Category Archives: Celebration

A Heroic Year

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Masai warriors are fierce. Yet the traditional Masai greeting is a tender question: “Kasserian Ingera?” or “Are the children well?”  The traditional reply: “All the children are well” signifies that life is good, because the children are growing and flourishing.

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Thursday the middle school Eagles assembled at a nearby ranch for a celebration of the year, with obstacle course challenges, swimming and fellowship.

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Late that night we circled around a campfire. Eagles reflected on the past months of hard work, describing how they had grown and sharing  “greatest lessons learned.”  Words of gratitude flowed from friend to friend, directly from the heart.

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We welcomed dawn from a mountaintop, looking towards the horizon in silence, with reverence and anticipation for the year to come.   On leaving, each Eagle made a sacred pledge to future growth, the growing  pile of stones a group commitment to the individual dreams of each young hero.

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Last night, we celebrated with parents and friends, listening to speeches from graduating  Eagles.  We left in awe of our young heroes, with great hope for the future they will create.

Kasserian Ingera.  All the children are well indeed.

“One of the most amazing things I have ever seen.”

Ideas have consequences.  Heroes armed with ideas change the world.

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Sugata Mitra changed education with his Hole-in-the-Wall Experiments: armed only with the internet and each other, some of the poorest children in the world bested students and teachers from elite private schools.

Last week Sugata Mitra visited Acton Academy to lead two of his SOLES (Self Organized Learning Environments.)   The Eagles loved their SOLES, though some wanted more “learn to do” action.

Afterwards, one of the youngest middle school Eagles led a powerful impromptu Socratic Discussion, with all the skills of an Oxford Don.

Sugata Mitra asked: “How long did she have to prepare?”

“No time at all,” came the reply. “It was spontaneous.”

“That’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.”

Quite a compliment, because he has seen quite a lot.  What an honor to have Sugata Mitra spend time with all of us.

The End of an Era; the Dawn of a New Adventure

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Significant passages deserve to be recognized and celebrated.  Ceremony and ritual are an important part of the human experience and a Hero’s Journey.

Four young heroes started in the Little Blue House at Acton five years ago.  Now they have earned to right to pass from the elementary studio to the middle school.   This brave group marks the last  who will remember the launch of Acton Academy and the bravery it took for Founding Families to start out on an uncharted journey.

We marked this passage with a weekend ranch trip; an evening ceremony by the fire; the creation of FAMP, a small tribe that will enter the middle school dedicated to changing it for the better with three objectives to by transferred by the actions of the tribe. (The meaning of FAMP and the three objectives will remain a secret within the tribe, which will be melted into the middle school tribe on December 1st.)

In the morning, we walked in silence before dawn to a hilltop with forty mile views.  In silence we watched the sun rise.  Each Eagle placed a special memento in an ancient rock pillar and marked the moment with a word dedicating themselves to the journey ahead: Try; Future; Responsibility; Diol (an imaginary word meant to distract you from your troubles.)

Heroes conquer mountains; then rest and recharge; then look for new challenges on the horizon.   The end of an era; the dawn of a new adventure.

An Apprenticeship Celebration

Launching a new business; landing that special client or securing an apprenticeship – each of these is reason enough to celebrate with a friend.

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So on Friday the thirteen Acton Eagles who have secured an apprenticeship or started the negotiations for one took each other out for lunch to celebrate.

It was a humble celebration.  One Eagle, on seeing the outdoor taco restaurant  El Chilito remarked: “It’s exactly like a food trailer; just no wheels.”  Spartan though it may be, the food at El Chilito was delicious and it was a beautiful day to hike to lunch.

More importantly, we toasted the bravery of thirteen young heroes, each of whom had written an irresistible email , launched it into cyberspace and received an affirmative response.   Knowing how to discover, pitch and land your next adventure is a 21st century skill worth celebrating.

How many questions should a Guide answer in a perfect day?

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We recently held a reception at Acton Academy for  The over one hundred Disruptors and Educators who attended were treated to a Quest: a scavenger hunt to discover the answers to a series of provocative questions about Acton.

At one point in the presentation, the Eagles took over answering questions from the crowd. In a word, they were “brilliant.” Or as one parent put it: “It was magical.”

There were some humorous moments too.

One visitor couldn’t believe the Eagle’s answers were spontaneous.  He kept asking: “How did you stage that so perfectly?” (Answer: We trusted them.)

Later, a traditional educator, seeking to answer a question on the scavenger hunt list, turned to an Elementary Studio Guide: “So how many questions does a Guide answer in a perfect day”

In perfect Socratic Guide mode, he replied: “How many do you think a Guide answers in a perfect day?”

“At least 200,” she said.

Her companion disagreed: “At least 400. Maybe 500.”

The Acton Guide provided a clue: “We’ve been having a contest that records how many questions we answer in a week.  You can see the results in the Elementary studio.”

