Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Civilized Debate in Launchpad

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Our Civilization discussions in Launchpad had grown stale.

Watching great college lecturers and following with Socratic Debates just no longer seemed as interesting as it once did.  So it was time to add some spice.

One third of Launchpad was assigned to play the role of Tories, those in the American Revolution who were loyal to King George.  Another third were assigned to be radicals like Thomas Paine.  The final third were neutral Colonists, unable to decide whether or not to revolt, tasked with asking questions of the Tories and Rebels.

At the end of the debate, the Neutrals would cross a line to join one side or another.  The winning side would earn more points.

Launchpadders watched a college level DVD.  Then went out and did original research, devouring letters, speeches and diaries from the period.  Finally, it was time for the debate to begin.

It was a spirited exchange, with raised voices on both sides.  Logic met with emotions and fevered appeals to loyalty.  By the end, the Rebels won by a whisker, likely just as it happened in Boston and Charleston.

Once again, we have heroes making tough choices as leaders.



Our Personal Finance Quest

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For the last few weeks, Middle Schoolers and Launchpadders have been hard at work on a Personal Finance Quest, preparing to thrive in the real world. Our quest goes far beyond delivering a few basic financial tools and skills, delving deeply into the helpful and destructive ways money can influence our lives.

We started by investigating the meaning of money for each person. Is money a proxy for security, love, power or merely a way of keeping score?

Next Eagles had to research the “ten hardest financial decisions you’ll face” and pair off in teams, preparing for a live end of session debate. We also started keeping detailed expense logs and began to learn to use spreadsheets like Google Sheets for financial projections.

Week Two focused on income: choosing three possible jobs and looking up salary distributions on Eagles couldn’t simply choose a high paying job. Each had to convince semi-hostile panelists he or she could excel at the position.  Even if an Eagle were hired, the panel could set a high or low spot on the salary distribution, depending on the power of the pitch.

Week Three was spent on expenses, as Eagles used the internet to pick and price  automobiles, houses, insurance, colleges and the other financial decisions he or she would face at age twenty five. Self-taught lessons in Google Sheets became more difficult, requiring formulas, sorting and other complex operations, with only the internet as a teaching tool.

Preparation continued for the Big Financial Question Debate, with work on inductive and deductive arguments; using ethos, pathos and logos to make more compelling points and drafting, critique and revision of opening statements, rebuttals and closing.

Some of the comments from the quest have been priceless:

  • “What do you mean I have to pay taxes? I already spent my salary.”
  • “It costs how much to go to college?”
  • “If my parents knew how much it cost to raise a child, I might not be here.”

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On Friday, Eagles practiced the art of haggling – asking for a discount with “Is that the best you can do?” –then spread throughout the city to haggle with unsuspecting merchants. Almost every Eagle achieved at least 40% off list price, and the winning team averaged over 81% in discounts from retail.

The final victory – one Acton Academy parent who read the preparatory material for the outing decided to give it a try and asked: “Is that the best you can do?”

She received a $2000 discount just for having the courage to ask question!

Our Launchpad Chemistry Creation Quest

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Launchpadders are hard at work on their Chemistry Quest Creation.

We are in Week Six of a ten week Introductory Duke University college level Chemistry course so Launchpadders have the basic vocabulary, tools, frameworks and historical perspective needed to design a Chemistry Quest for the Elementary and Middle school Eagles.

In addition, Launchpadders are:

  • Taking deep dives into the practical application of Chemistry and cutting edge challenges in areas like hydrogen fuel powered autos, cooking and the neurochemistry of addiction.
  • Writing 2000 word mini-biographies on Chemistry Heroes like Isaac Newton and Alfred Nobel, investigating the fears and passions that drove these heroes, while learning to translate complex scientific discoveries into clear language and compelling analogies that can be understood by the average person.
  • Preparing for an October 28th Exhibition with models, displays, experiments and simulations on Chemistry Heroes; Basic Chemistry and Real World Deep Dives, with the goal of inspiring visitors to learn how Chemistry can improve their lives, all powered by an engaging Chemistry Scavenger Hunt.

For each Real World Deep Dive, a Launchpadder must answer:

  • WHY – asking what problem or limitation in the natural world needs to be solved;
  • WHY NOT – describing a solution to the problem;
  • HOW – a detailed description of how Chemistry might provide the answer.

For example:

Why do people become addicted?

Why not protect people from addiction with a simple pill?

How do we need to chemically change brain receptors to achieve this?

By the end of the Quest Creation we expect to have a series of questions and experiments for the spring  Elementary and Middle School Chemistry Quests.

Learn to learn; learn to do; learn to be.


Week One: Conquering Our Fears with No Excuses

Can young people learn without hourly direction from an adult?

Anyone who witnessed the  flurry of team building and excitement Week One would be full of hope.  New relationships were forged; old friendships rekindled.  One new Middle School Eagle, summed up the mood: “I got more done in the last two days than in two months in my old school.  And it was fun too!”

Yet we know by October  some parents will begin to doubt.   Who could blame them? Report cards and standardized tests will be given at other schools.  Grandparents will raise concerns about college.  All we will have by then are one or two Exhibitions and a few dozen Khan Skills, which likely will be a bit rough.

This year’s Overarching Question will become all too real: “Must a Hero Conquer fear to find True Love?”

Yes, we could point out that our first graduating Acton Academy Eagle from Guatemala has been accepted to the University of California at Berkley to study Math and Neuroscience.   But one data point is no antidote for deep unease.

Here’s a Hero Story you can bookmark for when you need some reassurance.  And when you read it,  you likely not only will feel better about trusting young people to take learning into their own hands, but begin to realize just how high they can soar.