Category Archives: Portfolios

A Dress Rehearsal

Today each MS Eagle presented his or her portfolio to a group of Elementary Eagle volunteers, as a dress rehearsal for showing the portfolios to parents.

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Hard individual work.  Multiple repetitions and drafts.  Doing something that matters to you.

In the end – a new skill.  Showing the world what you can do, using an electronic portfolio.


Next to public expositions, peer based critiques are the most important tool we have to inspire higher and higher standards.

Today the Eagles assembled to critique end of session electronic portfolios.

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First the group established the target audiences (potential apprenticeship employers, friends and parents) and criteria by which portfolios would be judged on a 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) scale:

1. Include examples of excellent work – “the best you can do.”

2. So easy to use that a third grade Eagle could navigate.

3. Lots of variety – Hero’s Journey; Passions; Core Skills; Apprenticeships; Projects and Fun.

4. Multimedia – images, text and video.

5.  The five words you’d want the audience to say about you after seeing the portfolio.

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Next the Eagles split into two groups, where each presented his or her portfolio and received a 1-5 rating and warm (positive) and cool (“I’d suggest this”) critiques.

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The entire group then assembled to listen to the finalists present their portfolios again, provide more warm and cool critiques, and vote for first, second and third place.

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The creator of the top rated portfolio (left) spontaneously congratulated the second and third place finishers.

All portfolio creators then returned to the drawing board to use what they had learned to improve their presentations.

Setting their own criteria.  Giving and receiving critiques.  Choosing the “best work.”  Taking what you have learned for another round of improvement.  A far better approach to 21st century mastery than having an adult award “A’s” to those who obediently regurgitate answers on a standardized test.

A sprint towards reality

Whew! Another Acton Academy session completed.

Weeks and weeks of “intentionality” – this session’s battle cry –  sprinkled with fun and intense learning.  One Eagle captured it perfectly: “This session seemed to fly by in a day.”

The Salem Witch Trials; assembling portfolios; serious reflection; anticipation of next session’s adventure – it was a busy, high energy, intentional final week.

Not every Eagle finished with an apprenticeship; a few have been rejected several times and now must go to “Plan D, E and F.”  Not every Eagle completed the lofty end of session goals, so our special group outing was postponed.

Sure, it would have been easier if we had adjusted the goals, so everyone could win.  If we made exceptions so there was a fairy tale ending.  If we made sure our Eagles won the game every time.

But that’s not the way the real world works.  Our goal isn’t college ready graduates, nursed on “straight A’s” and cheap self esteem.  Not poseurs, nor those who hide behind false perfection. Never “cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Instead, our goal is to equip and inspire Eagles to succeed and fail – fighting a worthy fight; becoming who they were meant to be; building deep and nurturing relationships.

Heroes who will change the world, real world heroes who are willing to accept – and even celebrate — the bumps, bruises and disappointments that reality demands to make a real difference.


When the middle school started in September, a surprisingly large number of Eagles  hated to read – particularly books that were forced on them by adults.

A love of reading had never been sparked, or even worse, had been extinguished.

Early in the fall, we encouraged each Eagle to read something, even a comic book, about a subject they were passionate about.  For the boys, that often meant Lone Survivor or other books about war.

This week, as part of updating portfolios, we asked Eagles for a list of books they have read since January 1st.

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The answer: 80 books. That’s an average of one book, every two weeks, for each Eagle.

Sure, some Eagles are more voracious readers than others.  But each and every Eagle can now be seen sitting on the floor or lounging on a beanbag chair, with a favorite book in hand.

A love of reading; a thirst for curiosity.  Perhaps the most important discover a young hero can make.

From the Peak; Looking to the Horizon

It was before dawn, a few months ago, as the Middle School Eagles trudged up a steep slope in the Texas Hill Country.  As the sun rose, we could see for miles in every direction.

The message: The hard work of the Hero’s Journey is worth it because it allows you to see further (and farther!)  At the top of each peak, a time for celebration, a moment to enjoy, rest and reflect, while planning the next climb.

Yesterday was such a day at Acton Academy.  We assembled the final portfolios – one copy for school and one for home — and the Eagles cleaned and cleaned and cleaned to get the classroom back into a (semi) pristine state.

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The portfolios were imperfect in the sense that they are works in progress, with grammatical mistakes and misspellings to prove that no adult oversight was allowed. True also of equally imperfect and beautiful thank you notes to some of the “fellow travelers” who have helped us this term.

Imperfection. Mistakes. Works in progress.

And yet the learning, the sense of accomplishment and the feeling of ownership were profound, both in the scratchings in the portfolios and the reflections offered  in the final group discussion.  There’s absolutely no question that these Middle School Eagles are heroes-in-waiting, who will change the world.

Our final moments together shifted to the horizon, to the crime solving, genetics, biology, psychology, Salem Witch Trials, apprenticeships and many more adventures that will come in the spring.

But for now, two weeks of rest and celebration with our families, as it should be.

Merry Christmas everyone.


Hard work.  Last minute scurrying. Lights. Adrenaline. Showtime.  Celebration.

Then, the morning after. An energy hangover.

Some Eagles are distracted.  Others listless.  A few, uncharacteristically sleep in.

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Others build protective walls in order to recharge, an innovative approach to self preservation.

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All of this is a natural part of the ebb and flow of human creativity.  Rest. A phenomenon to be explored; a ritual to be incorporated next year..

Some schools consider the week before Christmas a “dead week.”  We’d never be that disrespectful towards time, but building in a purposeful lull to recharge does make sense; a time to just “be” for a few hours; a time for mindfulness; a time for rest.

Most of the afternoon we worked on Portfolios, synthesizing the work of three months into a celebratory narrative.  Tomorrow we finish these portfolios, and begin to look towards the adventures of next semester.

Shifting paradigms

Today we started to consolidate all of the learning that’s taken place in the last four weeks, by beginning to reorganize and synthesize the portfolios in preparation for
Friday’s celebration.

Eagles also revisited and refilmed their paradigm mini-film projects, each choosing a scientific hero who changed the world by having the courage to introduce a totally new way of looking at the natural world.

Researching scientific heroes.

A rough draft of the timeline for 14 scientific paradigm shifts.

A pictograph of how scientific paradigms are related today.

Ms Abigail continued with the work on the major “How does the past determine the future?” film project.

Some nice words about AA MS from education disruption guru Carolyn VanderArk, who visited a few weeks ago: