 less, skip count and identify odd and even numbers.  

Rather than labeling a worksheet, students glue pockets with materials that they can use kinesthetically to master the skills.  For example, they have a pocket that holds all numbers used skip counting by 5s from 5 to 100.  Each number is on a small square. They can take out the pieces, order them, move them around and manipulate the materials.  They then have these pieces that they can return to use as needed in this unit and throughout the year.They also use spinners and games to interact with the concepts in their own individual way.  In one lesson, they used a spinner to find a number.  Then students drew a pictorial form of the number using a ten frame and saw if that number could be separated into equal groups.  If it could, then they knew it was even!  This provides a much deeper understanding of even and odd numbers than just looking at the ones place in a number.  

In our most recent math activity, students used project based learning to solidify their knowledge of odd and even.  They created a monster using a spinner, which introduced the concepts of probability.   They then looked at the number of body parts their monster had to find our if it was odd or even.  For example, a student presented her math “m -odd- ster” by saying “My monster has 3 horns, so I know he has an odd number of horns”.

Using interactive notebooks has helped our crew become engaged in and excited for math every day!  They also are thrilled to be the creators of their own notebooks and take pride in making sure they are completing high quality work that demonstrates the mastery of the skills.  

Self Portraits at DAA

At the beginning of each year at DAA, we create self-portraits in art class! This is both a useful and enjoyable endeavor that serves multiple purposes. One being that it gives students the chance to be (re)introduced to a variety of materials and expectations for their use. The process is not always the same from year to year, but in the past it has involved watercolor paint, tempera paint, collage paper, colored pencils, crayons, markers, oil pastel, chalk pastel, glue, and scissors. (I don’t like to wait too long to get the art-making started!) The creation of self-portraits helps with students becoming reacquainted with one another after summer and with getting to know brand new crew members.

We are able to discuss the differences between a self-portrait and a portrait, the reasons why an artist might feel compelled to create a lasting image of her/himself, background, and accuracy and proportion of facial features and other details of self. It is a chance to introduce the important concepts of both creativity and craftsmanship. It is a project that lends itself to the artist’s mentality of seeking and providing feedback that is kind, specific, and helpful.   

Self-portraits are reflected on and discussed during student led conferences, but remain in a student’s school portfolio. Their portfolio is a collection of high quality work maintained to show growth over time. By the time they are leaving us, along with classroom work, students will have a self-portrait and reflection from each year that they have had art class!

1st Grade's Garbage Pickup

Here at DAA, we spent the first six weeks focusing on what it means to be a member of our community. Students cooperated to create crew promises, wrote personal hopes and dreams for the school year, and created expectation posters that give gentle reminders as to what we should be doing where, that will live in the different shared spaces of our building for the rest of the year.

Talking so much about two of our Habits of Character, Responsibility and Integrity, in those first weeks of school set us up extremely well for our first 1st grade expedition topic: garbage. To begin this expedition, we took an observation walk first around the perimeter of our school, and then through our neighborhood, noticing the trash and litter lining some streets and in our park. Our students immediately decided that we needed to do something about the trash! In the words of one of our first graders, “When there is trash everywhere, people won’t want to stay; they’ll want to leave Detroit!”. We brainstormed ideas of how to combat this problem and the students came up with ideas ranging from hosting a community trash pickup day, to designing a robot that will travel around our neighborhood to pick up the trash for us. We decided to start small by simply spending our expedition time one Monday afternoon to pick up trash as a crew. We filled up two huge garbage bags … just in our own backyard park! The students couldn’t believe it, but as we debriefed, we realized: is picking up trash one time going to solve the problem? So later that week, we did the same thing, and the students were even more shocked to find that we filled up another huge bag full of trash only 3 days later! The students are convicted: we have to do something more! But as a crew we realized that before we can solve the problem, we need to learn more about how this garbage and litter is affecting our neighborhood, community, and world.

Update coming soon as to how these first grade world-changers do just that (: