4th & 5th Grade Crew // Math Lab

Math lab is our designated time to work on skills at our individual levels. Using a combination of NWEA Test scores, Math Benchmarks and Unit assessments groups are designed. Students are paired and grouped with student who are working at the same levels as themselves. While students work in pairs or with their groups, I am able to meet with small groups to review, reteach or introduce new skills. We recently begin to track our progress using trackers.

Students receive weekly trackers that include their objectives for the week, a schedule of their centers, an end of the week exit ticket and a reflection. Students use this tracker daily to record, compare and reflect on their progress throughout the week. This tracking system increases my ability to identify the exact needs of the students. It gives me immediate insight about how objectives should be adjusted for the following week.

Throughout the week, students have the opportunity to grapple with and work on expanding their understanding of their objectives. Recently we have begun to use Khan Academy to address our current unit. Khan Academy compliments our EngageNY curriculum, it allows for students to watch videos of the skill we’ve learned and then they are given the opportunity to practice them. While we aim for our entire day to be intentional, lab time is the most focused and individualized time of the day. Below is a copy of a student tracker:

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Art // Field Study at The Detroit Institute of Arts


The Detroit Institute of Arts is arguably one of the best Art Museums around! We are so lucky to have such an incredible resource right in our city and free admission for our students. For this field study I was able to take third, fourth, and fifth grade crews to study the African, Contemporary, and African American art galleries at the DIA. During the month of February we studied many different African textiles and contemporary black artists. Each grade level had to display cooperation and responsibility to complete a self-guided art scavenger hunt with their crew during their visit to the museum. For this initiative they had to find examples of the artists and artifacts that we’ve been studying in class and respond thoughtfully to each one through written reflection.

By giving our students the opportunity to see the art that we’ve been studying at school in person, students get the opportunity to engage in making deeper connections to the work we’ve done. Our students are inquisitive, opinionated, and excited to learn about how to grow their curiosity and creativity. Ask any of our students and they will likely agree that there is no better place in the city of Detroit to experience such an amazing collection of art, history, and innovation. We were able to see the works of internationally acclaimed artists such as Kehinde Wiley who is the artist responsible for painting Barack Obama’s latest presidential portrait, as well as some of Detroit’s own influential artists such as the late Gilda Snowden. Gilda was one of my own art teachers during my time at the College for Creative Studies and it is always such a pleasure to be able to expose my students to her vivid abstract works. To see students so engaged in having meaningful conversations about art while also having fun is why it is so important to utilize field studies.

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Our trip to the museum would not be complete without the help of our incredible grade level teachers who work collaboratively with me to plan incredible opportunities like this one. Through Expeditionary Learning we work together to get students and families engaged and excited about what we are doing at school and take that learning to the next level by bringing our students on trips to experience all that our community has to offer. The support of our entire DAA teaching staff and families is what makes each field study such a success because not only our students are hard workers but we had many volunteer chaperones who took the time out of their own busy lives to guide our students through this educational journey and model all the habits of character!


1st Grade Crew // Labs!

We are so fortunate to have an hour every day carved out for Labs! Labs extend and support key content from our module (reading and writing) lessons. Labs allow all students to access content knowledge of our unit through play, exploration, and collaboration. There are 4 distinct Labs in our current unit about birds: create, engineer, explore, and imagine.

Students are introduced to Labs during the launch stage where they practice routines, understand the materials, and establish expectations for the upcoming Labs. The launch stage gets students to wonder and anticipate more about our topic. Next, in the practice stage routines and expectations are reinforced and practiced. During the third stage—the extend stage, students become more independent, work longer at their centers, and their work becomes more complex. During the final stage—the choice and challenge stage, students spend half their time in the Lab of their choice and the other half in the Imagine Lab. Students work on a final product, while getting feedback from their peers.

Our unit has allowed students to experience hands-on learning through various activities. Our 4 labs are create, engineer, explore, and imagine. During the Create lab, students use their knowledge of bird body parts and their function to help design and create their bird sculptures. They identify the various shapes and details that make each body part and then sculpt those features using model magic. For our Engineer lab, students ask: how can I use my knowledge of birds to design a solution to a human problem? They use their knowledge of feathers, beaks, and feet to design solutions. Students use various materials (i.e., paper towel rolls that act as hollow bones) to design a device that solves a specific problem. Our third lab, Explore Lab, allows students learn more about bird bones and beaks as they engage in a series of challenges using materials similar to these parts. Currently, my Crew enjoys figuring out which beak is “best for the job” when collecting different types of food. They use various objects (tweezers, spoons, etc.) to mimic bird beaks to try and catch different types of food. It is really fun! During the Imagine Lab, students use poetry and movement to show what they know about birds, body parts, and how bird body parts function. Students dance and act out different poems related to birds. Students, often together with different groups, create movements to go along with poems—and their creativity really shines.

