Wellness & Life Skills Class at DAA

We have a new special at DAA: wellness and life skills class! All DAA students receive wellness class one day during the week. According to our incredibly bright students, wellness means our hearts, bodies and minds feel happy and healthy. This year, all students will cover a number of different topics to make sure we all feel happy and healthy: loving ourselves and our friends, nutrition and exercise, dental hygiene, gardening, community service and more!

Our most recent unit is on dental hygiene.  Students began the unit by filling out a KWL chart.  This is a chart to track what students already Know, what they are Wondering, and then at the end of the unit, what they have Learned about dental hygiene. By the end of the unit students will understand and be able to verbalize (which is key!) why we do the things we do to keep our teeth clean! For example, if you were to ask any of our students WHY we get cavities and what happens when we do, they will be able to explain it’s because sugar and acid breaks down the enamel on your teeth and forms holes (cavities).  They will also be able to give examples of drinks that have too much sugar or acid, and even offer healthier alternatives.

In kindergarten, we conducted the eggshell experiment (eggshell is a similar texture to our teeth) and tested the different effects certain drinks have on our teeth. We dipped eggs in apple cider vinegar, milk, gatorade, coke, water and mouthwash.  The students observed the effects, touched the eggs, and recorded their findings with pictures and words.  All of the students were surprised to see the effect that gatorade had on our teeth--it turned the egg red, and made it very sticky! At the end of the lesson, students concluded that water and milk are the best options for our teeth if we want them to be “cold, hard and white”.

Perseverance in Math Class

At DAA, we focus on the social and emotional development of our students in addition to their academic growth.  To do so, we teach, practice, and reflect upon six Habits of Character (which includes compassion, responsibility, and perseverance).  We talk about these Habits of Character daily at our morning crew meeting, closing crew meeting, and throughout the day. My goal was to give students more specific strategies for one target within one Habit of Character: I can persevere on challenging math work.

I found that the math content in our unit was very rigorous and challenging for students. I know that they absolutely could tackle the difficult problems using various strategies, but I wanted THEM to know that they could tackle these problems and have the confidence, mindset, and skills to do so.

We started by talking about how we could show perseverance every day in math. We developed a chart that we hung up in our classroom that included such strategies as "going slowly", "doing one step at a time", and "learning from my mistakes".  I then had students set specific goals. At the beginning of each lesson, and again right before the exit ticket (a check to see what students have mastered at the end of the lesson), students wrote down a goal for the day by completing the sentence frame: "Today I will show perseverance by..." We would share as a class before jumping into the difficult work so that the perseverance strategies were at the forefront of student's thinking. At the end of each lesson we would reflect; how did we show perseverance today? What worked?  What didn't work? What can we continue to work on for tomorrow?

Finally, I wanted to build a system to celebrate students for showing perseverance in math. When students showed perseverance on their exit ticket and were able to show mastery of the math material, they were able to hang their exit ticket up on our "Wall of Fame." This gave them a lot of pride and allowed us to celebrate each other's success and growth. The "Wall of Fame" is in the hallway which also allows parents, teachers, and visitors to DAA to recognize and celebrate our students for their perseverance and achievement as well.

Learning Through Technology in Kindergarten

At DAA we LOVE good old-fashioned books, paper, markers, and glitter. But every once in a while we love diving into computer learning tools. There are four ways that I integrate technology into learning time: 1) Teaching with a smart board and ELMO, 2) using a program called Osmo on our tablet, 3) using Chromebooks for reading and math centers, and 4) our after school enrichment coding program.

Teaching with a smart board IS as cool as it sounds. We have used the smart boards to solve tough math problems, have dance parties, and to project high quality work on the board.  The students are immediately engaged when the smart board comes on. They know that they will be able to interact with learning in their favorite way.  The ELMO document camera allows students to post their work on the board and show all their friends all the ways that they met the criteria for success. You should see their faces when their work is magnified and the crew gives the students warm feedback.

The Osmo is the newest edition to our technology clan. You can attach a piece to your tablet and the table comes to life. Students create words, count and add, and create objects using blocks. They are truly OBSESSED with the Osmo.  This piece of technology also challenges the students to use the best form of cooperation. The rule is, “if I hear an argument that is not resolved, both of you have to leave the Osmo.” So, students work to share, take turns, and talk to one another all in a whisper voice. IT’S AMAZING!  

The Chromebooks are the kids’ favorite piece of technology. Everyday students log on to their Reading A-Z and Front Row accounts and have 20 minutes of learning through technology. They get to interact with questions that force critical thinking and use reading strategies independently.  The nature of working on the computer forces children to use skills that cannot be taught. They gain knowledge on ways to solve problems, in more ways than one, to get what they need to learn.

