Morning Crew // A Time To Creatively Cooperate

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This year I’m very lucky to be a part of the morning routine with the Fourth grade cew. DAA is unique in that it values the time we share together as a whole crew. Each week Ms. Fowler and myself plan fun, engaging, and thoughtful activities for 4th graders to participate in for morning crew. We start each day with a greeting where we all get the chance to greet each other, it is such a great way to start the day! Then we do a share where students think about a topic and share their thoughts aloud. Using our school wide crew curriculum map we focus on a different topic each week and always relate them back to our Habits of Character. Our Habits of Character are compassion, responsibility, integrity, cooperation, curiosity & creativity, and perseverance. The sharing portion of crew is a great way for students to share their opinions and learn more about one another. It also provides them the opportunity to reflect on how they can show their Habits of Character during the school day. Lastly we plan an initiative which is a game or activity where students get the opportunity to practice while interacting with one another in a structured and fun way. 

As an art educator I am always trying to find ways for students to tap into their curiosity and creativity. Crew initiatives are the perfect place to implement fun challenges for students to work together and try something new! This year with fourth grade I have been providing them with opportunities to show their Habits of Character while also being able to think creatively. We have tried out some building challenges using different materials. Our first building challenge was using straws and modeling clay to work in teams and try to build the tallest tower! Our second building challenge was using different 3D building manipulatives to create a group sculpture. One of our last building challenges which focused on responsibility was to very carefully participate in a game of giant jenga! We even were able to show compassion and teach it to the first grade crew during our last Habit of Character Homecoming where we cheered them on as they stacked the giant jenga higher and higher! Morning crew is a time to creatively cooperate and get our mornings started on the best of notes.

6th Grade Crew // Brain Breaks

As an educator, one of the smartest choices you can make is to get to know your students. That is likely not a surprise to most people, but my reason behind it may not be one that you have heard before, so stick with me. 

When the first weeks of a school year come around, of course it’s good to learn favorite colors. By why stop there? Favorite foods, movies, tv shows, songs, sports, flavors of Faygo… kids still drink Faygo by the way. Learning all of that is great because kids love to share it and they’ll make connections with each other and you even learn what may be a good reward for them down the line.   However, when I look up at them during class, 9 times out of 10, those factoids don’t help me.

When I talk about getting to know a student, I mean a depth of knowledge you can only gain from consistency and trust. Getting to know what will hook a classroom of 25 to be engaged for a 60 minute lesson.  Learning what facial expressions mean “I’m zoned out” versus which expressions are actively listening. The real trick is figuring out when throughout a day or even a week a group of your hard working students have simply hit a theoretical wall or a temporary information intake overload.  BRAIN BREAK!

Brain breaks are tailored to the class they are being used for and the vibe of the class they are needed to be used on. A sluggish elementary class may need a 3 minute dance video to get their blood pumping and therefore their minds cranking again. Whereas an off task middle school class may need a few minutes of meditation to reset their focus. Detroit Achievement Academy teachers consistently use brain breaks to maximize student potential through the ups and downs of the school year. A key part of the break is explaining why it is happening and making sure students understand that they aren’t transitioning out of their class, but rather resetting within it! 

Relationships and understanding were the pillars, don’t forget. There must be purpose behind these strategic moments and if done successfully, they aren’t breaks from learning at all. If done perfectly, brain breaks are reminders that we are always learning if we open our minds to the subject matter.  

6th Grade Crew // Girls Advisory!

This year as we have started our first year of middle school we have begun advisory for our middle schoolers. Advisory is an opportunity to grow into a young adult and have a strong support system with staff members and students in their own grade. Most days our sixth graders are split into boy and girl advisories and focus on topics that benefit their own needs. In my opinion, one of the most exciting aspects of girl advisory this year has been our life skills days. Once a week we focus on a life skill that might not typically be taught in school but is beneficial once you are a teenager or adult in order to be more independent. 

The sixth grade girls have learned about topics such as financial literacy, basic cooking skills, hygiene, survival skills, and basic first aid. These have all been topics suggested by our students and have included future ideas such as basic sewing skills, how to change a tire, and career opportunities. 

