Monthly Archives: October 2015

“Welcome to my financial life at age 25….”


“Welcome to my financial life at age 25….”

With these words, a Middle Schooler launched our Personal Finance Quest, the culmination of five weeks of work where each Eagle:

  • Researched the most important financial decisions he or she would face in life – like deciding whether college is worth the cost; selecting a profession; and choosing when to start a family.
  • Kept a log of personal spending, to see how cheaply you can live, without sacrificing the things in life that matter.
  • Learned to use Google Spreadsheets to create personal income statements and balance sheets from age 25 until age 70.
  • Practiced writing, critique and revision; as well as delivering ethos, logos and pathos; preparing to debate life’s most important financial decisions; and
  • Most importantly, explored whether money represents a false sense of security or love, instead of just a way to keep score.


The Exhibition started with a series of debates, as Eagles faced off with opposing arguments on life’s most difficult financial questions.  One crowd favorite: “Is having children a wise financial decision?”


Following the debates, visitors examined each Eagle’s personal finance displays and spreadsheets, asking probing questions about “financial life at 25.”


We ended with a discussion of “lessons learned” by guests and Eagles about money and its relationship to a life well lived.

Reading, writing and arithmetic – important.   Lifelong lessons about personal finance and the meaning of money – priceless.

When we return from Fall Break, we begin a Behavioral Economics Quest, to explore how instincts and impulses can derail even the most carefully constructed financial plans.



Baking for Science


“I just realized there’s no way I can cook twenty eight cakes for the Chemistry Quest Exhibition. It’s simply too expensive.  And I can’t reduce the recipe any further, because I need one egg yolk per 1/2 cake.”

“So what are the choices?”

“Well, I have to keep the experiments that deliver the most learning about Chemistry.  Those are essential.   I could drop a few where the substitutes for products like salt and vanilla aren’t likely to work.  But I need to keep the experiments that substitute for ingredients like eggs, that most often will be in short supply, because that will have the largest practical impact in the real world.”

The next day…..

“Good news.  I’ve reduced the list to ten experiments that will prove ninety percent of what we need to know, and I’ve dramatically cut the budget.”

Just a cooking lesson?  No.  It’s exactly the same critical thinking process a real science would use when forced with budget limitations.

Repeating decades old experiments may demonstrate the Scientific Method, but at the risk of boredom and turning bright minds away from science.    Far better to tackle more complex real life challenges, like needing to deliver a Wedding Cake as promised, even after you’ve discovered that some critical ingredients are no longer available.


“Dude – You’re Seven Million Dollars in Debt!”

per fin

“Dude – you’re seven millions in debt!”

“That can’t be true.  All I did was borrow some money for college and buy a house.”

“Well, interest payments do add up.”

“Not that quickly. Something’s not right with my projections.”

“Well, you must have forgotten to use ‘F4’ to fix a cell or misplaced a negative sign or mis-copied a formula..  Let’s take a look and see how to fix it.”

If you are familiar with spreadsheets, this may sound like a conversation between two CPA’s of MBA’s.   Actually, it’s a critique session between two Acton Middle School Eagles, working on the Personal Financial Quest.

Real world problems.  Real world tools.   Eagles learning from Eagles.

The best learning of all.




Back at the Ranch

We packed as much learning and fun into the Middle School Ranch trip as is humanly possible.

We started with a series of team based competitions.

ranch obstacle

First, a spirited obstacle Navy Seal course contest that included trivia clues and “spelling a sentence” challenges.

Next to the paintball course for some target competition, including a few parent approved human targets.


Finally, building a raft and sailing across the lake and back to determine which team would have first choice of a bed and an extra helping of smores.


After so much activity, mounds of BBQ quickly disappeared.  Just after sundown, we gathered around the fireside for a ceremony where each Eagle burned a picture of “how I want others to see me,” instead choosing to pursue a heroic quality like curiosity,  courage, kindness or perseverance.

A spirited game of flashlight tag and capture the flag followed, then The Truman Show movie — and finally  – bed (or at least, “lights out.”)


6:00 AM came early, as our first group began a long hike towards Lone Mountain to watch the sunrise together.  Why do Heroes climb mountains?   So we can see farther.

Each Eagle left a small stone or symbol on the mountain, as a solemn commitment to the heroic quality he or she had chosen the night before.

Our covenants are signed and sealed. The tribe is formed.  Let the learning continue!

Our Natural Instincts as Parents


Our natural instincts as parents are driven by the “happy chemicals” in the brain like Oxytocin, Dopamine, Endorphins and Serotonin and the “unhappy chemicals” like Cortisol.

When a son or daughter succeeds, Serotin rewards with a chemically induced surge of: “You are a good parent” pride. When a son or daughter struggles, Cortisol brings discomfort.   If we intervene, Dopamine sends an evolutionary reward for protecting our future DNA. Evolutionary science at work.

Unfortunately, these natural instincts often interfere with the skills needed for our sons and daughters to earn independence. One way or another, real world lessons will be learned, beyond the reach of parents. In traditional schools, the lessons often come from the shame of poor grades, exclusionary cliques or bullies who lurk in the shadows.

At Acton Academy, we reward effort and character with more freedom and responsibility. In the Elementary studio, our focus is on kindness and respecting the rights of others. In Middle School, self-management and consistently delivering high quality work are more important, as is servant leadership.  By Launchpad, the freedom and accountability systems look more like Google, Apple or Bell Labs than a school.

None of this means our natural defense systems as parents aren’t triggered. It’s an evolutionary and chemical reality. But if we truly believe in the Hero’s Journey, we have to override these impulses for the Hero’s Journey to do its magic.

Why do You Get up in the Morning?


So why do you get up in the morning? A sense of duty to family? For a paycheck? Out of habit?

When Launchpad Eagles were asked this question…. silence. Follow by more silence. Then a few halfhearted responses like: “College, I guess.”

These are the best and brightest young people we have. Hard working. Independent. Deeply invested in the Hero’s Journey. Still, the best we’ve offered them as a society to the meaning of life seems to be: “college.”

Only 19% of Texas High school students from graduate from college within six years of leaving high school.  According to national estimates, only half of these college graduates will find a job worthy of a college graduate.  So less than 10% of Texas high school students will find college level jobs. For disadvantaged young people, the number is far lower.

And, of course, life is about far more than your job.

As a society, we are failing our young heroes.  It would be difficult to design a system to produce worse results.

We will do a better job serving our Launnchpad Eagles, whatever it takes.  As a start, we’ll offer for challenges to help spark a calling:

  • Circles of Trust – intimate, protected discussions about what matters in life and why.
  • Tortoise-like Contemplation – protected, quiet reflection times, free from distractions. Time for free writing or deep thought, armed with only a pad, pen and an inspirational reading.
  • Learning by Doing – setting SMART goals and measuring progress towards a goal that matters to the individual. Finding the “AND” so you can access personal passions while doing something that’s valued by the world.
  • Servant Leadership – practicing serving others, in a way that encourages your growth and theirs.

We’ll also ask Launchpadders to identify what drives her or him personally, and why:

  • Who I am.
  • Where I belong.
  • My promises.
  • Winning the game.
  • Curiosity
  • Serving others.
  • Pursuing an Opportunity
  • Righting an injustice or fighting against something.
  • Fighting against something or someone.
  • Duty to a person or God.

Accessing deep pools of inner motivation is an important and never ending life skill. The answer of “Why should I get up in the morning?” is a difficult one, and many of us change our answers as we grow.

College can be an effective and transformational experience. But answering “college” to the question of “Why do you get up in the morning?” will never be a sufficient answer at Acton Academy. We expect far more from our young Launchpad heroes.