Labs provide such a great way for students to access key content we are learning in an authentic and fun way—where students are able to show off their curiosity, creativity, cooperation, and responsibility. Our Labs, scheduled for the last hour of the day, are such a wonderful way to end our day!

Enrichment // Music Club

This spring, I have had the privilege of spending my Monday afternoons singing and dancing with music club! Students in music have been working on learning five songs and dances to the mini-musical Stone Soup. Stone Soup is a story about travelers who visit a town of grumpy townspeople who have nothing to eat. The travelers teach the townspeople to make a special soup (called stone soup), but they require the townspeople to contribute food items they have at home. The townspeople soon learn that they can make something for everyone to be happy by sharing what they have themselves.

We’ve spent our music practices listening to recordings of the songs, singing and repeating small parts of the songs, and clapping out the beats to begin to learn basic rhythm. Students have begun to learn about following notes, learning what music notes indicate when to pause and when to repeat, and how to begin to control volume. We’ve been working with two volunteers, Fred and Jennifer Dewey, who have experience in a band, church choir, and musical theatre. Fred has taken us to the gym and stage to play on the piano, and the piano has helped us really slow down the notes to learn all of the words. Jennifer, who has a degree in dance, has been teaching us dance moves to go with each song.

In the last few weeks of school, we are assigning individual roles, singing parts, and speaking parts to students and practicing for our final performance. Look for an invitation to our final performance in June! We can’t wait to share what we’ve learned about singing as well as what we’ve learned about sharing to make our world a better place!

3rd Grade Crew // Reading Buddies!


As we near the end of the year, our 3rd graders are excited about reading and starting to feel more and more like leaders.  They've been working really hard on a couple key skills over the past few months.  They've been working on giving feedback as well as asking probing questions in order to push each other to think more critically.  By focusing on these skills, they've really developed as independent readers with a love for books.

A few weeks ago, 3rd grade had the opportunity to partner with Kindergarten to try out their new skills and share their love of reading.  At first they were nervous as they went through their books and chose something they thought their reading buddy would enjoy.  Once we got into partners, their nerves went away and you could see their excitement grow.  

What was really special about the experience is that readers at all levels were able to grow and support their Kinder buddies.  3rd grade took the opportunity to bond with their buddies and use their skills of giving feedback and probing questions.  Kindergartners were also really excited to have the big kids interested in their books as well.  Some shared all their books, others asked questions about what it was like in 3rd grade.  One kindergartener asked, "So is 3rd grade really hard"? Their buddy responded, "yeah, but you learn a lot so if you work hard you'll do great."  It's moments like these that make our hearts as teachers smile, seeing natural partnerships and compassion being built across grades.  We will definitely be continuing our reading buddies the rest of the year!

Recess at DAA!

DAA is a public urban school. However, we differ from many other schools in the various ways that we work to develop and educate the “whole child.” One of those ways is our philosophy on the importance of students having recess….TWO recesses at that!

DAA Teacher: “How’s things going for you at your school?”

Traditional Teacher: “With all the pressure from administration to meet our yearly achievement goals, I am STRESSED and that’s an understatement!” Sometimes, I just want to skip recess or gym. That time is cutting into the students’ instructional time.”

DAA Teacher: “Really? I cannot imagine cutting recess. The students literally need to have recess!”

Traditional Teacher: “I guess, you’re right! But I’m sure you could imagine how much more time can be spent actually teaching though. We have pretty ambitious goals for our students to achieve on the M-STEP and NWEA MAP assessments. Literally every minute counts!”

DAA Teacher: “We have ambitious goals for our students to achieve too.  We just believe that the advantages of having recess is huge part of that as well.”

Traditional Teacher: “Don’t get me wrong, I believe recess is important and all. But I’m just thinking about how to optimize my time with the students.”

DAA Teacher: “Yea but that time spent during recess is a necessary mental break for them with such a long day…that’s why we have two recesses everyday.”

Traditional Teacher: “TWO recesses???? Here it is, I’m thinking of ways to cut our ONE recess from 20 mins to 10 mins, and you’re telling me that you all give each student two recesses everyday.”

DAA Teacher: (awkwardly) “Uh….yea. It works for us! It helps us to truly develop the whole child- socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively.” And it’s supported by global research!”

Traditional Teacher: “Really? But you don’t feel pressure to spend more time teaching and working with the students academically?”

DAA Teacher: “Yes, I feel that pressure. We all do. However, that pressure is eased as students are more excited about finishing their high quality work right before recess. That pressure is also reduced when I notice that students collaborate better in academic groups because they’ve had ample time to collaborate often during recess. Finally, that pressure is almost eliminated when I notice that students are paying more focused attention during instruction because they had at least 2 chances to release their excess energy and antsy movement.

Traditional Teacher: “Wow!”

DAA Teacher: “I find that those mental, social, and physical breaks force both students and teachers to be more intensely focused and productive during instructional time- hence an overall less stressful educational experience for all involved.”

Traditional Teacher: “That’s fascinating!”

DAA Teacher: “And guess what? The students are still showing significant growth on all of the mandated school-wide assessments.”

Traditional Teacher: (smiling) “Well hey. Sounds like I need to be trying to adopt some of DAA’s philosophies in my own classroom. Thanks for sharing!”

DAA Teacher: “Anytime! I can share some of the research that supports what we do if you want.”

Traditional Teacher: “Ok. That would be helpful!”


Resource 1, Resource 2, Resource 3, Resource 4

5th Grade // Athletes As Leaders of Social Change

For us, it all started with Jackie Robinson...

For him, it started on January 31, 1919. A man who would someday be a legend was born. He worked hard and was a talented athlete, but he lived during the Jim Crow Era. This meant that his opportunities were limited. However, on April 15,1947 Jackie had a great opportunity to join the Brooklyn Dodgers. Branch Rickey gave him the chose him to join the Dodgers not only because he was a talented athlete, but also because he had strong character. His personality confidence and leadership made him the right man for the job.

There were many factors in Jackie’s success as a leader of social change. Some of them were people around him like family friends and fans. Others were the historical context of his time and of course, his habits of character. With lots of hate mail and all the racism going on throughout the country, his family supported him and kept him sane so he could change the world. One of the other factors in his success was that he had strong habits of character. He had respect for himself and others. He had courage and faith in our free society.


Almost exactly 99 years after Jackie was born, our 5th grade class started reading about him and learning about his legacy. Jackie believed that “A life is not important except on the impact it has on other lives.” He inspired athletes long after his time, and their stories have inspired us. This book is our way of making an impact on others’ lives. In the pages of our book you will read about barrier breakers, athletes who have carried on Jackie’s legacy by being great leaders of social change.

Every part of this publication was student driven. Students selected the athlete that they found most inspiring. Students created the artwork with Ms. Brott through a process of multiple drafts and revisions. They also conducted research, and created an annotated bibliography based on their learning.  They wrote the introduction, voted to select a title, created a table of contents, and decided that we wanted to sell our book not for profit, but to share the stories of these inspiring leaders of social change.

We ordered a few copies of our book for our classroom and our school library. If you would like you very own copy of our students’ work, the book is available for sale online. We hope that you enjoy it.

1st Grade Crew // Celebration of Learning!

Celebrations of Learning heighten the level of excitement among the Detroit Achievement Academy learning community. Students know a Celebration of Learning is a coveted event when they get to show off and display the hard work and learning they have done about a topic for their families and the school community. For three months, my first grade students studied the sun, moon, and stars, and at the beginning of February, they shared their hard work during this culminating event!

Families spent the evening as “students,” while students transformed into “teachers “ or “experts” on the sun, moon and stars. When we began studying this unit, students created a KWL chart --What I KNOW, What I WONDER, What I LEARNED. At the time, they could only fill out the ‘K’ and ‘W’ because we had just started our unit. Students had many wonders about our topic — “Where does the sun go at night? How does the moon change shape? How hot is the sun?”. While students had a tiny bit of knowledge beforehand, I looked forward to seeing the ‘L’ column (What I LEARNED) grow throughout the unit.

We began our unit by reading a letter from a curious boy who wanted to learn more about the sun, moon, and stars. This boy exemplified the curious first graders who sat before me. Through various narrative texts, students began to understand why the sun, moon, and stars inspire authors. Some of our read-aloud books included, Papa Please Get the Moon For Me by Eric Carle, Summer Sun Risin’ by W. NIkola-Lisa, and Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. Students responded to these books through role-play and written response. During our second unit, students began focusing on the science concepts of observable patterns in the sky. They tracked observations of the sun, moon, and stars through pictures and videos in their Sky notebook, something they will share during the Celebration of Learning. The final unit focused students on a read-aloud book What the Sun Sees, What the Moon Sees by Nancy Tafuri. Students first read the book to understand details about the sun and moon at different times of day. They used this book to inspire writing their own narrative poem about the sun. Students received feedback from their peers to help them revise their poems. This culminating project, a three-verse narrative poem about the sun, was another exciting piece of work students shared with their families.  