Our financial literacy day consisted of how to write a check, balance a checkbook, how to read a credit card statement, and the basics of interest on credit cards and loans. On our cooking day we were able to discuss and practice hand washing for food preparation, knife skills and safety, and how to follow recipes for both salsa and hummus. Our first aid day touched on how to clean and bandage minor wounds, basics of CPR, and we went through a first aid kit and discussed what the benefits and uses of each supply was. 

In order to prepare our kids for future success we are trying to give them real world skills that are necessary in order to survive in the adult world. What are some life skills you would have benefitted from when you were in sixth grade? Please share more ideas with us in the comments!

1st Grade Crew // Mindfulness

Take 5 deep breaths. How do you feel? Do you feel calm? Were you able to focus and ignore distractions? Taking moments throughout the day to clear one’s mind and reset helps our students stay focused during the action-packed, content-rich first grade school day. 

Practicing relaxation techniques, which we call “mindful minutes”, are a valuable and integral part of our day. For example, after our 50-minute recess/lunch period, the daily practice helps students gain self-regulation and relaxation. When our first grade students come back to the classroom, they go straight to the carpet and as a crew we take 2-3 minutes to focus on various breathing techniques including: “balloon breath” (deep breath in, deep breath out pretending to have a balloon to blow up in one’s hands); “bunny breath” (3 short breaths in like a bunny, 1 deep breath out); “bee breath” (deep breath in, gentle buzzing sound out), etc.

Once I see that all students are resetting, they may choose their next “mindful” activity. For example, they can get a pillow from our calm corner to place on their desk or the carpet to rest their heads, they can get a coloring sheet to color independently, or even participate in yoga from one of our favorite websites—Cosmic Kids Yoga!

We also used another powerful calming technique called “Smell and Tell”. I will pass around something fragrant, such as an orange peel or lavender sprig for students to close their eyes and breath in the scent.

In addition to our set time, we take various “brain breaks” throughout the day to get our “wiggles” out. These brain breaks are a great way to release energy and have fun in a productive way. We typically use a variety of brain breaks from GoNoodle.com such as dancing, call and repeat singing, or meditation.  

Regardless of which of technique we choose, a different tone exists in the classroom after taking a mindful minute--one in which students are clam, focused and engaged. The time we carve out to reset sets the tone for our afternoon and the work we have left to do.

Social Work // To Be Mindful or To Not Be Mindful….That is the Question

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Living in the current fast paced/instant gratification type of society, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to remain mindful of our present moments and current states of being. Subsequently, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of life. Our various responsibilities, jobs, and other social and family duties consume us. Research suggests that such high paced, rudimental behavior causes people to have higher stress levels. On the converse, the American Psychosocial Association complied various studies that identified some benefits of people making an intentional effort to remain mindful. Such benefits include (but are not limited to) reduced stress, increased focus, and boosted working memory. Having a strong understanding of the importance of practicing, we as a school community realize that we all (staff and students) need to spend time being mindful daily.

At DAA, we value the time spent during the day to be more mindful, so much so, that we have designated times allotted for staff and students to practice mindfulness. Each crew leader provides time for students to regain focus and engage fully in various activities that make them more aware, and thoughtful young scholars. While the specific mindfulness activities may vary across each crew, each experience is intended to help students calm down after lunch, reflect on their day, and essentially reset for the afternoon. Such experiences are not only a best practice in schools nation-wide, but they also tie together nicely with our Habits of Character. DAA regards Character Development as a high priority for our school community. Therefore, we believe that allowing students to begin practicing mindfulness at this early stage of their lives, will ensure that they will grow into more thoughtful, compassionate, productive, well-rounded citizens of the world.

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Mindfulness in not a new idea. In fact, it is an ancient practice that spans across various cultures and religions. At DAA, we LOVE our mindfulness time. Students actually look forward to such time, and often are disappointed if they think they will miss out on that time. As we encourage our young scholars to remain mindful, we invite them to find time to be mindful at home with their loved ones. Below are a few mindfulness activities you can try at home with your family:



Stay Mindful My Friends,

Mr. Lemons

Kindergarten Crew // Problem Based Tasks in Math

This year at DAA, we have added a new component to our Math Block called Problem Based Tasks, which is a time for students to grapple with a challenging, open-ended math concept in a real-world context. Teachers purposely design the tasks to have multiple solutions or involve multiple strategies so that students can think outside the box and explain why something works!

