Category Archives: Ranch trip

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.

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.

The Charge of the Acton Brigade

After the sunrise ceremony and breakfast at the ranch, it was time for one more round of fun.

The male Eagles had decided to play a game of capture the flag; the female Eagles would be armed with paint guns, laying down a murderous field of fire.

We assembled to read Lord Tennyson’s famous poem:

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho'(though) the soldiers knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

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The defenders took their position.  The cavalry prepared to charge the artillery, even though they knew it was suicidal.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

The slaughter was difficult to watch.  Brave Hayes stormed the beach and fell.

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Then Brave Mason would grab the flag before falling in a hail of gunshots, that seemed never ending. (Apparently “cease fire” sounds a lot like “keep firing” if you’ve never been to a firing range.)

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Brave Charlie would capture the flag too.

Following paintball, more swimming and sack races and watermelon eating down by the swimming hole, until a tired band of Eagles gather up to go home.

It would be the last time the original cast would be together as one; next year we will add twelve new Eagles to the original band, and the following year twelve more.

It was a fitting celebration for our original band of pioneers, one that none of us will ever forget.

Beautiful Souls

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After a hayride, Eagles gathered by fireside for s’mores and the first of two ceremonies to close out the year.

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Eagles had been asked earlier to draw avatars of themselves.  One by one, each Eagle placed his or her avatar in the fire, a act signifying that a mask prepared for the outside world was far less important than your true self.

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Just before dinner, each Eagle was asked to collect five objects that stood for a role that mattered to them: Son or Daughter; Brother or Sister; Dancer; Athlete; Actress; Friend.  They carried their sacred objects to the campfire.

Heroes often have to make difficult choices and tradeoffs.  This night, one by one, Eagles were asked to choose the least important role and throw it into the fire.  Then, the second most important role; then the third.  With each completion of the circle, the decision became more difficult, as roles like “Friend” or “Brother” that were precious, had to be given up.

The mood was somber; the decisions were being taken very seriously, by serious people, who understood that their lives would matter. Finally, it was down to two roles, one of which had to be thrown into the fire, before declaring the most important role you held in your hand.

Which role was left?  For two Eagles, it was “servant to God.”  For another: “Compassion.”  Still another: “A meaningful life as a hero.” We heard the pledge to be “a good fellow traveler” and another  to “make a real difference.”  Each Eagle held in his or her hand a role that meant the world to them.

The words were beautiful to hear.  Nothing you would ever expect from a group of young adults.  After it was over, both Guides were speechless, blessed to have been observers.

Later, one Guide turned to the other: “I have tried to convince myself that these are just ordinary young people – but after what I saw tonight, there’s no way I can still believe that.”

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Later that night there would be poker, wagering with points earned earlier in the day, learning more about probabilities and human nature.  Plus watching Jurassic Park and playing pranks late into the early morning hours.

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Then up at 6 AM for a silent sunrise reflection on a nearby mountaintop: the steep climb reminding each Eagle of how far he or she had come in the last year; the forty mile views a preview of how far each could go.

Each Eagle would leave his or her final symbol on the mountaintop, as a promise to themselves and their fellow travelers of what they would hold most dear.

Acton Academy is open to all students; Acton Academy accepts only gifted students; gifted students with beautiful souls.

Closing Out With a Celebration

On Thursday and Friday, we symbolically closed out the year as we started, with a ranch trip.

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The first activities were three real world math experiments, designed by Eagles to introduce trigonometry, algebra and geometry.

For trigonometry, teams competed to solve a surveying problem that required calculating the hypotenuse of a right triangle, in order to earn the right to solve a trigonometry puzzle, which revealed the first clues of an algebra puzzle, that involved creating a human Cartesian grid to unearth buried treasure.

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Next came a geometry challenge that led new meaning to the term Pi – as contestants had to find the real life area of an apple pie with one slice removed.

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Did the math challenges go smoothly?  No.

One of the challenges fell apart when a mistake was discovered and the instructions turned out to be confusing.  A shouting match broke out between frustrated Eagles, leading to tears.

