Category Archives: Quests

Curriculum at Acton Academy

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Often the curriculum at Acton Academy seems confusing; especially with so many Eagles pursuing independent learning plans.

Below are four principles that form the foundation for our curriculum.  Holding firmly to these makes sure the basics are covered, so everything else is lagniappe.

1.  First, make it fun.

Job number one is to make it fun to be part of the community.  If the Eagles want to belong to the tribe, they will accept hard work and the Hero’s Journey as the price of membership, deeply imbedding the core belief that Grit matters more than IQ for heroes in the long run.

Plus, motivated Eagles work at 10X the rate of average students.

2.  Focus on Core skills.

Reading, writing (communication) and math are fundamental tools for decision making and critical thinking.

Reading:    First, make reading fun and enjoyable (see point number one above.)  Allow Eagles to read anything they want.  Once Eagles love to read, you can offer more challenging ideas, authors and genres.

Hint: Never mention the word “classic.”  Sadly, many children define”classic” as “a boring book that grown-ups make you read.”  You can and should offer Great Books; just be careful what you call them.

Writing (Communication): Make writing fun by starting with journaling or lighthearted creative writing.  Start early with Socratic discussions.   Always write or communicate for a reason, usually as part of an exhibition, so that quality matters to the Eagles.  Over time, offer more difficult challenges and genres.  Use peer critiques to boost motivation; Eagles will write and revise a great deal if they can share with friends.

Handwriting and spelling will come over time, but giving Eagles incentives to improve these earlier helps some parents relax.  Grammar is different.  Too much early emphasis on grammar can kill the joy of getting thoughts and emotions on paper.  If Eagles care about writing and communicating, better grammar will come.

Math:  Khan Academy and other game based adaptive programs make math curriculum a breeze, so you can focus on motivation and including math in real world projects.

Civilization:  Find articles, videos and ethical dilemmas that put the Eagles in the shoes of a heroic decision maker, require them to take a firm stand and debate the alternatives in a Socratic Discussion.

Eagles are competitive by nature.  Ask them to track and post the results for the Core Skills activities above, and deep learning will happen.

3. Add Quests for 21st Century Skills

If you are confident that the Core Skills are being mastered, you can add Quests to master 21st Century skills and subjects like Science.  A Quest is nothing more than a series of hands-on, real world projects that contain a narrative and a public exhibition at the end.

Start with simple Quests first.  Then add more complex Quests.  Once you have a sense of what makes a great Quest, simplify again.  Then hand over Quest creation to your Eagles.

4. Real World Apprenticeships

As soon as possible, ask Eagles to begin real world apprenticeships – often as early as ten years old.  This includes each Eagle considering his or her individual gifts and talents; activities that bring joy or “flow,” and the irresistible opportunities or terrible injustices that inspire a young hero.

Challenge Eagles to identify and pitch apprenticeship opportunities themselves, with as little help as possible from adults.  There’s nothing quite as freeing as knowing you can identify and land your next adventure in life, all by yourself.

Eagle Driven Learning Communities offer a rich tapestry of collaborative discovery with serious rigor, as young heroes negotiate collaborating and learning with Running Partners and in small groups.  But “self organized” doesn’t mean chaos; in fact, it usually requires a rigorous set of  rules and natural consequences.  Embracing the principles above allows the chaos at Acton Academy to (usually) have an upward trajectory, and to self correct when it doesn’t.

“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.

Look Deep into Your SOLE

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Next Wednesday Sugata Mitra, the inventor of the Hole-in-the-Wall experiment and the SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environment), will visit Acton Academy.

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In preparation, Eagles prepared their own list of five questions each, then met in Clearness Committees to critique and prioritize.

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Each then brought their best questions to a studio-wide discussion to select the best “abstract” and the best “concrete” questions.

Some of the finalists:

  • Who invented the first sport?
  • Is there something invented long ago by humans that hasn’t changed at all?
  • Why don’t we remember our dreams?
  • What is the motivation of the Taliban?
  • What are thoughts?
  • How and why is the universe endless?
  • What steps have we taken to make money more valuable?
  • Are zoos good for animals or not?
  • If all humans were to die, would another species take over the earth?

Here’s a challenge for you: “Which of these questions are ‘abstract’ and which questions are ‘concrete?’ Why?”

The SOLE winners:

Concrete: “You crash in the West Texas desert where you are certain you will be stranded for several days to one month.  What are the five most important things you need to do?”

Abstract: “Why are humans inclined to judge?”

This week Eagles will divide into teams to dig for research and begin preparing to present their findings.

 

 

A Curiousity Filled Summer

Middle school students all across America are eager to be released from bondage, looking forward to forgetting facts as quickly as possible.

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At Acton Academy, our middle school Eagles are preparing for six weeks of freedom and curiosity in Session Seven, exploring the questions that interest them most.

In the Inquiry Quest each Eagle will choose one or more of the following:

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1. Attacking a SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environment), digging deeply into a serious question;

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2.  Taking something apart;

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3.  Building something useful with his or her own hands;

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4.  Working on mastering a new skill at DYI.

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Each Eagle will start with a Curiosity board, filled with puzzling questions.

Next a Project Plan and then the journey will begin.  (And yes, all of this will occur on the days when our Eagles aren’t in the real world working at their apprenticeships.)