Lastly, coding is a new program brought to DAA by our lovely ACE coordinator. Students learn ways to create websites and do things on that Internet that I am just learning way after college.  Through this program, they truly feel like masters of the World Wide Web and it truly supports our Habit of Character of 'Curiosity and Creativity.'

Through it all, integrating technology into learn is a great way for students to use what they love to gather all the things that they need: knowledge.

Writing Like Laura Numeroff!

Laura Numeroff, author If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and numerous other books, is a favorite among our first graders. So for our Authors as Mentors writing unit, our first graders decided to study and try to write books just like her!  Of course, a lot of learning needed to happen before we could write and sound like her. We had to learn how Laura writes her books. We read every one of her books and noticed the structure she uses. Her stories include a character which follow a cause/effect/effect/effect relationship. This means if you give a mouse a cookie, he would then want a glass of milk, and then a napkin, and then a broom, etc. We also noticed Laura uses a circular format in her writing--what happens to the character at the beginning happens to the character at the end of the story too.


When we finished analyzing Laura Numeroff books, students used their creativity to write their own books! Students brainstormed different characters and objects, they ranged from “if you give a mummy a pizza” to “if you give a spider a present”. Once students had their title/theme, they began planning what would happen to their character. Writing partners helped students by watching them act out what their character would do next with their object making sure their proposed sequence of events made sense. Students expanded upon their ideas by including dialogue and transition words within their sentences. Next, students enhanced their stories with detailed and colorful illustrations, making sure their pictures matched their writing.


Finally, students shared their writing with the Crew as they reflected on one thing they were proud of and one thing they want to improve in their writing.

First graders really enjoyed writing like Laura Numeroff. It was fun and engaging. They took great pride in their writing! Their work can now be found in their portfolio--something that will travel with them from grade-to-grade and be shared with their families at Student Led Conferences.

Here is an example of one of the amazing pieces of writing a first grade student wrote: If You Give Godzilla a Cupcake, by Brandon


Yoga at DAA (Guest Post by Jay Stange!)

What is your name?
Justine Stange/ "Miss Jay" to the DAA family :)

Do you have any nicknames? Is there a story to go with that nickname?
My parents have actually been calling me Bird since the beginning. 'Jay Bird' came after that, since little can be done with my first name. And people always (ALWAYS) accidentally read my last name as 'Strange'..so I've since become 'Jay Bird the Strange', and it's stuck since. 

How long have you been practicing yoga?
I've been practicing yoga on and off for several years, though I've only recently found real commitment and connection the past two years.

What is your favorite pose/thing about yoga?
My favorite thing about yoga is the bottomless depth and possibilities that the practice provides. It's not about being perfect- ever. It's about being your most honest and authentic self. It's a practice that can give you everything- the physical body and mobility that comes with enrichment and health, but also an unparalleled self acceptance, love, and understanding of ourselves. Yoga isn't something that benefits you if you use it to judge, compete or compare with others; yoga benefits you when you come to a place where you can realize where you are, where you want to go, and helps to create space for exploring how to get there- in poses, and in life. 

Why did you want to teach yoga at DAA?
I was fortunate to meet and teach about 20 or so DAA students back in the spring through my then job. We did some light yoga and covered various aspects of nutrition and health, things very close and important to me. The eager minds I was met with, the open desire to learn and understand more, and the gratitude they expressed for the occasion honestly changed me. Along with changing what I want from my path as a teacher, it made me want to be available to teach and help develop these kids who want so much from their world.

Why is yoga important for kids?
Yoga is as important for kids as for anyone else, if not more. Though sometimes it can take a bit of time, patience, and understanding to grasp and develop the core concepts of the practice, it is still an amazing and beautiful thing that they get to start doing now! Though they might not get it quite yet, their exposure to yoga can help shape and develop their growth and success later on. As they grow, they will have the tools, knowledge, and vitality that yoga provides them as building blocks for shaping themselves, their choices and their future. 

Is there anything else you want the DAA family/community to know about you?
I would simply like to express my overwhelming gratitude for the opportunity to be involved with this program and these kids. We're at the very beginning right now, we're all learning together and already I have been surprised and inspired by where we have arrived. This practice is a journey. We all arrive on our mats at different points in our lives, for different reasons with different points of views and questions. I say that "yoga is everything and yoga is nothing" it never stops offering us chances to change, grow and better ourselves without ever asking for anything of us except for honesty, acceptance and compassion.  I want to make a positive difference in my time here (at DAA, in the world, life). I am excited to continue building the program with DAA next semester, and pleased to say that I might be offering a kids class at Citizen Yoga soon as well.

Jay also sells her wonderful juices, Alchemy, at Citizen Yoga Detroit

Our first student-nominated Light Leader!

