Category Archives: PE

Our blog has been kidnapped

Hi Acton Middle School Parents.  The PE department is taking over your blog! today. (One time only).

You might have heard from your Eagle that we are doing things a little differently in PE than we have in the past.  I thought I’d lay out for you the new curriculum, along with the reasons behind it.

The basics:  The class is broken up into three pods of 8, which will rotate every few sessions. On Mondays each pod competes in a sport (ultimate frisbee), and on Thursdays they focus on conditioning.

The big difference?  Coach Carpenter spends most of the class sitting on his duff, and the EAGLES lead the class.

How does this work?  At the end of every Thursday class, each pod elects a leader for the following week.  Leaders may not be selected twice until every one has led once.

On Mondays, leaders are responsible for:

  1. Helping me lead their pod in the warmup (I’m still active in this to ensure everyone warms up sufficiently).
  2. Selecting teams (within their pod) for the sport and changing them up as needed to ensure fairness.
  3. Keeping score, enforcing rules, and settling disputes (a biggie).
  4. Leading the good sport of the day discussion, and selecting that person.

On Thursdays, in addition to leading the warmup leaders will be responsible for:

  1. Designing the conditioning class for their pod, using the lessons they’ve learned from Coach Carrozza and myself over the last year and a half.  Each leader is free to design their own conditioning class within each pod (ie. there could be three different programs going on). I will be available for them to help them design a plan if they wish, but only if they ask at least two days ahead of time (not during class).
  2. Leading the discussion to choose next week’s leader, and selecting that person.

My goal for this is to increase each Eagle’s experience and skills in:

  • Leadership
  • Being accountable to their pod/providing constructive criticism
  • Public speaking/discussion leading
  • Sportsmanship
  • Fitness levels
  • Learning to Coach
  • Learning and increasing skills in a new sport.

At the end of the session we will have a three-way pod tournament in ultimate Frisbee, with the winning team to play the Acton guides.  This should be fun, and so far seems to be sufficient motivation for the teams to improve.

Again, my role during class is primarily to be a timekeeper (i.e. let them know when they need to transition, etc.), and to ensure their safety. And I’ll pick the music 🙂

So how did this work out the first session?

Sometimes great.  Sometimes not so great.  But we end every session with the Eagles providing constructive criticism to their leader, explaining what they thought went great, and what could use improvement.  It has been INCREDIBLE to watch the eagles grow during this first session, and to see how seriously they are taking their responsibilities.  I look forward to seeing how much further they grow the rest of the year.

And I really look forward to beating them in ultimate Frisbee at the end of next session.

Thank you,

Coach Carpenter

Vigorous Beginnings

Yesterday, Coach Paul Carrozza inaugurated his 2-month Athletics Project with the MS Eagles.Image

Eagles listened thoughtfully and worked HARD.  Later, they ranked the experience on the Daily Fun/Important graph:

blue = Fun (1 low, 5 high). and yellow = Important (1 low, 5 high).  Clearly, fitness is important to this group.





Anaya would like to point out that taking a break to recover is important, too.

Another beginning: Computer Science Club.  After a rigorous school day, 12 Eagles, 3-8th grade, stayed late for an extra hour of collaborative coding, led by 8th grader Mason Dickerson.  They were probably ready to head home by the end of that, right?

In fact, the five-minute warning to save their work was met with groans and protests.  What motivates them to work so hard?  This is the question they’ll explore all year long.

Who won?

Coach Carpenter made a special appearance in the Middle School Studio this afternoon.  And wearing a suit (not talking about the Speedo Laura gave him after the Olympics)!  The Eagles wondered: WHY?

“You just got back from a business trip?”

“You are heading to Ellie’s dance performance after this?”

Wrong, he informed them.  The suit is for YOU.

After a year of working with these amazing young people- driven and highly competitive, yet kind. Empathetic. Honest, and able to applaud the best in themselves, their team mates and their competitors.  After a year of this, Coach C came in with data both hard and soft, and certificates and medals for both.

Hard data:  School-wide push-up champ knocked out 70  in one minute, which, more importantly, was an improvement of mega-percents over her own previous record.   Similar stats for our 40-yd dash winner and our mile-run champ.

But the inarguable climax of the ceremony was when Coach invited the Good Sport winners of last semester to stand and deliver the trophies to the newest Good Sports.  How appropriate to have Eagles deliver the news, as they all voted on the issue with no input from any guides.