Sure sounds like more fun than spending all summer forgetting random facts.

A Gold Medal in Interviewing

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One of our objectives this session was to “Ask Questions that Motivate a Tribe or a Nation” from a stage.  In other words, we asked the Eagles to learn how to interview someone in front of a live audience.

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First Eagles studied great interviewers, from William F. Buckley to Oprah to Jon Stewart, noting the strengths and weaknesses of each.    Then each Eagle wrote (and re-wrote and re-wrote) an email inviting a hero to come to Acton  for a 20 minute live interview.

Once the invitation had been accepted, it was time to research, draft and send powerful questions and prepare for the week long Interview-A-Thon.

During the week Eagles heard from a globe trotting CEO; a Navy Spy; an award winning architect; a not-for-profit CEO who is changing lives in Africa; a world changing Bicycle Entrepreneur and many others.  Each had an inspiring Hero’s Story of trials and perseverance, as the Eagles made for a rapt audience.

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One of many highlights was Nikita interviewing her long time hero, two time Olympic Gold Medal Winner Garrett Weber-Gale.  Afterwards, Garrett couldn’t wait to send the video to his mother.

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Who knows? Perhaps we sowed the seeds this week for a future Gold Medal Winner.

 

Becoming a World Class Conversationalist

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Our three major challenges this session were to:

  1. Secure a Life Changing Apprenticeship
  2. Become a World Class Interviewer; and
  3. Become a World Class Conversationalist.

The goal of challenge #3 was to be equipped to walk up to anyone, anywhere and strike up an interesting conversation that makes the other person feel like a Hero Who Can Change the World.

In preparation, we dug deeply into what make a great conversationalist, including the seven key practices outlined in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Once we had the basics down, we practiced them: in role plays and improvisation; on Running Partners, Elementary School Eagles and Incoming Eagles;  with critiques and video reviews until the art of conversation became as natural as breathing.

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Then it was time for the big test: Those who earned the honor were allowed to take a long lunch at the Food Trailers at Mueller and practice the art on complete strangers (with all the appropriate warnings and in full view of a Guide.)

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The results? Outstanding.  It turns out our Eagles not only can strike up a natural conversation at lunch or a cocktail party, but learn enough to write a Hero Story about the person’s life afterwards.

Reading, writing and arithmetic – fundamental.   But so is conversation, practiced not in a self centered way, but as a Conversational Artist who knows how to ask questions that motivate a fellow hero to take on the day.

Sugata Mitra, SOLES and Acton Academy

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Sugata Mitra is the father of the Hole-in-the-Wall experiments, where in poor neighborhoods all around the world, he installed computer terminals that allow students to “self-organize” to learn.

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In case after case, the poorest of children  —  without a teacher or school –  outscored the most privileged private school students in their countries, leading to Mitra winning the first $1 million TED talk prize.  Mitra went on to create Granny-in-the-Cloud, an army of British grandmothers who acted as virtual Running Partners (coaches) for Sugata Mitra’s students.

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Now, Sugata Mitra will be coming to Acton Academy the second week in June, to lead our Eagles in a SOLE (Self-Organized-Learning-Environment.)

How does a SOLE work?  Eagles form into four person teams, around one computer.  Mitra asks a compelling question, and the Eagles go to work.  An hour or so later, the teams convene to present their findings.

Here’s an example of a SOLE Sugata Mitra led for group of poor Indian children a few months ago:

He started with a story:

“Five hundred years ago, barbarians invaded India and were repelled, because the natives had better weapons, forged from superior steel.  The barbarians regrouped, wondering how to acquire such steel.   One suggested: ‘Perhaps we could just offer to buy some steel from them in the normal course of trade.”

Another replied: ‘Surely they would not fall for such a trick.’  But they did.  The barbarians analyzed the steel and created a superior metallurgy, forging weapons three inches longer.

Because of that three inches, the barbarians were successful in their second invasion, changing India forever.”

Mitra then asked his question: “What were the metallurgy changes and the science that made the extra three inches possible?”

He left and came back a week later.  The presentations were powerful, incorporating deep questions in and lessons about chemistry and metal working.

Mitra then issued his second challenge: “What problem can you find in the world today, where ‘three extra inches’ would change the world, and how would you propose to solve it?  I’ll be back in two weeks.”

A compelling story to set the stage.  A powerful question.  Four students, a computer and a great deal of faith.  No adult in sight. Perhaps the most effective curriculum and classroom of all.

(By the way, during his visit to Acton, Mitra will invite an Acton parent who knows little about science to lead a second SOLE on physics.  Consider it our chance to learn from a modern day Socrates.)

Session Six Focus: “Which questions motivate a hero?”

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For the next six weeks, we’ll be exploring the theme: “Which questions motivate a hero?”

Our adventure will have three main thrusts:

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1. Which questions will motivate YOU on your Hero’s Journey?

Here we’ll dig deeply into the three questions our Eagles will ask to measure if they are happy, satisfied and fulfilled:  Am I contributing something meaningful? Am I a good person? and Who do I love, and who loves me?

Eagles will work hard to identify their gifts; explore “flow” and investigate the  irresistible opportunities that will motivate them to brainstorm, select and acquire a world changing apprenticeship.

As part of this work, Eagles will learn to write compelling emails, make irresistible phone pitches and dazzle in face-to-face interviews on their way to finding apprenticeships for next session.

The final exhibit will be an electronic portfolio designed to secure an apprenticeship, which will include a two minute “Message to Garcia” video showing each Eagle promising to “get the job done” if given the chance.

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2. Which questions will motivate a FELLOW HERO?

The focus here is  becoming a world class conversationalist, so our Eagles will be able to walk into any gathering and strike up a conversation that will make the other person feel important.

Eagles will practice their new found techniques on Running Partners, incoming 2014-15 Eagles to Acton and students from other schools, until the art of conversation becomes second nature.

The final product here will be a short “Hero Story” about a new friend, that captures what makes that person a “genius on a hero’s journey.”

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3. Which questions will motivate a TRIBE OR NATION?

Oprah, Johnny Carson or William F. Buckley – who is the greatest interviewer of all time?  Our Eagles will compare and contrast world class interviewers, as they learn the art of asking penetrating questions on stage, on the radio or on television.

Near the end of the session, we’ll invite adult heroes to class (especially those who might sponsor an apprenticeship) and allow our Eagles to conduct interviews in front of a live audience.  The final product will be an edited transcript of the interview.

Executing an apprenticeship that may lead to a calling in life; learning to make excellent conversation, anytime, anywhere, with anyone; asking penetrating questions from a stage – all 21st Century Skills for our young heroes who plan to change the world.

Exhibitions are not without difficulties

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At Acton Academy, we don’t issue grades.  Instead, we invite the outside world to gauge the quality of our Eagles’ work through public exhibitions.

Whether it’s a play, a Casino Night, Hero Speeches, a public display of board and electronic games or trying to triggers dozens of Rube Goldberg inventions without a miss, exhibitions require thoughtful design, relentless hours of deliberate practice and a great deal of courage.   They are difficult to pull off well.

Add to this the difficulty of drawing an objective audience; parents are always welcome, but outsiders raise the stakes even higher. Yet to attract paying customers, you have to offer something special.

All of this makes it tempting for the Guides to guarantee that the Eagles shine; polishing a bit of work here or making an important suggestion to keep from suffering a catastrophic failure.    Such interventions almost always a mistake, because it teaches dependence, not independence; and still, no one wants parent to think that our young heroes aren’t learning.

Bottom line: We’re still learning a lot about exhibitions, with many more lessons yet to come.

A Rube Goldberg Celebration of Scientific Heroes

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As our end of session celebration, we invited parents and other adults to an exhibition honoring Scientific Heroes, the men and women who improve the world through creating new ideas (like Einstein); new inventions (like Edison) and new innovations (like Ford.)

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Guests were asked to listen to one minute video pitches, to see which full length Eagle speeches they wanted to attend (there were six speech pods going on simultaneously) and then mingle among the various Rube Goldberg contraptions honoring different scientists. (Here’s a link to some of the video pitchers: http://vimeo.com/user26478640/videos )

The votes of the crowd would decide not only the best pitches, best speeches and best Rube Goldberg contraptions, but also whether the Explorer, Inventor or Innovator team would win the grand prize – a trip on Friday to see a documentary about how Vermeer’s paintings were made.

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The speeches were terrific, as each Eagle stood in the shoes of a Scientific Hero he or she had chosen, and explained what motivated the hero to persevere through hardships and failures to create a idea, invention or innovation that changed the world.

The votes were tallied. There was a narrow margin between the three teams.  Now it was time to trigger the first of twenty four sequential Rube Goldberg devices; for every device that failed, the corresponding team would lose 100 points.

In other words, the entire contest would come down to the reliability of the Rube Goldberg devices. (In the unlikely event that ALL the Rube Goldberg machines worked, everyone would win a trip to see the documentary.)

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A drum roll; then the big moment.  The first machines were flawless; then a vibration from a guest sent one machine off prematurely; then another failure and another.  By the end, the Inventors won by a narrow margin.

Some Eagles were crestfallen; they had worked hard on their Rube Goldberg machines, adding redundancies and testing, only to seem them fail because of a quirk or unexpected error.

Of course, the odds were against them.  Some Rube Goldberg videos require up to one hundred takes to reach perfection, even with professionals in charge.  But the objective wasn’t success, but deep hands-on-learning to better understand what motivates a hero to keep trying, even after public setbacks.

Our Eagles certainly got a real taste of what it feels like to be a real Explorer, Inventor or Innovator.  It’s very, very hard work.

 

 

Exhibitions and Eagles: “May I please do more work?”

This week our Eagles will host an exhibition, including each performing a “Four Minute Speech in the Shoes of a Scientific Hero” in front of a roomful of adults.

Recently several Eagles requested to change the speech criteria to “no less than four minutes and up to eight minutes.”  Quite a few had done so much research that they wanted more time to tell their hero’s story.

So what did we do? After all, Guides don’t answer questions.

We decided to turn the organization of the entire exhibition to the Eagles.  The only two constraints:

(1) The total time could not exceed one hour, out of  respect for our guests, and

(2) Speeches will be judged on “value per minute,” to encourage conciseness.

Speak up. Get more responsibility. Just like the real world.

 

A Pitch Session

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How do we decide whether the quality of an Eagle’s work is ready for an Exhibition?

Answer: the Eagle has to pitch to his or her studiomates, requesting a “green light” to proceed.  This session’s Four Minute Speech; the 30 Second Video and Rube Goldberg device each required a separate pitch.