A disaster?  Not at all.  Everyone quickly made up and all was forgiven.  But what wasn’t forgotten was the importance of prototyping field experiments before introducing them into the wild.

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Next came competing on an obstacle course designed with input from the Navy Seals.

Two rules: “no person left behind” and “no one can re-enter the course after finishing.”

These rules put Eagles under stress, because after most had crossed the finish line, one Eagle sat down, “paralyzed” (following secret instructions from the Gamemakers.)

Would the Eagles listen to an adult and refuse to re-eneter the course or go to help their fallen comrade?  Of course, most disobeyed the authority figure and rushed to help their fallen Eagle, the same Eagle who had bungled leading the math challenge, carrying him to victory.

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Next it was time for swimming and watermelon eating by the river.

After swimming, time to gather five special objects, eat hamburgers and hot dogs and tour the ranch on a hayride looking for wildebeests, buffalo, elk, deer and other wildlife.

In the next post, our final ceremonies.

What would you change about Acton Academy?

Today, I asked in group: “What would you change about Acton Academy?”

The answer below, but first a few glimpses of our Eagles hard at work, making the final push on Core Skills, Portfolios, Apprenticeships, Learning Badges and the Salem Witch Trial (tomorrow.)

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Q: “What would you change about Acton Academy?”

The first response: “I wish we could spend more time at school, because there’s so much to do.” The next four students agreed, each adding their own reasons for wanting more time at Acton.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

A pretty amazing two days of scientific experimentation “in the wild.”

We started our scientific expedition with a Socratic discussion on the one hour drive to the ranch.  Eagles  debated: (a) which of the six experiments we would conduct was the most important to the world (see previous post); (b) whether or not it would be because of the sheer value of discovery, invention or innovation; and (c) whether the scientific role of Paradigm Buster; Puzzle Poser  or Data-Gatherer best suited their personal gifts.

Eagles also practiced their “paradigm video” stories, and in each car we developed “rules of engagement” as to how scientists would act on a real expedition (these would be combined to determine how we worked with each other on the trip.)

As soon as we arrived, it was time for science – and the chance to earn the ingredients for smore’s by solving scientific puzzles .  Some photos from a few of the real world challenges:

Using trigonometry to find the height of a tree (also helpful for navigation.)

Levers – “Give me a place to stand and I’ll move the world!”

Using the Pythagorean theory for surveying.

Archimedes and buoyancy: “Is the crown pure gold or not?”

Even scientists need some fun – so we took a break for obstacle course practice and a swim in the river.

Below, Mr. Temp leads a Hero’s Journey session about picking role models for Stars and Steppingstones interviews.

Above, our experiments with Radians and the Heavens is thwarted by an overcast, but we were entertained by star gazing myths, smore’s and the Eagles’ gratitude moments.  Some of us even got a few hours of sleep.

We ended the trip with a pre-dawn ceremony at the top of Lone Mountain – 360 degree views for miles around — with each Eagle leaving his or her gratitude object, and seeing for the first time the Founding Eagle’s plaque that will forever mark the pioneering efforts of this first Eagle Middle school class.

Then it was back to Austin, on the way listening to stories about Archimedes, Copernicus and Galileo, in preparation for next week’s debate.  (And yes, a few Eagles even took a nap when we got back.)

Many thanks for all the parents and Guides who joined in for the adventure!

3.  Finally, and most importantly, ask what behaviors would be appropriate for a  scientist on an important scientific mission.  Ask one student to keep a list that we can discuss when you arrive.

Apprentice scientists prepare for real world science

We lightened the core skills workload today, focusing our Khan work on the Pythagorean Theory in order to get ready for our “applied science” ranch trip on Wednesday

Ms Abigail continued her discussion with students about what makes a good story, including a “save the cat” moment to make your lead character likable. Eagles will be practicing their storytelling, writing and filmmaking skills, first honing their scientific paradigm stories, and then shortly thereafter beginning work on a separate film project that will require them to create, pitch, write and film on the question: “Does the past determine the future?”

During project time, Eagles broke into teams to make sundials, inclinometers and star finders that they will use to execute real world science experiments on the ranch.