Students had opportunity to share all of the information they have learned and created as ‘experts’ during our Celebration of Learning. First graders sang a song, taught families a sun and moon movement routine, and presented their work in small groups to their families. Families were given a “question sheet” featuring the guiding questions from our unit to ask students throughout their presentations. Students’ responses showed off their learning!

During the weeks leading up to the Celebration of Learning, students were busy preparing to ensure they become ready and confident to display their expertise. They rehearsed, practiced, and received feedback from their peers. Prior to arriving to our Celebration of Learning, families were asked to fill out the same ‘KWL’ chart students filled out at the beginning of the unit. Families only filled out the ‘K’ and “W”— what I know and what I wonder. Once the presentations concluded, parents filled out the ‘L’— learning, and students were able to see all the information their family learned from them! It was so exciting for our whole crew!

Here are students giving and receiving feedback on the narrative poems they presented at Celebration of Learning:

2nd Grade // Field Work

During the morning of December 15, 2017, forty three excited and impatient second graders boarded a bus to the Ann Arbor Museum of Natural History. The air was buzzing with anticipation. During the long snowy ride, you could hear the little voices discussing “fossils,” “extinction,” “ichthyosaurs’,” and “paleontologists.” Peers were asking each other questions, trying to predict what treasures the museum would hold.

When we arrived, you could feel the kids’ joy. Students were eager to finally explore exhibits about the topics they’ve been learning about in the class. While exploring, each student worked as a scientist, using a note-catcher to document their findings and illustrate all the fascinating displays. You could hear students making connections to the work they’ve done in the classroom; they were reciting facts and information to others as they browsed. There were many “oohs!” and “ahhhhs!” as students learned new facts.

So why do we have “field work”? Why is it important to the success of students? Well, ask yourself this question- when you learn how to cook, do you just read the recipe and then you know it automatically? Unless you have a perfect memory, chances are, probably not. Just like chef’s need to create and explore with their ingredients, students need opportunities to extend their learning beyond the books. While rich texts provide an excellent source of information on a topic, they aren’t enough to make us experts in one particular topic. When students are able to have a direct relationship with the world around them and make authentic connections, they are able to expand their schema, and develop their own ideas!

Field work doesn’t only require students to use reading, writing, and listening skills. They are also able to develop their researching and critical thinking skills while they explore in the field. Students are also able to interview experts and raise questions they may have from their units in class. Students are able to take charge of their learning through field work by examining topics they find interesting and making connections to things they already know.

While it is an exciting day for students to get out of the classroom and into the real world for learning, field study is also essential for students to make real connections between what they’re learning in the classroom to the community around them. According to EL’s Core Practice’s, It provides opportunities for students to analyze multiple perspectives, voice their opinions, construct arguments supported by evidence, and to act in service to their communities.” By giving students an opportunity to achieve success inside and outside of the classroom, it will inspire them towards high-level academic achievement and bring learning to life!

Art // How We Achieve High Quality Work

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DAA artists have been hard at work in the art room creating beautiful and meaningful works of art. Students model expeditionary learning skills to reach their full potential, during each module students are encouraged to be reflective and thoughtful about their work through the peer review process and the creation of multiple drafts.

I would like to shine a light on the steps our students take to achieve such high quality work! The examples you see are from our third grade crew’s study of adaptations and the world of frogs. The first step in our process is research! For this assignment 3rd graders were asked to observe, investigate, and wonder about frogs. I ask students to make scientific observations and sketch the frog, unassisted. This is a great way for me to gauge their skills and abilities. Then step by step we learn how to draw a frog, practicing to build our knowledge of the frog’s unique body shape and features and confidence in our drawing ability.

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After learning how to draw frogs, we began research on the frog life cycle and habitat. We did this by creating an interactive life cycle wheel that the third graders will use as a tool to teach younger students. All of this knowledge and practice serves as a base for our final products that we will plan to use as a celebration of our learning from this EL module.

As part of our final product initiative, students learned about expert illustrator Jerry Pinkney and his artistic process, to help prepare for the creation of their own book cover about Freaky Frogs! Students had example images of frogs, their habitats and information about the other amphibians, plants, and insects that live there.   

Step 1
Planning Worksheet: Students use their research to develop an illustration that captures their learning.

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Step 2
First Draft: Students receive teacher feedback and start the first draft of their book cover.

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Step 3
Criteria for Success Checklist & Peer Review: Our checklist is used so students can know the expectations of high quality work. They go through this process with a partner, giving and receiving feedback on their work. For this peer review we used the praise, question and suggest protocol and each student received feedback to consider how to improve before beginning their final draft.

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Step 4
Final Draft: The final draft of our book cover for our end of module celebration of learning is where all the students knowledge, drawing skills and practice come together. The final draft of our book cover illustrates our students are active participants of receiving feedback and using it to refine and improve their work.

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