So who won?  Speculation crossed the room; names thrown out, it could have been anyone.  It could actually have been anyone.  They’re that good.

Congratulations to all the Eagles on their efforts, improvements, and sportsmanship this year- and congrats to Ana and Mason for being….drum roll…. Good Sports of the Semester!

And a HUGE thank you to Coach Carpenter for being a great role model, setting a high bar for the Eagles, and guiding them to value sportsmanship even more than winning… or at least act that way:).

Thanks to the Eagles’ fantastic sportsmanship, everybody won.

(Except the Spurs, unfortunately….)

The Acton Olympics

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Spring was in the air (and at 90 degrees, even a little summer) as we held the annual Acton Olympics today.

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Elementary and Middle School Eagles competed to see who was “most improved” in push-ups, the 40 yard dash, the mile run and other events.

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Perhaps the most impressive display came in “the plank,” where Eagles had to hold a fixed plank position for as long as possible.  Six Eagles broke the old school record of fifteen minutes, with the winner “planking” for more than 26 minutes.

If this doesn’t sound difficult, take out a stopwatch, assume the plank position, and see how long you can last (our Guides have a hard time making it past a two minutes.)

The joy of competition; personal improvement — and most of all – mental toughness.  All important if you want to thrive and prosper in the 21st century.

Gamifying PE

Coach Carpenter was out of town, pursuing an entrepreneurial mission.  So did we cancel PE?  Not a chance.  Before any Guide could intervene, several Eagles seized the moment and began planning the day’s physical activities.

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They even added an element of gamification to PE – with the puzzle problem below.

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In the afternoon, Eagles reviewed the Social Psychology experiments we have conducted, in preparation for Wednesday’s Salem Witch Trial.

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Writing their own stories, in every way…

Do what you say you’ll do, or follow your conscience?  Do you have the courage to be honest about your choices?  In this morning’s huddle, Eagles discussed adding a West Point-style honor code to their governance documents.  At issue in particular is internet use during free time.  While exploring the repercussions of offering our bodies junk or nourishment, and to what degree the level of tidiness reflects the learning space as a “landfill” or a Studio of Excellence, this age group is facing decisions re drawing boundaries for their interaction with the Web.  Student-generated guidelines will be introduced tomorrow after a town hall-style debate, and the decision is firmly the students’ to make.  Guides and parents stand together watching this important process, reinforcing the message that this is serious, the community is involved, and we absolutely trust you to argue with each other until you create an agreement that’s right for you.

Today saw the launch of Thursday morning Writers’ Workshops.  First project, tying in with the afternoon hands-on Detective Science quest: write a great detective mystery.  Eagles brainstormed about elements crucial to a great crime story, listened together to a classic Sherlock Holmes short, then revised their megalist to create their own rubric of excellence in crime/mystery fiction.  Agreeing that a detective (whether casual or pro) is a crucial character, they used StoryMatic to jump start ideas for character generation.  Until they didn’t.  Whoops- a Guide set a guideline without thinking it through all the way to make sure there’s an ultimate WHY.  Naturally many students rebelled; they can smell bogus a mile away.  In this case, the students were set free to use StoryMatic, or not.  Ask your Eagle which they chose.  The MS’ers take this seriously at least in part because they know that what they do matters, and that they, as brave and thoughtful adventurers, are creating a path for others to follow.

New path in PE: after an invigorating awards ceremony with certificates for Olympic Champions (whoever exceeded their previous best by largest percentage increase) and trophies for Best Sportsmanship (congratulations Ellie and Pace!), down to the field for….. Wiffle Ball!

Ms. Anna and Ms. Terri challenged the D.I.T.s (that’s Detectives in Training) to learn the science behind fingerprinting and analyzing data from footprints left at a crime scene.   Also a great lesson in following directions, as it turned out, and in cleaning as you go.
Tomorrow, a look at goal tracking for the week, a Town Hall meeting, the journal reflection contest, history in the yurt and a more meaningful version of (offline) Game Time.

Closing the loops; looking forward to the future

Now is a time to close some of the powerful learning loops we opened just a few months ago.

Last week, we started by closing the Art loop with an exposition of the Acton Dragons at Amy’s Ice Cream.

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Monday, we closed the PE loop with the Acton Olympics, returning to the same challenges Eagles faced in September, to record new personal records (Thanks Coach C!)

