Category Archives: Place

Fun Campus Improvements

Two new campus improvements are generating great glee among the Eagles.

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GaGa ball is drawing a crowd of elementary and middle school Eagles alike: before school, after school and during every break.

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Construction Corner is like having a human sized LEGO kit.

The Eagles have worked hard all year, so a few new toys and lots of summer fun are well deserved.  Enjoy.


Seeing the world as it is

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The rate of technological change in the world is breathtaking.  Ten years ago, at the Acton MBA classroom, we installed a series of high definition cameras in the Socratic Classroom so MBA students could debrief their performances on video.  Total cost: over $500,000.

Last week we installed eight discrete high definition cameras in the Acton Academy studios, allowing us to record “to the cloud” every interaction and discussion between Eagles.  Total cost: $3,000 – including a much more user friendly playback system.

Our goal is not surveillance.  In fact, parents and strangers are not allowed access to the password protected system and we’ve pledged never to use the system in a disciplinary way. (Eagles are allowed to review the video, with permission from the Council, to settle any disputes over a breach of the promises Eagles have made to each other.)

Instead, Eagles and Guides now have the ability to record, review and critique every performance, either individually or as a group.  The energy around these critique sessions has been high, and we’ve already seen a quantum improvement in discussion techniques and embracing the  “rules of engagement.” (Even though standards already were high.)

This also gives the nine other Acton Academies we’ll have open by fall the ability to learn from each other, since having password protected access to cameras in each studio is a precondition of opening a new Acton Academy. Just imagine how this will multiply the rate of experimentation and learning.

New technology. Direct feedback. Rapid learning.  It’s going to be powerful to watch what our Eagles do next.

Preparing our new home

Acton Academy started four years ago with seven elementary school Eagles in a small, rented house near downtown Austin.

The school quickly outgrew its original campus, so we moved to the Acton MBA campus, our only alternative given the glacial speed at which the City of Austin approves building permits.

In July, we’ll move to Acton Academy’s permanent home, a four acre campus just east of the University of Texas, in a hip,  fun, funky Austin neighborhood that’s becoming one of the new hot spots in town.

Last week our parents and Eagles toured the new campus.  Many schools become too focused on buildings, at the expense of learning; we won’t make that mistake.  But great architecture – twenty foot ceilings and movable walls and outdoor decks do add something special to transformational learning.  Here’s to our new home!


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.

Curiosity and hospitality

How do you judge the health of a learning culture?  Two good measures might be curiosity and hospitality.

Our MS Eagles showed the first when recently sending a letter to the Elementary Eagles, asking various questions about why the ES learning culture works so well.  The ES Eagles today graciously responded with a long and thoughtful letter, complete with attachments.

Hospitality was showcased today when the Eagles greeted Mia, a recent applicant who was shadowing before joining us this summer.  Without any request from Guides, the MS’ers created a sign to welcome Mia, who as you see below, was well liked by all.

We are trying out a new trick in room design, cardboard “walls” that can be rearranged in moments to create semi-private focus space for one or two Eagles in core skills, and also provide more personal portfolio space.  Just one of many experiments as we continue to design the interior of the new campus.

Finally, today we introduced normal and lognormal-power curves, and how “discovered” probabilities from each could be used in two challenges involving oil exploration and “guessing the height of the next person who comes into the room.”   As you see below, lots of energy in the room.

Which challenge was investing and which was gambling? (The answer was deceptively complicated.)   Which of the five heroes: Gauss; Galton; Pareto; Bezos and Hastings, made the most fundamentally important discoveries?  Which ones used power curves and the internet to build large businesses?  Which one will have the biggest impact on the world?  Which one owns a spaceport?

All questions we will continue to explore and debate the rest of the week.