Monthly Archives: October 2014

An Explosion of Entrepreneurship

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The Eighth Annual Acton Children’s Business Fair was buzzing with commerce Saturday as two hundred entrepreneurs from dozens of schools peddled their wares to over fourteen hundred customers.

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This talented Acton Academy Middle School artist earned $1,068 in profits — yes profits –– and still has half of her inventory to sell.   That’s fortunate, because at the fair she received retail orders from two local stores and an invitation to collaborate with a well known blogger who has over 750,000 followers.

Our artist sparked a growing army of devoted customers, including an autograph seeker who said: “You’re going to be famous one day”  and a photo request from a student who wanted to “show his business school professors what a real business looks like.”

There are even bigger plans underway, including “building a website that sells by telling a great story” as part of this session’s Acton Academy Quest.

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Our artist’s tale echoes nine year old Mikaila Ulmer’s story.  Five years ago Mikaila launched her Bee Sweet Lemonade at the Children’s Business Fair and now has a Lemonade Empire that sells through  Whole Foods stores across the Southwest.

Plans to launch Children’s Business Fairs in Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale and Grand Rapids, Michigan are brewing.

Worried about the economy?  Then let’s inspire and equip these young entrepreneurs and watch your worries be swept away.



Bravery Under Fire

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A knife slipped off the kitchen table – ouch!  A nasty wound, quickly dressed by a fellow Eagle trained in minor first aid.

That evening, parents informed us their brave Eagle insisted on coming to campus the next morning, though they were sure she needed to stay off her feet.

The next morning our young hero climbed the stairs, one difficult step at a time.

Bravery under fire.  At Acton Academy, perhaps even more important than reading, writing and arithmetic.

Sessions Two and Three: Crafting Stories that Sell for the Web

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Quick – what’s the most important skill for an entrepreneur: Sales, Operations or Finance?

If you survey seasoned entrepreneurs, you’ll find most agree that Sales is the most critical function.  If you have an army of enthusiastic customers who vote with their dollars, you can solve most operational or financial problems.  Without eager customers, your business quickly becomes a money losing black hole.

So what’s the most important Sales skill?  Being able to tell a convincing story that sells (and is true to your values and long term vision.)  Successful entrepreneurs spend much of their time describing an resistible future for customers, investors and employees.  Storytelling is the secret sauce that creates great value out of nothing.

Staying with this year’s genre of storytelling, our focus for Sessions Two and Three will be creating stories that sell, specifically, stories that sell via the internet.  Eagles will learn to create powerful hooks, using a few vivid words and pictures or a series of trickle emails; moving prospects from awareness of a need; through qualifying all the way to closing the sale.

Each Eagle will choose a product and create story boards, test their pitches in focus groups, and finally learn enough programming to create a website and auto-respond letters to convert leads into customers, at pennies per purchase.  They’ll also create a blog to attract leads.

In the end, Eagles will pitch their creations to a panel of real ad executives, to see who might be hired for an apprenticeship.

Yes, we’ll still be hard at work on math at Khan Academy; reading Deep Books, performing Between the Lines literary analyses and learning Ninja writing tricks – but in the next few weeks, Eagles will dig deeply into the most important entrepreneurial skill of the twenty first century – crafting a story that will sell on the web.

An Exhibition on Authority and Truth

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Last Friday, we wrapped up Session One with an Exhibition on Authority and Truth – planned and led entirely by Middle Schoolers and Launchpadders.

The Exhibition had three main parts:

1.  Eight Authority and Truth stories, performed live by their authors;

2. Two Personal Learning Plan demonstrations; and

3.  The posting of the Contracts and Covenants drafted by our Middle School Eagles to form their tribe.

The Authority and Truth stories were original, lively, engaging and entertaining. The performances were even more impressive when you realize they were drafted, critiqued, revised and rehearsed without any help from adults.

The Personal Learning Plans exhibited by each Eagle showed the power of self directed learning, with Gifts, Passions, Best Work examples and a Badge Plan that will serve as a firm foundation for the rest of the year.

Most importantly, after a great deal of hard work, we now have our tribe formed, with solemn promises backed up by ironclad covenants.

Now it’s time for Eagles to take the studio and learning to an even higher level.




Learning to Communicate


How do you learn to communicate and persuade? By writing, creating images, shooting video and standing in front of an audience.

All serious artists know that mastering a medium requires nurturing the creative process; honing technique and having the courage to show your finished product to an audience for critique.  All of this is hard work.

At Acton Academy, our budding artists learn four simple questions, similar to learning and repeating four dance steps, to decide where to invest their time, talent and energy:

1.     Why do I care?

You need a reason to communicate, and we believe you shouldn’t ask for someone’s time unless you plan to:

  • Issue a “call to action” that will change the world;
  • Share a story that changes the participant;
  • Stretch yourself, honing skills in a way that requires effort, perseverance and courage.

2.     Where am I in the process?

Each communication genre has a process. For writing it is:    Pre-writing to rough draft to revision to critique (repeating revision and critique as many times as necessary) to edit to performance or publication.

At each step you ask yourself:

  • Where can I hone my skills and broaden my perspective?; and
  • Do I need to back up, move to the next step or start over?

3.    Which trait needs my attention?

The 6+1 Traits Framework offers ways to improve one element of your work: Idea Generation; Organization; Sentence (or Image) Fluency; Word Choice; Voice; Convention (grammar) and Performance

For each element you ask:

  • What frameworks, tools and advice might hone this part of my craft? and
  • Where can I find examples that inspire me to improve?

4.     Where should I get my next critique?

The final step requires asking for advice.  Does the next critique need to be your own review; advice from a close friend or expert; feedback from a small or large group or comparison to a world class example?

Four dance steps, repeated over and over again, applying new tools and frameworks to different genres, each time with purpose and dedication. That’s how young heroes become world class communicators.