On a whiteboard in the Elementary studio was the answer: “Ms. Terri  2.  Ms. Samantha 1. Mr Brian 11.” (Eagles had been trying to trick Mr. Brian all week by catching him off guard with personal questions.)

The two traditional teachers were heard saying: “I just don’t understand how this place works.”

Neither do we.  We just know that it does.

We have liftoff!

The Rocket Olympics finished with a bang – or to be precise, seven powerful blasts.

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We started with a few last minute preparations and a review of the different rocket designs and artwork, with voting by Eagles from the Elementary and Middle Schools.

Next, it was time for seven dramatic countdowns that led to seven spectacular launches — rockets shooting and twisting far out of sight, until with a “pop” parachutes emerged.

We had six successful recoveries and an 84% success rate, with several Rocket Teams making surprisingly accurate predictions of their rockets’ trajectories, especially given the brisk 10-20 mile per hour, swirling, gusting winds.

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In the end, the winners celebrated, complete with an Olympic style rendition of the national anthem.

Rocket Scientists of the world unite!

Celebrating Our Last Friday Adventure for the Year

How do you motivate a hero?  That remains our overarching question for the year.

Often the Hero’s Journey is seen as a solitary one, a series of challenges for the individual.  But in truth, it’s almost always taken in community, and serving others brings a sense of satisfaction and joy that prepares a hero to reach even loftier heights.

Today, in our final Friday Adventure for the session, we put entrepreneurship aside to celebrate by caroling in the neighborhood.

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From Acton Academy elementary, to the train station, to a hospice, to an art gallery to a local church, our Eagles delivered songs and holiday cheer to our neighbors.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Feliz Eagle Bucks

Having a classmate ask for an Eagle Buck is a great way to remind a studio-mate to  follow through on his or her commitments in the Contract of Promises.  In fact, just as in the real economy, it’s difficult to imagine how civil society can function without a currency of some sort.

From time to time, however, excess of Eagle Bucks can build up in the system.  If there are too many bucks in circulation, they lose their value, and intentionality suffers.

Today Eagles were given the choice to redeem Eagle Bucks for: (1) sports equipment for the class; (2) a cookie party or(3) donating to the less fortunate.

Thanks to the generosity of the Eagles and the ingenuity of Oxfam America, two chickens, two goats, a sheep and assorted water cans are now on their way to less fortunate families in Africa.

What a great way to spend excess Eagle Buck liquidity.

What is a Friday Adventure?

Friday Adventures are special events tied to the weekly Quests.  For example, last week’s Friday adventure was to go to the Bookpeople bookstore, and do rapid prototyping research to see how Eagles could improve the cover, title or organization of their Bestselling Books.

While Eagles may love the “adventure” – being able to go somewhere with their studio-mates, each outing also delivers a serious entrepreneurial lesson.

In order to qualify for a Friday adventure, you must self certify that you have completed the  fundamental challenges from the weekly Challenge Envelope, and delivered your “best work.”  If you miss earning a Friday adventure, the outings can be completed later with a classmate or friend – you just miss out on the fun of going with the group.

What is this week’s adventure?  We can’t tell you, because this week’s Friday Adventure won’t be announced until later this morning, adding more intrigue and (hopefully) motivation.

One hint: It will involve the question: “Is that the best you can do?”

Stay tuned.

Out of this world

Work hard; play hard. That was this session’s motto.

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Yesterday we worked hard, with the Hero’s Motivation Debate and Personal Learning Plan Exhibition.  Today, when the Eagles arrived we announced a surprise: We were all invited to ride the train downtown to see Gravity, a hauntingly beautiful new movie about space, with award winning cinematography.

A perfect prelude for Session 4, when we’d be studying the motivational effects of “feeling small” – standing on the edge of the universe as we build rockets, versus “feeling big” as we explore a microscopic world and perform chemistry experiments.

There was a twist with today’s trip, however.  The Eagles paid for the outing, popcorn,  lunch and drinks with the Eagle Bucks they’d accumulated during the semester.

A “well earned” celebration indeed.

And the winners are….

The big day finally arrives…Freud vs Jung; Machiavelli vs Victor Frankl; Plato vs Carol Dweck.  Some of the world’s foremost experts in motivation stand toe to toe, debating which theory best describes human behavior.

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Tension was high with last minute preparations.

The opening: rock, paper, scissors to see who goes first. The Opener has two minutes “in the box” minimum to begin; three maximum. The Challenger follows.  Each then has two minutes to rebut and another one minute to close.

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The pace was fast; the barbs sharp.  Allegations of logical fallacies were as thick as the ethos; pathos and logos.  But in the end, only one Motivation Hero would be the winner for each pair.

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After the debates, each Eagle has two minutes to show his or her Personal Learning Plan, an electronic portfolio that describes an individualized learning plan for the year – created by the Eagle.

Parents and visitors then tour the studio looking at writing samples and displays of individual work.

Who won?  It would be easy to every Eagle, because there was so much learning. But at Acton Academy, just as in the real world, not everyone gets a trophy.   Failure is just too big a part of learning to ignore.

In the debrief, the question was asked: Do we want to equip and inspire successful Eagles or Eagles who succeed and fail?  The Eagles unanimously supported the latter, and firmly rejected the idea that everyone should win an award.  Our Eagles know they are preparing for the real world.

In the debrief, Eagles describe three kinds of failures:

  • When you prepare all you can and leave everything on the field, but come up short;
  • When you prepare all you can, but make some mistake that costs you a victory;
  •  When you don’t put your heart into preparing, and aren’t ready to compete.

The first type of failure is noble; you can’t ask for more.  The second is a learning opportunity.  The third happens and should be acknowledged, but never excused.

Newsflash: A Guide is About to Answer a Question!

But first, a congratulatory shout out to the nine Eagles who earned their Independent Learner Badges over the past month.  We celebrated them in a special school-wide ceremony Friday morning.  There are only 7 pictured below because two were pursuing dreams off-campus that day; Eagles lead busy lives!

Though there will never be homework assigned at Acton, completing the missions and challenges to earn the Badge involved making time at home for things like baking bread and doing research to pitch a trip, garden or new pet to their family.  These Eagles have proven their ability to work independently, analyze information, solve problems by themselves, and follow instructions carefully.


These nine now join seven other Middle School Eagles (and one in the ES!)  in working towards earning the next badge in the series, the Running Partner Badge.  They will learn how to help others set goals and identify and reach for their greatest dreams; they will learn how to have difficult conversations, how to set a relational covenant, and much more.  Some of this work will be done while guiding younger Eagles in the elementary school, an exciting development for our student-centric community.  The Badges are a crucial part of the work Eagles do at Acton.  If you haven’t, consider asking your child which badge challenge they’re currently working on, which has been their favorite, which has been the hardest.  The standard for “passing” each challenge is that the Eagle certifies they’ve done their very best work.

Okay, so about that question mentioned in the title.  In the middle school you’ll hear, “Guides don’t answer questions,” sometimes many times each day.  A bit sassy perhaps, but never meant to be discouraging or indifferent.  The polar opposite, in fact:  it’s a gesture of deep respect.  In the studio on Friday, Eagles discussed the role of Guides.  One offered that the most important thing a Guide can do is “to set up guidelines then sit back and let the classroom function on its own”.  Another wrote that Guides should “ready us so we can turn the classroom into a student-run studio”.  Many thought that for Guides to keep their promises to the Acton students and parents was the most important thing.

One promise we make to the families is that we believe each child is a genius capable of changing the world in their won unique way.  But answering a question says that we don’t trust them to be able to come up with their own best answer, to engage in the potent thinking, research and analysis we believe each of them are capable of, or to learn from their mistakes.

Eagles, the number one reason WHY Guides won’t answer your question is…. drum roll, please…. we absolutely positively 100 percent completely respect your intelligence.

( Okay Gage, you got me.  I answered that one.  But never again!)

Celebrating a Milestone

Friday morning, we gathered along with the Elementary School to mark an big milestone achieved this summer by four Middle School Eagles (and one highly motivated fifth grader!)- the completion of the Independent Learner Badge.
While Eagles don’t suffer homework “assignments”, at Acton they must teach themselves to manage their time, juggle projects, and prioritize. The work involved in gaining the Badges is completely up to the Eagles to organize, and make time for, or not. One  aspect of our over-arching Motivation Question for the year will be to explore what motivates them to work so diligently to accomplish the Badge Challenges.

One prediction: witnessing the pride on the faces of those who’ve mastered the Challenges, and the wonder and honor on the faces of their peers as their efforts are applauded by the whole community.

Ready for Liftoff

Today was the launch of the new Acton Academy campus, complete with 25 middle school Eagles (of course, counting Ellie, who is on an around-the-world adventure, and will be joining us by Skype.)

So what did we accomplish today?

  • An icebreaking exercise where Eagles quizzed each other, one-on-one about  personal Portfolios and asked their favorite “What motivates a Hero?” question (our overarching question for the year.)
  • A “comfort zone/challenge zone/panic zone” hands-on experience.
  • A  competitive egg tossing contest, complete with complex cost-benefit calculations.

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What, no reading, writing or arithmetic?  Well, as a matter of fact, we did work in some Core Skills practice, including starting to re-evaluate Khan Academy’s new dashboard and some journal writing and “reading aloud” to group members (a brave task for some who had never before read their inner thoughts aloud.)

Plus, we practiced launches and Socratic discussions in groups of 24, 12 and 8, just to test the dynamics.

And finally, Eagles self organized for their first (messy) clean up, since they’ll be responsible for most janitorial services (including scrubbing toilets.)

Lots of work for a first day, but our goal these first few weeks is laser focused: To make Acton Academy so much fun that no one ever wants to leave, while setting sky high standards for being a member of the the learning community.

Because once you get this magic right, the rest is easy.