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At the start of a problem based task, we read the problem together and then fill out a K-W-I Chart, which stands for “What do we already know?” “What do we want to find out?” and “What ideas do we have?” During this section kids can work with a partner to plan strategies based on what they’ve already learned in math class. Unlike traditional math lessons, teachers don’t confirm or deny whether students’ ideas or strategies are right--we let them plan and test their ideas to see what works! After students think of ideas, they choose one strategy they would like to use and find a partner that wants to use the same strategy. They then work together to solve the problem!

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In Kindergarten, we have recently been learning about comparing numbers using more than, less than, and equal to, as well as comparing measurements like capacity, volume, and length. For our capacity problem based task, students were tasked with creating a snack mix, using different amounts of snacks. The snack mix had to have a greater volume of some snacks and a lesser volume of other snacks. Students worked with a partner to come up with strategies (ex. “We can use bigger cups for the snacks that need a bigger volume!; “We can use lots of cups to measure snacks with a smaller volume and only one or two cups for the snacks with a lesser volume!”) They then went to their tables and started implementing their strategies! Teachers circulate during the work time and ask students open-ended questions that allow them to explain their thinking and make sense of the math concept (i.e. “How did you find out that ___ was more than ___?” “Which one holds a greater volume? How do you know?”) This was such a fun and interactive way to find different volumes and to understand more and less (not to mention, it was tasty!) 

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At the end of a Problem Based Task, we have a debrief where students can share out what strategies worked, what strategies didn’t work, and what they learned about the math topic. This allows teachers to see what misconceptions students had during the task and allows us to adjust future lessons to include direct modeling, more vocabulary around the math topic, etc. Although Problem Based Tasks are sometimes challenging because they are so open-ended and don’t have a clear step-by-step process for students to use, they allow students to take risks and try new strategies to see what works and to develop a deep conceptual understanding of the concept. 

2nd Grade Crew // Using a RIRA (Repetitive Interactive Read Along) to Inspire a Love for Books

In 2nd grade, we have a special time built into our day that is used strategically to facilitate a love of reading, while also building on other vital early reading skills. Before we dive into labs, we do a close read of a story, also referred to as a Repetitive Interactive Read Along or RIRA. Why add even MORE read alouds to our day? Studies show that having a teacher read aloud to students helps to increase their reading level because it models fluent reading. By following along and seeing how the teacher emphasizes different words, pauses at commas and periods, and pronounces difficult words, students can increase their own reading fluency. When students are exposed to complex texts that spark their interest, it inspires them to reach for more! Teachers are able to scaffold students’ understanding of a text because it is dissected over multiple days. Throughout the week, students are introduced to context specific vocabulary, new and interesting concepts, and are given the opportunity to make connections and inferences with the text. 

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The most effective read alongs happen when students are in the driver’s seat- making predictions, sharing inferences, answering text specific ‘why’ questions, and grappling with new vocabulary. By giving them a guide, such as a graphic organizer, students are able to organize story elements into a chart, and then discuss connections. While reading, I make sure to ‘think-aloud’ frequently, to model reading strategies for decoding as well as comprehension. While students could potentially find a central message or theme in just any book, it is highly beneficial to expose them to pre researched books rich in vocabulary, of high interest, just above their reading level, and with a variety of text features. The benefits of repeated exposure to stories in a RIRA structure show not only their reading development, but also in their confidence as a reader. As teachers, parents, and school leaders, we can ALL facilitate a love of reading by picking up more books kids love, and just reading to them.

To read more about the benefits of read alouds, check out http://www.readingrockets.org/article/repeated-interactive-read-alouds-preschool-and-kindergarten 

Special Education // Color-Coding: Above & Beyond Art Class

I remember when I was in 1st grade and my teacher told me she loved they way I colored. I was so proud of myself after that and felt so good that all I wanted to do was to color. Lucky for me, this passion grew into an organized chaos in which helped me learn best in school.

A lot of the accommodations that I use with my students is color coding words, phrases, texts, and anything that may help them organize their thoughts and keep everything in order.