What follows a pitch?  First, a warm/cool critique, offering affirmation and suggestions for improvement.  Then, a vote.

What if the green light approval is denied?  You go back to the drawing board, make improvements, and try again.  That’s what heroes do when they fail: they get back up, dust themselves off, and get back to work.

 

 

The Cornucopia

How do we provide raw material for the Eagles’ Rube Goldberg machines?

First, we put out a call to all Eagle families, asking parents to clear their closets of unused toys and gadgets, and send them to campus..

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Next we hold a Hunger Games Cornucopia – a competitive contest to see who can plan, search and secure the most important raw materials.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Eagles rank each Scientific Creator research pitch.
  2. The five highest ranked Eagles get the first two minutes at the Cornucopia, and can select whatever materials they need. The only rule:  You must use anything you take.  Any item bought from the Cornucopia afterwards will cost an Eagle Buck.
  3. Repeat Step 2 until every Eagle has had a chance to graze at the Cornucopia.

Friendly competition. Dealing with scarce resources. Empty closets.  Complex Rube Goldberg machines.

Everyone wins.

 

Sir Isacc Newton, as seen through a Rube Goldberg Machine

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How can an Eagle capture the ideas of a Scientific Creator in a Rube Goldberg machine?

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Here’s a glimpse of one Eagle’s Scientific Hero, Isaac Newton.  If you look closely, you’ll see that each step demonstrates one of Newton’s  Three Laws of Motion, and ends with an apple dropping off the table.

Now imagine twenty four of these Rube Goldberg devices, lined up in a purposeful order, telling the story of Explorers of Ideas (like Newton), Inventors and Innovators; each triggering the next to begin.

A week from Thursday, we push the button and begin the journey.

The Value of Surprise

What does this session’s exploration into the motivation of Scientific Creators – Explorers of Ideas, Inventors and Innovators – have to do with educational disruption?  Perhaps quite a bit.

So much energy is put into standardizing schools – testing, segmenting and applauding assembly lines of students shaped and formed by teachers.  What if this is exactly the wrong approach in the 21st century?

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Early in the electronic age, engineers believed that sending more energy through a noiseless conduit was best way to transmit data, much like shouting through a megaphone to be heard.   Bell Labs paradigm buster Claude Shannon turned this idea on its head in 1948 with his classic paper “A Mathematical Theory of Communication,” proposing that listening for “surprises” in a noisy communications channel was a better way to transmit information.

From Shannon’s single insight came all of modern communications, including the internet, digital encryption and the compression algorithms that allow us to watch YouTube videos for free.

Economist George Gilder has applied Shannon’s insights into the value of surprises to the Information Age.  Gilder argues it is the surprises created and spread by entrepreneurial scientists and business leaders that add most of the value in the world, not the forces tending toward standardization and economic equilibrium studied by most economists.

The Explorer of Ideas, like Shannon, is someone who comes up with a novel concept, like throwing a rock into a still pond.    The Inventor sculpts the rock.  The Innovator throws the rock and sets in play ripples that spread across the pond.  All of this energy comes from the surprises generated from the three Creators.

Standardization can be necessary at times, but its job is to minimize variability and surprise.  Once all of the ripples have been quieted, the value added is nil as commoditization reigns.

Our Eagles are being inspired and equipped to become Surprising Forces in the world, creators of great value, daring to be different, never settling for a standardized or commoditized life.

How fitting our Eagles are delving deeply into what has motivated the great Scientific Creators of the past, as they prepare to be the Creators of the future.

What can I learn from Rube Goldberg?

Imagine this…. someone who knows nothing about Acton Academy wanders into the studio and notices all the students tinkering joyfully, building crazy-looking Rube  Goldberg-like contraptions.  The visitor is puzzled and possibly even indignant.   “Looks like playtime to me,” she thinks.  Aloud, she asks, “ Where is the value in this?  Shouldn’t you be learning something?  This is school, after all.”

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Guides try to come up with challenges that hit the sweet spot where rigor intersects joy.  The Rube Goldberg design-build project has many layers; “Games within games within games,” one Eagle noted.  Not all elements are immediately visible to a random visitor, but most are easily teased out by asking a few good questions.

So, where is the value?  According to the Eagles, the value lies in:

  •  hands-on experimentation
  • letting their imaginations freely flow
  • nudging their creativity from “bud to blossom” (thank you, Anaya)
  • answering an open-ended question
  • working without instruction
  • problem solving
  • incorporating evidence of their biographical research into their designs
  • having FUN

When Eagles begin designing their own Quests from scratch, chances are very good they will do an even better job of hitting the right balance. They already do the best job of answering visitors’ questions!

What’s Different This Session?

The high scores the new Creator Quest received on this week’s Fun/Important graph indicate that Eagles are finding the work both engaging and relevant to their Hero’s Journeys- for most of them, in stark contrast to last session’s Rocket Quest.  Why?

Guides had theories, yet despite our “no experts” ethic, we suspected the best way to answer this particular question would be to take it to the ones in the know: the Eagles themselves.  We asked:  Why were you so focused this week?  How is this project different for you?  Eagles’ responses fell under four main headings.

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 1.    Choice

High energy around getting to choose a hero who relates to their own gifts and passions.  A dedicated violinist chose Stradivari, a budding filmmaker chose Walt Disney, a talented cinematographer chose the Lumiere brothers, and one Eagle with razor-sharp focus on becoming a future race car driver chose Karl Benz.

They appreciate the independent nature of this project, which provides the freedom to do research, write and draw mind maps during core skills, and conversely, to continue core skills work in the afternoons during “project time”.

And they love getting to design their Rube Goldberg device from scratch, with their own choice of materials.

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2.    Diversity

The combination of specific, individualized work that must still fit into the broader goals of a team resonates with the Eagles’ powerful commitment to both their own Hero’s Journeys and to their learning community.  The diversity of hands-on drawing/design/building, along with deep research and multi-draft writing, keeps them energized.

In the words of one Eagle: “This project has everything: drawing, writing, research, history and even public speaking.”

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3.    Games

“This project has games within games,” one Eagle noted, mentioning the  Cornucopia, the pitches, and the final exhibition/competition.

While much of the work is independent, small groups come together for critiques, and larger groups form for pitches.

There’s nowhere to hide, and while no one wants to lose, if they don’t ace one game they know there will be another they can try to beat.  “Some of us will be motivated more by the Rube Goldberg presentation, some of us by the speech.”  And Eagles with the highest standards are in the powerful position of inspiring and lifting up the rest.

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4.    High Stakes

The Eagles crave meaningful experiences and real-life lessons.  When stakes feel high to them, they soar.  The word “pressure!” came up quite a bit in our discussion, but in the context of a challenge to be met rather then a negative to be avoided.  The space hums with excitement. Speeches, pitches, a public display of a giant Eagle-crafted Rube Goldberg chain reaction… AND a very special reward for the team with the highest average scores as rated by the Acton community.

Nikita’s slogan for this session best sums up the enthusiasm and focus in the studio:

 It’s ON!

 

 

 

 

Gamifying motivation.

What do Guides  at Acton Academy actually do, if we never teach or respond to questions?

The answer – we’re Game Makers.  We describe an exciting end goal, design the incentives, suggest a few boundaries or rules, provide a list of tools and process —  and then get out of the way.  Our goal is to inspire  Eagles to pack as much learning into the day as possible.

Take for example, this session’s Creator Speech Quest.  First, each Eagle chooses a Scientific Explorer of Ideas (a paradigm buster); Innovator or Inventor.   Five weeks from now, at the public exhibition, each will deliver an original four minute “hero’s journey” speech from the shoes of their Creator and unveil a Rube Goldberg device that celebrates the scientific contributions of their hero.

Here’s the catch –  a maximum of eight Creators per category will be allowed to speak.  So who determines which Eagle qualifies for which spot?  The Eagles themselves.

1. First, all Eagles in a category deliver a two minute pitch displaying their research and mind map, asking  to be “green lighted” (approved.)  Everyone in the group rates each pitch and provides warm and cool critiques.

2. The top rated 2/3 of the group (a maximum of five) are elected to be the Excellence Committee for that group.  The Excellence Committee decides whether those receiving a lower rating should be admitted immediately (up to a maximum of eight) or asked to do more research and polishing and then pitch again.

3.  What keeps the Excellence Committee from quickly approving more members and filling the group?  The final ratings, from customers at the exhibition, will be based on the average rating per person.  So you do not want any slackers on the team to bring down your average score.

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Today was pitch day.  Nine Eagles pitched for Inventors; nine for Innovators; three for Creators.  Five were admitted to the first  and second groups; two to the third group.  Standards were high. Many Eagles were asked to do additional work and pitch again.

The result:

1. A high level of energy and enthusiasm, because each Eagle chose a hero who appealed to his or her calling.

2. Standards were set by Eagles and kept high.  If you hadn’t turned in first rate work, there was no shame, but you got the chance to try again.  Plus you received a great deal of encouragement and coaching.

3. Along the way, there was much work and learning around the processes for research, mind mapping, pitching and how to compete for scarce resources – all with an eye toward rigor.

4.  Eagles learned a lot about the lives of twenty four different scientific heroes, and what motivated them.

Examples of the criteria Eagles developed to judge “productive research:”

  • Quality and credibility of sources;
  • Number and variety of sources;
  • At least one serious biography selected.
  • Facts; opinions and stories.
  • Clearly organized and present with enthusiasm.
  • Tells a Hero’s Story.

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Some of the questions asked during grilling:

  1. How much time will you be able to work on this? What will you sacrifice to make room for this effort?
  2. What progress have you made so far on your Rube Goldberg device?
  3. How will your Rube Goldberg device reflect your hero’s contributions?
  4. Are you going to spend more time or less time and effort on this project than you did on the rocket project?  Do you promise?
  5. Will you spend more time and effort on your hero’s speech or your Rube Goldberg device?
  6. How much research have you done and how much more will you promise to do?

Self organizing learning; making research fun; adding a competitive edge to encourage rigor and excellence – not a bad day’s work for a Guide, especially since we didn’t do much at all.

 

 

 

Session Five: Creative Motivation and a Rube Goldberg Celebration

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What inspired Einstein to imagine himself  straddling a beam of light?  Why did  Edison toil  night after night in his Menlo Park lab?  What led Ford to pay the highest wages in the land?

For the next five weeks our Eagles will dig deeply into what motivated the creative geniuses who changed the world through ideas, inventions and innovations.

