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 (:


Chess At DAA; It’s Not What You Learn But How Long You Learn It (Part 2)

Becoming A Master

“What separates Masters from others is often something surprisingly simple. Whenever we learn a skill, we frequently reach a point of frustration – what we are learning seems beyond our capabilities. Giving in to these feelings, we unconsciously quit on ourselves before we actually give up.” -Robert Greene, Mastery.

When I took a closer look at the EEF study one number stuck out: 30. Over the course of one year students received 30 hours of chess instruction.  I thought, “30 hours?! That’s it?!  This number symbolized for me all of the above desires for a quick fix to the educational gap.  In the race to find a quick fix we overlook the exact element that truly produces intelligence and mastery in human beings: time!  In this way we miss the second step to mastery and therefore the methods to unlocking our true powers of intelligence.  The students who were taught chess were not taught to become serious chess players on the path to mastery or even shown what the path to mastering a subject looks or feels like; they were only taught to play a legal game of chess.  In that way it’s no surprise, in my opinion, to have no effect on grades.   One hour a week is simply not enough and now, thankfully, we have proof.

Chess At DAA

“It is time to reverse this prejudice against conscious effort and to see the powers we gain through practice and discipline as eminently inspiring and even miraculous.” -Robert Greene, Mastery.

At this point I hope it’s clear that I do not see learning and playing chess as a magic bullet.  What I have seen, however, that is completely magical is when a lot of dedicated and intense time is put into any form of learning—chess included!  At that point one has not learned just chess but how, in time, to master any subject or skill.

If we look at the number of hours our chess students at DAA spend learning and playing chess we can immediately see a difference to the EEF study.  Chess club, meeting twice a week during the school year (2.5 hours weekly), will hit over 80 hours of chess practice.  If we look at our intensive summer program then, in one month, students will easily hit 20 hours of chess practice.   Whether chess alone will have an impact on grades apparently needs more research but the abilities to work hard for extended periods, to overcome challenges, to study something in all it’s complexities, and to never give up on what interests you are the very foundations of intelligence itself.  In that way chess is a fantastic arena in which to discover and hone those abilities.  So is art, music, sports, science…

"The real thinker sees the connections, grasps the essence of the life force operating in every individual instance.  Why should any individual stop at poetry, or find art unrelated to science, or narrow his or her intellectual interests? The mind was designed to connect things, like a loom that knits together all the threads of a fabric." -Robert Greene, Mastery.


Final Word

There is no quick fix.  Chess, as well as any other activity, simply does not hold the secret formula for the creation of super students.  What we do know, however, is that using chess, or any art form of learning, as a base on which to learn how to approach mastery does produce intelligence and of the highest possible order.  I don’t mean to be overly critical of the EEF study; they have certainly discovered that 30 hours of practice is not enough to see results, at least grade-wise, so I hope that research will continue on in the hopes of finding that real number of hours that one needs in order to develop, understand, and wield the tremendous intelligence contained within the path of mastering a subject.  If current ideas are correct it will probably be far from 30 and closer to 10,000.

Chess At DAA; It’s Not What You Learn But How Long You Learn It (Part 1)

“When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient.” -Robert Greene, Mastery.

The Science of Chess

If we look at the massive amount of research into the benefits of chess we find that:

Chess has been proven to improve IQ, create more neurological connections in the problem solving areas of the brain, increases computational thinking, and can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.   It’s also very important to note that these beneficial effects get stronger the longer one sticks with chess.

A recent study by The Educational Endowment Fund (EEF), however, showed no grade improvement in children who learned chess.

As an educator, therapist, social worker, and chess player I just knew there had to be a mistake!  So I took a closer look and what I found both helps to explain why the study showed no grade improvement and why our whole view of quick fix educational interventions need to be completely overturned.

The Magic Bullet

“In the future, the great division will be between those who have trained themselves to handle these complexities and those who are overwhelmed by them -- those who can acquire skills and discipline their minds and those who are irrevocably distracted by all the media around them and can never focus enough to learn.” -Robert Greene, Mastery.