Color coding can be beneficial to any student from any age. Did you know that color-coding improves recall time and can be an effective performance factor? It’s amazing really, what a little bit of color can do to help your child stay organized and on track with their assignments. Although we use it a lot at school, there are definitely some things you can try at home:

Color-code To Do’s: Do you have a system in place for after school activities but your child has a hard time keeping on task? A few colored sticky notes, or highlighted tasks  can help them remember when it’s dinner time, homework time, and play time!

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Rainbow Spelling: At school, a lot of our spelling words involve color! With just 2-4 different colors, you can have students learning to spell words correctly. First start with a light color then build up colors spelling that word. It’s a fun way to switch things up!

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Highlighting key words/symbols in word problems: This one would help everyone doing any basic computation! Start by highlighting math symbols so you know your student is computing problems correctly. At school, I usually highlight the subtraction sign for students who struggle to compute subtraction problems to remind them that it’s a “take-away” problem instead of addition. Sometimes they just need a little reminder. For word problems, I have students highlight key words that may help them solve the problem. For example,

“De’Andre had 8 markers. Liza borrowed some markers. De’Andre now has 3 markers. How many markers did Liza borrow?”

In this problem, we highlight the word ‘borrow’ as well as any important numbers we
need to solve the problem. This helps keep their thoughts organized while knowing
which operation to use. In this case, students would use subtraction.

It’s always fun to add some color to get away from the ordinary. Enforcing these habits early on might help them in the long run when they are more independent with their learning!

1st Grade Crew // Mindful Moments

Take 5 deep breaths. How do you feel? Do you feel calm? Were you able to focus and ignore distractions? Taking moments throughout the day to clear one’s mind and reset helps our students stay focused during the action-packed, content-rich first grade school day.

Practicing relaxation techniques, which we call “mindful minutes”, are a valuable and integral part of our day. For example, after our 50-minute recess/lunch period, the daily practice helps students gain self-regulation and relaxation. When our first grade students come back to the classroom, they go straight to the carpet and as a crew we take 2-3 minutes to focus on various breathing techniques including: “balloon breath” (deep breath in, deep breath out pretending to have a balloon to blow up in one’s hands); “bunny breath” (3 short breaths in like a bunny, 1 deep breath out); “bee breath” (deep breath in, gentle buzzing sound out), etc.

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Once I see that all students are resetting, they may choose their next “mindful” activity. For example, they can get a pillow from our calm corner to place on their desk or the carpet to rest their heads, they can get a coloring sheet to color independently, or even participate in yoga from one of our favorite websites—Cosmic Kids Yoga!

This month our crew will begin using another powerful calming technique called “Smell and Tell”. I will pass around something fragrant, such as an orange peel or lavender sprig for students to close their eyes and breath in the scent.

In addition to our set time, we take various “brain breaks” throughout the day to get our “wiggles” out. These brain breaks are a great way to release energy and have fun in a productive way. We typically use a variety of brain breaks from GoNoodle.com such as dancing, call and repeat singing, or meditation.  

Regardless of which of technique we choose, a different tone exists in the classroom after taking a mindful minute--one in which students are clam, focused and engaged. The time we carve out to reset sets the tone for our afternoon and the work we have left to do.

Social Work // An Introduction to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

When students are referred to me for behavioral or social / emotional support one of the most common tools I will use is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT has been proven to be successful in treating students suffering from anxiety, depression, lack of assertiveness, poor diet, specific phobias, grief / bereavement and many other common problems for children.

CBT is different from traditional “talk therapy” because it does more than offer advice to the client; it builds skills. A key component to CBT is it is a collaborative process in which the students are asked to test their learning or understanding of the skills in the real world.

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The basics of CBT is teaching how feelings, thoughts and behavior influence each other. By working on recognizing their thoughts, and challenging unhealthy or problematic thoughts, students are able to better their emotional state and improve behaviors.

Through the collaboratively setting goals and outlining agendas students have an opportunity to identify cognitive distortions, maladaptive thoughts and beliefs. After they have identified these pitfalls, we work to put them on trail, challenging the way the student thinks. We activate positive behaviors and see behavioral change.

CBT is just one tool that can be utilized when students receive extra social-emotional or behavioral support. It is proven effective and holds students to a high standard of being in charge of their change.