Every day, all day long, we teach, reflect on, and show habits of character. We set goals with students and reflect on how they've grown in perseverance, integrity, responsibility, cooperation, compassion, and curiosity and creativity. We discuss how to change our behavior for the better and use habits to teach them how their actions affect others. Our students work these habits all day long, at home and at school. When a student embodies a habit of character in all that they do their teachers nominate them as Light Leader and we honor them as a school. This is one of the most special things that we do at DAA, and everyone looks forward to our Light Leader ceremonies. 

This year our Light Leader process was made even more special. Two of my students came to me and asked if their crewmate could be made a Light Leader. In the past, Light Leaders have only been nominated by staff. They were adamant in their decision - they explained and defended their nomination to me, the other teachers, and Ms. Kyle. For weeks they kept this a secret, watching her and finding more and more examples to show she deserved to be a Compassion Light Leader. They wrote short speeches about her and practiced while the rest of their crew was playing at recess or working in art. 

On the day of the ceremony, these two students got up in front of the whole school and celebrated their crewmate. They introduced her as our newest Light Leader, helped her put on her cape, and led her around while the rest of the school cheered her name. As a teacher, it's so special to see students taking ownership of school traditions and celebrations. We push them to own their learning and growth, and to see them so invested in their friends and the school was such a wonderful moment. 

Mindfulness and Meditation at DAA

The past few years has seen an explosion in research on the benefits of meditation.  As a lifelong martial artist and meditator I continue to practice and experience the benefits of meditation.  As part of my role as social worker I wanted to bring these benefits of meditation to DAA and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing! 

Our program consists of two weeks of practice with Mr.B to get the basics down.  After that students and/or teachers can continue on their own or as a group activity.  Since meditation is a part of many spiritual and religious traditions we make sure to use simple language and concepts to avoid infringing on the culture and beliefs of our families and students.    

If you would like to continue to help your child with their meditation practice here are the basics they have learned and practiced at DAA:

  1. Sit upright
  2. Choose a hand position that you like
  3. Check that your stomach, chest, and head are relaxed and open
  4. Choose one meditation object to focus on; either the feeling of the air coming in and out of your nose or your stomach moving with your breathing
  5. If you get distracted or forget that you are meditating that’s ok—just come back to your practice and get back in the ZONE!

Here are some of the benefits for meditation in case you want to know why we think it is so important for our students:

a.     Experienced meditators show brain activation of the brain area known as the prefrontal cortex (PFC) which is associated with attention, working memory and mental thought [1]

b.     An area of the brain known as the cortex has been shown to thicken in experienced meditators.  This area is associated with consciousness, motor control, and self-awareness [2]

c.      Meditation also has been shown to increase cognitive function and memory [3]

d.     Meditators also show an increase in GABA neurons.  This increase has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression [4]

e.     Meditation helps regulate the parasympathetic nervous system which means a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen metabolism [5] [6]

f.      After meditation increases in melatonin, associated with calmness, and serotonin, associated with positive emotions, were observed [7]

g.     Meditation has been shown to pump up our immune system by raising the level of cytokines and decreasing stress by lowering the level of the stress-related hormone cortisol [8]

h.     According to a study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, some intensive meditative breathing exercises may relieve asthma [9]

Since research into meditation is still new and developing we still don’t know all of the systems involved in making meditation so healthy for the mind and body.  By focusing on breathing and gaining conscious control over these functions, we are somehow gaining conscious influence over mechanisms in the body we had assumed were completely unconscious.  The future of this research will need to delve into how meditation is able to effect systems that we normally do not have access to! [10].


[1] Brefczynski L JA, Lutz A, Schaefer HS, Levinson DB, Davidson RJ (2007) Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 104:11483–11488

[2] Kang D, Jo H, Jung W, Kim S, Jung Y, Choi C, Lee S, An S, Jang J, Kwon J (2013) The effect of meditation on brain structure: cortical thickness mapping and diffusion tensor imaging. SCAN 8:27–33

[3] Travis F, Tecce J, Guttman J (2000) Cortical plasticity, contingent negative variation, and transcendent experiences during practice of the transcendental meditation technique. Biol Psychol 55:41–55

[4] Elias AN, Wilson AF (1995) Serum hormonal concentrations following transcendental meditation—potential role of gamma aminobutyric acid. Med Hypotheses 44:287–291

[5] Sudsuang R, Chentanez V, Veluvan K (1991) Effects of Buddhist meditation on serum cortisol and total protein levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lung volume an reaction time. Physiol Behav 50:543–548

[6] Travis F (2001) Autonomic and EEG patterns distinguish transcending from other experiences during transcendental meditation practice. Int J Psychophysiol 42:1–9

[7] Walton KG, Pugh ND, Gelderloos P, Macrae P (1995) Stress reduction and preventing hypertension: preliminary support for a psychoneuroendocrine mechanism. J Altern Complement Med 1:263–283

[8] Jones BM (2001) Changes in cytokine production in healthy subjects practicing Guolin Qigong:a pilot study. BMC Complement Alternat Med 1:8

[9] O’Connor E, Patnode CD, Burda BU, Buckley DI, Whitlock EP. Breathing Exercises and/or Retraining Techniques in the Treatment of Asthma: Comparative Effectiveness. Comparative Effectiveness Review No. 71. (Prepared by the Oregon Evidence-based Practice Center under Contract No. 290-2007-10057-I.) AHRQ Publication No. 12-EHC092-EF. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. September 2012.