Then on Thursday, March 27th, each Eagle will stand before an audience and deliver a four minute “Hero’s Journey” speech as a famous Creator, exploring this year’s Overarching Question: “What motivates a hero?”

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Once the speeches are finished, guests will be able to roam the studio and investigate twenty four different Rube Goldberg devices, each handmade by an Eagle to honor the contributions of their Creator, and each with a thirty second video introduction.  (If you are interested in clearing your home of unused electricity and chemistry kits, just send them to the studio and we promise not to return them!)

Finally, after a suitable build up, the first Rube Goldberg contraption will be launched, leading to twenty four sequential celebrations of creation, as one Rube Goldberg device after another is triggered.

During the session we’ll continue to forge ahead on Khan and Learning Badges while engulfed in this frenzy of scientific and economic creation.  And in Civilization, Eagles will watch college level DVD lectures on the Science of Innovation, followed each week by student designed and led Socratic Discussions.

Stay tuned for a lot of creative grit and sweat these next five weeks!

 

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!

Mission Control is Buzzing with Anticipation

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Mission Control buzzed with energy as rocket scientists prepared for tomorrow’s launches.  Rocket points were tallied, to make sure each team had paid for the rocket parts they had ordered.

This morning we reviewed experiments from the last few days, noting the different approaches that different groups of scientists had taken:

  •  Gathering large amounts of experimental data and using proven equations;
  •  Using fewer empirical observations and a simulator to make predictions;
  •  Inventing entirely new approaches and equations, that might or might not work.
  • Adjusting initial estimates based on new learning.

Depending on the the approach, Eagle teams celebrated:

  • Preciseness;
  • Diligence and perseverance;
  • Creativity;
  • Teamwork; or
  • Curiosity.

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Then, focus shifted to tomorrow’s Rocket Olympics, as nothing concentrates the attention quite like a countdown (with apologies to Samuel Johnson.)  Estimating the impact of winds forecast at 10-20 miles per hour, and aiming the rocket so it drifts back to the launch site will be no easy task.

The countdown begins at 12:30 Central Standard Time on Thursday.  Let the games begin.

 

 

Welcome to the Disruptive Matrix

Conventional wisdom suggests project based learning is the best way to teach STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.)  Acton Academy takes this one step further, adding narrative and gamification to projects to create Quests.

Despite these high sounding goals, our recent Rocket Quest was a flop.  The experiments, videos and equations seemed too structured – a series of old style science experiments disguised in Quest clothing.  Our Eagles weren’t fooled and weren’t interested.

In our quest to make science more interesting, we’d made the journey too complicated.  we’d forgotten that science is a curiosity powered, relentless pursuit of natural truths, no gimmicks required.

So we punted, “took the red pill” and posed two open ended challenges (the “red pill” is a Matrix allusion, for those of us old and lame enough to be Guides.)

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  1. Point the nozzle of a tennis ball machine straight up and fire.  Then predict where the ball will land if the machine is positioned at 30 degrees, 45 degrees and 70 degrees from horizontal.  No equations, videos or intermediate exercises offered. No trial and error allowed.
  2. Shoot a pressurized water rocket – a two liter plastic bottle –  straight up.  Then predict where the rocket will land if launched  from 30 degrees, 45 degrees and 70 degrees. No trial and error allowed.

An added incentive is that the closer our Eagles predictions were to reality, the more Rocket Points they could can earn, which then could be used to buy larger Estes rockets for next week’s Rocket Olympics.

Most Eagles had to purchase rockets in advance, increasing pressure because they had to spend points before earning them; any deficit would have to be made up using Eagle Buckets, at an unfavorable exchange rate.

In attacking these problems, Eagles could:

  1. Use the equations of physics;
  2. Locate a projectile simulator on the internet or
  3. Pattern match parabolas.

The most dedicated teams could cross check answers from all three approaches.

Each Eagle group took a different path.  Three groups made predictions for the tennis ball machine that were remarkably close to reality; the last two closed the gap after a misfire or two.

After success with the tennis ball machine, the  water rocket  experiment should have been a breeze.  Simply apply the same equations and simulations a second time.  Lesson learned: math is a “force multiplier” because it allows you to learn something once, and apply it again and again.

Here’s where the real world intervened.   The water rocket predictions  were  50% longer than the real world tests at 45 degrees.  What had gone wrong? Guides were stumped.

The teams went back to their tracker programs, video tools that allow our young scientists to track the x-y position of a projectile at precise time intervals.  They soon discovered  that the rockets went up much faster than they came down, a discovery that made  the simple projectile formulas useless.

Lots of conjecture followed: Was it that the two liter bottles lost mass as they rose?  Did the rockets fall more slowly because they tumbled?  Eagles drew from their experiences in mini experiments, began re-watching videos and checking the assumptions in formulas.

The room was humming with hypotheses being born.  Formulas and simulators were tested with the new data.  One team re-fired the rocket without water, to see if losing water mass really was the problem.

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On an icy day when most schools had been dismissed for a snow day, our young scientists were out in the cold, firing rocket after rocket, trying desperately to squeeze in as many tests as possible.

This time the results fit with predictions!  Eureka!

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Our debrief centered on how good it felt for an experiment to succeed, and how dangerous this longing for validation was for real scientists.  As one Eagle put it: “To be true to a scientific calling, you have to care more about truth than yourself.”