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On Wednesday, we close the loop on Projects, with the Game Expo and Film festival.

Below, yesterday Eagles practice and critique Game Expo pitches, with the Middle Schoolers feverishly working to defeat the Elementary School challengers by gathering more customer “votes” at the Expo.

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All week we are recording reflections on “lessons learned” from Math, Reading, Writing, Building the Community, Science and the Pursuit of Excellence, as Eagles prepare their final end of semester portfolios for Thursday.

Then – on Friday — a review of next semester’s adventures and a final CELEBRATION!

Self-directed, self-aware

Students entered the classroom to find a new desk arrangement, inspired by their own ideas about reducing distraction and enhancing productivity.  This tool served them well as they applied themselves to core skills with quiet intensity (well, not so quiet after about an hour when the Rosetta Stone headphones went on… but they quickly worked out a plan that allowed the few who weren’t doing foreign language learning to still have the quiet they wanted for their own goal-striving).

PE offered a well-timed physical break.  After the tough (but getting a little easier as we get a lot stronger) Acton Insanity work-out, volleyball was a chance to merge focus and sweat into a happy competition.

History came alive in the yurt post-lunch, when a special guest archeologist (and Acton mom!) inspired the Eagles with tales from her own Hero’s Journey, digging up the past to try to solve the ongoing mystery of pre-literate human culture.

During Project Time students were challenged by the probability quest projects as well as the basic human problem of sharing space and addressing your own needs without compromising those of your community.  “I’m really disappointed in the way I acted,” one student volunteered during a quick critique session on classroom behavior during the Quests.  (Her offense? Getting a little too enthusiastic about probability assessment!)

“This will help me later in life, when I’m trying to decide whether to take a risk,” another offered unprompted, as the lessons learned debriefing moved from behavior critique to real world application of concepts.

Last but far from least, this wonderful group of young adults modeled curiosity, self-management, and terrific discussion and critique skills for a young visitor who skipped kindergarten to learn more about what happens in a real middle school (and find out what the heck his mom does all day)- and were the most gracious hosts imaginable.  Go Eagles!!Image

What’s your paradigm?

After a morning of core skills and reading, writing and math – and PE –  today in project time we introduced our first scientific challenge.

Unlike many schools, which focus on the scientific method itself as the glue for a disparate smorgasbord of scientific topis, and often veer dangerously close to Scientism (science explains everything), we’re going to take a more Socratic, skeptical – and, well – scientific view of science as a whole, and expand from scientific discovery alone, to include invention and innovation.

That means using Thomas Kuhn’s Theory of Scientific Revolutions – or paradigm shifts – as our jumping off place.  So today we introduced a series of challenges about paradigms and watched videos on the topic and discussed the following questions:

1. What is more important in science – the scientific method itself or paradigm shifts?

2. Who accomplishes more: paradigm busters; those who pose and ponder puzzles; or those who do the hard work of collecting data?

3.  What matters more: discovery, invention or innovation?

Eagles then chose from a list of scientific heroes and paradigms the one person and period they wanted to research and soon were hard at work.  We’ll get to see their work in  an end of session public demonstration.

Above – students signing up for their scientific heroes and paradigms.

Next week – the ranch trip, where we will apply math and the scientific method in the real world.

Below: Eagles at the new Acton Bistro.

Acton Olympics

A big day for both the elementary and middle school students with the Acton Olympics – well done Coach Carpenter!   Middle school students competed in the mile run, 40 yard dash, plank hold, push ups and other events, setting personal records that they will work to surpass all year – and with enough improvement as a team, earn a special prize from Coach C.

Afterwards in the classroom, we had an intense discussion about “Why are you here?” that would have warmed the heart of any parent – special kudos to Jack for his description of “being placed on the earth to do something important,” his willingness to stand out “dressed in yellow, even if everyone else is dressed in black;” his belief that “fun” and “hard” are not opposites, and that “making a joke” out of your life or another’s life isn’t’t something Eagles should tolerate.

Thanks too for Sarah’s courage to take a stand counter to the rest of the group; Hayes’ amazing display of Socratic skills and Ana’s testimony as to the preciousness of life.

Finally, we closed out with more hard work on setting SMART goals, the Student Contract and Rules of Engagement.  Tomorrow, we go deep into core skills and accountability.