[10] Buckman, J. (2015).  Meditational techniques and the accompanying biological markers. University of Michigan School of Social Work.

Motor Toys in the Motor City

Among the concern that students are not prepared for the work force, there is increasing focus on science, technology, math and engineering in our curriculum.  Kindergarten science standards require us to introduce the basic physics concepts of force and motion to students.  With this in mind, my colleague, Danielle Johnson, and I set out to create an expedition that would encompass these ideas, be engaging for our students, and focus on the strengths of Detroit.

The first part of our expedition focuses on helping students understand the importance of the scientific method.  Students learn the steps of experimenting while learning about their senses.  Knowing the scientific method prepares students to be curious about their world and to seek answers in an organized way.  It teaches them that taking chances and making mistakes are acceptable ways to help their brains to grow. By the end of our first case study, students can tell you the steps of the scientific process and what each one means: ask a question, make a hypothesis, try it out, record the results, and answer the question.

Internalizing the scientific process brings us to the next phase of our expedition where our “scientists” learn about several physics concepts.  What better way to introduce physics than through playing with toys?  Daily experiments and recording results in science journals bring science, math and technology together.  Our scientists learn to define force, motion, gravity, friction, sink, float, and air resistance.  They make parachutes and pinwheels, measure the distance of cars moved with force, race with recycling buckets, stand on chairs, roll cars down ramps, float objects on water, and explore videos of cars, planes, boats, and metro rail systems.

Using their results, student move to the final case study where they put their engineering skills into action. They have learned that their city is indeed the motor capital of the world.  In Detroit, we produce cars and sponsor the North American Auto Show. We have a world class airport and our city is built on the Detroit River, a shipping channel for freighters navigating the Great Lakes. We have a small metro rail system (the People Mover) and are in the process of building another rail system.

Students choose their specialty vehicle: car, boat, plane, or train. They create a concept drawing where they design their motor vehicle to move down a ramp, through a track, across a “pond,” or through the air.  Students build their concept vehicle with recycled products after listening to experts and experimenting with several different recycled materials.

When they are done, our students have truly internalized EL’s design principles of self-discovery, wonderful ideas, responsibility for learning, collaboration and competition, and respect for their world. They have a solid basis for becoming the scientists, mathematicians, and engineers of our future.

5 Ways We Integrate Expeditionary Learning All Day Long!

Photo by Ali Elisabeth. 

Photo by Ali Elisabeth

At Detroit Achievement Academy, we are a proud EL Education school. As you’ve undoubtedly read in previous blogs, such as Ms. Markey’s First Grade Case Study #1: Soil, our expeditions provide the foundation for deeper learning, high levels of student ownership, and exceptionally high-quality student work. What sets this kind of learning apart from other types of project-based learning is that our expedition content lives across reading, writing, and math. Here are five ways we integrate expedition throughout the day:

1)   We tie expedition content into our writing lessons. In order to be experts on a topic, students synthesize their learning in authentic writing opportunities. For example, to wrap up our Coffee Expedition (see Mrs. Compagner’s blog on second grade’s coffee expedition for more information!), our second graders are writing persuasive letters to coffee companies across the country about why they should donate coffee to our crew.

2)   We use expedition books as anchor texts for reading lessons. Teaching a lesson about non-fiction text features? What better way to integrate content than to use a book about your expedition topic as one of the anchor texts for you unit. Not only will students have a more authentic experience with their reading lesson, they will also have more exposure to expedition content to become true experts!

3)   We bring math skills into expedition activities. Students are often graphing and analyzing data related to expedition. One great example of this is our first grade expedition around rehabilitating a local parkthey surveyed our school to see what people would look for in a great park, graphed the results, and determined their next steps.

4)   We use rubrics that span content areas. A huge part of EL Education is producing a meaningful, high-quality product to be proud of that also provide evidence of student learning. Many of these rubrics include strands about reading, writing, listening, and speaking so that students are working toward the same standards-based skills in expedition as they are in other content areas.

5)   We are crew! A HUGE component of EL Education is the idea that, “we are crew, not passengers.” This mindset lives in every activity over the course of the school day as our students (and staff) work together to collaborate, give one another feedback, and support each other.