So real science is about never forgetting to “take the red pill.”

Quite a lesson indeed.

 

Wickedly Open Ended Challenges

What do our young heroes need the most in science:

  • A specialized vocabulary to discuss a technical subject clearly and intelligently;
  • The processes, formulas or equations to solve a clearly defined problem; or
  • The curiosity and tenacity to tackle a wickedly open ended question?

In a way, these three types of learning track our promises to parents:

  • Learn to know;
  • Learn to do;
  • Learn to be.

Is it better to learn about velocity, acceleration and gravity from watching skill based videos; experimenting for hours with deeply immersive simulations or learning through hands-on trial and error?

We’ve struggled to get Eagles to engage with pre-formed problems, which haven’t piqued their imaginations, even when disguised as demonstrations.

So we gave up, and in desperation posed a wickedly open ended challenge:

  1. Use a tennis ball machine to shoot a ball straight up in the air.
  2. Using only this experiment, predict how far a tennis ball will fly if the machine shoots a ball at 30, 45 and 70 degrees from the horizontal.

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Suddenly, the teams were engaged.  Some Eagles dove straight into algebra and geometry; others searched for a simulation that would help; some just kept plugging numbers into formulas hoping the answer would magically appear.

Before long, it was clear that there were three problems plaguing the teams:

  1. A failure to define the problem and goal;
  2. Not knowing how to find and use a process, framework, formula or tool to help; and
  3. Interpersonal conflicts between team members.

The most damaging of these was the failure to define the problem and goal.  For many Eagles it was fire, ready, aim.  The second biggest problem was interpersonal conflicts between team members.  A distant third was the difficulty of solving the problem, once properly defined.

Isn’t that the case in real life?  Aren’t most colossal mistakes usually a failure to recognize the real problem?  Aren’t the biggest blunders often a result of talking past each other?  How often have arguments between team members doomed a project?

So at least for now, open ended problems seem to deliver the most powerful learning.  Even if it is a frustrating and messy process for the Guides.

 

Soaring to the stars through simulations

The simulations now available for learning about physics and astrophysics are mind boggling.

Kerbal Space Program lets you build rockets and fly them to distant planets – but only if you put in the hard work to master complex physics problems.

Universal Sandbox allows you to manipulate time and space in a way that makes the universe come alive, traveling side by side with a comet or a beam of light.

If you don’t believe the internet and simulations are going to change the way we learn physics and astrophysics, just spend some time with these tools and prepare for a powerful awakening.

Now it’s up to us to find a way to use these tools to inspire and equip our young heroes.

Rocket Scientists in Antarctica

 

 

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Acton Academy Middle Schoolers have been hard at work on a secret rocket fuel formula, at an undisclosed location near the South Pole.

OK. To tell the truth, Eagles are combining different kinds and temperatures  of soda and mentos in one experiment and different concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, soap and yeast in another, and measuring and comparing the results.

And while the temperatures were in the 30s Thursday, with a raging north wind, the Eagle scientists were in Austin, not Antarctica.

But Eagles are in the middle of a week long series of hands-on experiments, delving into physical and chemical processes, preparing for a battle where they’ll have to create the best mix to win the Rocket Competition on Monday (postponed from today because of ice.)

Perhaps more importantly, Eagles chose to work outside, in bitterly cold conditions, without being asked.  You see, they have some pressing questions to explore.

The mark of true heroic scientists.

 

 

 

 

The Power of Process Drama

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Process Drama  fuses imagination, improvisation and community.  Sound mysterious?   It is.

So what is the end result? In the words of one MS Eagle: “Character traits come to life and become habits,  through imagination, action and adventure.”

In years past, local artistic genius Nat Miller generously donated his gifts as a Process Drama Guide.  But if that  guiding genius cannot be spread to others, it’s not replicable.

So this year Middle Schoolers have taken over as Process Drama Guides for the elementary school, to rave reviews by all.

Why has Eagle led Process Drama been such a hit?  Again, in the words of a MS Eagle:

  1. It matters.  Imagination, creativity and character are an important part of a Hero’s Journey.
  2. You must learn the process. But if you do, it works.
  3. We are in charge. It’s something we create that transforms others.
  4. Process drama is hard work, but also lots of fun.

An excellent set of criteria for any Acton Academy Quest.

A Confession: We Made Rocket Fuel Boring

Here’s a confession: Acton Guides made science boring this week.  Even more difficult to believe, we made investigating rocket fuel boring.  That should be next to impossible.

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Don’t let the picture above fool you.  Yes, there was more energy around the rocket fuel challenge today, but not as much as their should have been.

How did we blunder so?

  • We thought about which science topics were important.
  • Then we designed experiments.
  • Then we added videos and math.
  • Because we were afraid the challenge might not be exciting enough, we tried to correct with extrinsic rewards.

Wrong; wrong; wrong.

Science requires two key ingredients: curiosity and rigorously applying the scientific method.  If you have a burning question that deeply motivates you, the tediousness of the scientific process isn’t a burden.

This brings up a more fundamental law of Acton Quest creation:

Curiosity + Relevance + Fun + Group Interaction  >>> (must be far greater than) the difficulty of the process to learn and apply.

