Monthly Archives: November 2016

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how:”- Friedrich Nietzsche

Superhero Team Silhouette

Measurement is important, but if can dampen motivation.  Short term rewards quickly lose their power, and can be counterproductive.  To understand motivation, you must dig deeply into “why” someone wants to work hard, to pour his or her soul into an effort.

Last session Middle School Eagles were asked about a personal passion and why they worked so hard to pursue it:

  • Sophia works hard on the violin because she wants to become a violinist, someone who masters a complex skill but can never quite perfects it.
  • A second Sophia practices the guitar, because she wants to  effortlessly create something beautiful, whenever she pleases.
  • Jaiden wants to express his ideas through drawing, so he can change the lives of people, because he wants his life to make a difference.
  • Ridge plays soccer because he wants to be able to improve at many new experiences, so he has options in life, and never has to be under under someone else’s control.

Our young people have very deep “why’s” in their lives, passions that schools seldom touch – even ours.  Nietzsche believed in a “will to power” and a Superman who could dominate others.  Our Eagles long to be a different kind of superhero, one who changes the world by offering gifts through passion.


Big Data Storms Middle School


Middle School Eagles have been immersed in a Data Visualization Quest, learning the questions, examples, tools and challenges needed to convert bits and bytes  into pictures and graphs to more easily create and discover truth in the world.


For the exhibition, Eagles:


Crafted a compelling question, gathered the data, cleaned up any errors or inconsistencies, chose the right display and took care to avoid “visualization traps” that could be misleading.


Delivered a “pitch” to convince someone to fund their project; and


Provided examples of the ways we track learning at Acton Academy.

What did we learn?  We learned that when discovering and creating truth, a picture may be worth a billion words.

“I was in my pick up, driving down Manor road…”


Lee Walker, the first President of Dell Computers, formerly a NASA award winning PhD candidate in Physics and one of the top professors at the University of Texas, launched his Cambridge-style Oral Examination of the Launchpad Eagles:  “I was in my pick up, driving down Manor road, hurrying to get here when a lightning bug dropped from the overpass…”

For the last five weeks Launchpadders were immersed in a Physics MOOC (Massive-Open Online Course,) conducting hands on experiments, exploring the lives of Physics Heroes and learning to think with the childlike curiosity of Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman.

Yes, being able to quote Newton’s Laws of Motion or the Laws of Thermodynamics and  F=MA matter, but far more important are having the curiosity and disciplined thought processes of a world class physicist.


For 90 minutes Walker asked probing questions about the force of his “2,000 kg truck accelerating at 3 m/s*s” impacting a lightning bug with “1/1000th of the mass,” weaving a fanciful tale Feynman would have enjoyed, ranging from gravity, to electromagnetism to the strong and weak nuclear forces to Quantum Physics and the Theory of Relativity. Eagles moved  between childlike questions of their own, using equations to solve problems, describing the discoveries of Physics heroes, reliving previous experiments and exploring analogies.

In the end it was simply great fun for the audience, witnessing a mix of structured and unstructured exploration of the wonders of the universe.


Launchpadders — shown here in a “thank you” photo sent to Walker —  next will create a  Next Big Thing,  a deep dive into an area of Physics we hope will become a personal passion.

Science: It’s Harder than it Looks

drop-1drop-3 drop-2

Repeating ancient experiments can be boring – unless you do it with a sense of wonder about the devices and thought experiments the ancients were able to create.

It also helps to do a little real data gathering from time to time.  It’s much harder to drop two balls “at the exact same time” than it looks.  Especially if you were Galileo measuring with a water clock, long before the invention of Iphones.