We want an educational panacea. Some activity or practice or intervention that will, in one fell swoop, solve both the achievement gap within the United States and the gap between the performance of students in the U.S. when compared with the rest of the world. The idea that chess might be that miracle cure has continued to gain traction.

And they are wrong. Chess, or any other activity, will never solve the educational gap because it’s not studying chess that will stimulate intelligence but truly how you study chess.   

The Path to Mastery

In his book, Mastery, Robert Greene lists five steps on the path to mastery.  Greene links the path to mastery as, “a form of power and intelligence that represents the high point of human potential.” Sounds perfect for our educational needs right?!  

Let’s look at the five steps:

1.  Discover Your Calling; noticing your “primal attraction to some activity or form of learning.”

2.  Apprentice With Intensity; spend a lot of focused time on the activity

3.  Gain Social Intelligence; learn the ways of the world

4.  Awaken Creative Energy; allow yourself time to become creative

5.  Develop High Level Intuition; allow time to integrate all you’ve learned

I’ve included a number of quotes from Robert Greene’s book in this post because of how much I think the ideas contained within his book speak to our desire to find ways to unlock the keys to intelligence in our students and ourselves.  I believe that we are completely missing step number two in our desire to find quick fixes.   If dedicating a lot of time to an art form of learning is the key to powerful intelligence then any quick fix to the achievement gap should be immediately seen as actually counterproductive and totally superficial!

Second Grade Expedition // Access to Water

DAA second graders Skyping with two Ivory Coast residents about their access to water.

DAA second graders Skyping with two Ivory Coast residents about their access to water.

“Detroit Achievement Academy exists to holistically support the education and development of students who have the determination, drive, and skills to shape their own path of high achievement with the ultimate goal of creating civically engaged, joyful citizens who are ready to change the world.

Even in our mission statement, one of our desires is to get our kids out there, to think outside of themselves, even outside of our school, into our community, and into our world. The 2nd and 3rd graders are in the midst of our second expedition, all about water. In the first case study, the students focused on answering the question, “Where is water on earth?”. We did an in-depth study on the water cycle, where students created short stories from the point of view of a water droplet traveling through the phases of the water cycle, and read them to our kindergarteners to teach our youngest DAA scientists about the water cycle. Once the base understanding was set, we dove into some deeper questions.

We grappled with the heavy topic, “Does everyone have access to clean water?”. We talked about how though our journey to get water looks like turning on the faucet or grabbing a water bottle, not everyone’s journey is as easy. And not only is it not as easy, the water that they do have access to isn’t always clean! There are 663 million people in our world who are living without easy access to clean water. But we didn’t want to just read about it, we wanted our students to interact with it, to understand the depth of the water crisis.

Four summers ago, I had the opportunity to live in the Ivory Coast in Africa to teach a summer school to local students whose school year had been cut short. In the backyard of the home that I stayed in, was the village’s central well. Everyday there was a constant stream of children and women that came with their buckets, jugs,  and large bowls to collect water from the well and bring it back to their homes for their daily use. When we began to plan this water expedition, I knew immediately that we had to somehow connect this world and our DAA community.

A few weeks ago, our second and third graders had the opportunity (thank you Skype) to interview two locals from the Ivory Coast to hear about their journey to get water, and how that journey affects their day to day life. The locals spoke in French and a local language, and the woman I stayed with while living there, Linnea, translated for our students. After the interviews, Linnea carried her laptop into her backyard where our students were able to see a group of 5 children, about their age, collecting water from the well. Once again, our students were able to ask them questions about their daily lives, able to compare and contrast their day to day lives with these children on the other side of the world. It was so powerful, and I hope it’s an experience our students never forget, that they don’t take for granted the fact that we can turn on the faucet, or grab a water bottle from the fridge. And who knows, maybe the next pioneer to solve the water crisis is one of these second and third graders sitting in the classroom.