Boiling this into steps:

  1. Find out what raises a burning question in the minds of the Eagles;
  2. Make sure it matters to future heroes who will change the world.
  3. Raise the energy level by encouraging collaboration.

The more difficult or complex the process to be learned, the more energy you need from Curiosity + Relevance + Fun + Group Interaction.  (Note – be sure to remove as much confusion and as many technical frustrations  – like computer programs that won’t load – as possible.)

If a process is technical or complex, break it into parts, or be sure you have a particularly compelling exhibition at the end.

We’ll start correcting course next week, starting with asking Eagles: “What are curious about in the world?”

That’s where we should have started.  Why do Guides have to learn the same lessons, again and again?

Simulations, anyone?

This week Eagles are deeply involved in hands-on experiments involving projectile travel.  After all, if you want to win a Rocket Olympics, you need to know how to aim.

 

Understanding projectile travel is no easy task.  It means measuring the velocity of a projectile leaving your catapult, and using an equation to predict how far the projectile will travel. It requires a working knowledge of algebra and struggling with high school level Khan videos.

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Once our Eagles have built and tested their catapults and digested the theory and mathematics, it will be time to experiment with the art of simulation.  Do the experimental results confirm or call into question the equations?  Do the equations confirm the simulation?

Finally, given a new set of targets and the simulation, can you find the right settings to hit a real world target with your catapult, in only one try?  That’s putting science to work.

If you want to try the simulation, go here:  http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/projectile-motion

If you want to have some real fun, check out the 100 or so other simulations.  And then imagine how much fun you could have designing hands-on science projects that use these.

What’s the impact of “Bell Lab level” intentionality?

Discoveries, inventions and innovations from Bell Labs shaped the modern world.

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Today a test of scientific intentionality: Eagles were asked to imagine that the cameras in the studio were turned on, and that scientists from Bell Labs were watching.  Could we achieve a “Bell level” of intentionality all afternoon?  If so, how much more work could be accomplished than on an average day?

Those who didn’t want to take the challenge were asked to work outside, in silent Core Skills.

By the end of the day, a survey was taken.  Eagles believed they accomplished 50% more work than on a normal day.

What’s the cumulative value of a 50% increase in output, if each day of learning builds on the last?  In a week you would have learned 17.5 times as much.

Surely overstated, but consider for a moment people who are committed to a cause.  Don’t they get far more done than the average person?

Grit, perseverance and intentionality trump IQ, every time.  Just one of the many reasons the Hero’s Journey is so important – especially for world changing scientists.

“Best Work” in Science

What does it mean to do your “best work” in science?

Is it diligently repeating ancient experiments?  Carefully watching a few simple demonstrations?  Neat and tidy documentation? Or simply open ended inquiries?

Which is more likely to spark a love of discovery?   Which will develop the grit and perseverance required of world changing scientists? Which will better prepare Heroes for the 21st century?

Here’s a page from one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks:

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Here’s a collection of our Eagles scientific output, as they struggle to document their findings in hands-on experiments involving gravity and projectiles.  Is this a mess or an example of genius at work?

Today we discussed the criteria for best scientific work, by comparing the output from the Eagles with da Vinci’s work.  The Eagles’ criteria for “best work” in science:

  • Curiosity: The question must be interesting.
  • Clarity: Ten out of ten people must be able to understand the results.
  • Beauty: The notes should be organized and presented in a visually pleasing way.

So what do you believe defines “best work” in science?  An interesting question.

Calling Google, Amazon and Apple

Eagles seeking an apprenticeship with  Google , Amazon or Apple likely will be given a difficult, open ended problem, like: “How many cows are in Canada?”

It’s not the answer that matters, but the quality of the thinking.

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On Friday Eagles were challenged with a difficult physics problem.  If given the experimental set up above, and d2 (the distance of the cup), can you solve for h1, the height from which to drop the ball?

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No trial and error experiments were allowed.  No equations or cookbook theories were offered. Eagles had only four tries at three different d2 distances, and each try was expensive (25 pts) relative to the payoff (100 pts.)

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All week we worked on physics experiments that involved Newton’s Laws of Motion, the Four Fundamental Forces and the Scientific Method.  Careful observation and a lot of thought might have led one college student out of a hundred to the right approach for Friday’s competition, and an equation to solve this problem, using theory alone.

Can you solve it? (Hint – consider horizontal velocity and gravity separately.)

No Eagle came up with the perfect solution.  But many theories were proposed and tested.  Lots of frustration. Human error turned out to be important. So did working effectively as a team.  Two teams came close enough that their theories helped predict h1 during the competition.

In other words, our Eagles learned a lot about how science really works, not how it works in textbook experiments.  When you become a hero charged with launching real rockets, in the real world, this distinction will make all the difference.

Who knows, it might even land an apprenticeship with a private space entrepreneur like Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson or Elon Musk.

Shhhh! Skunk Works Ahead

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See the photos above?  It’s a skunk works – an off limits lab – operating deep inside Acton Academy.

So what’s going on behind these walls?  Well, with a skunk works, so that’s supposed to be a secret.  But given that Acton is an open source lab, it probably wouldn’t hurt to tell you.

Inside these walls, three Acton Eagle middle schoolers are working on a Quest for the week of January 20th.  And at another undisclosed location, a second team of three Eagles is hard at work on the following week’s curriculum.  A third team will start soon.

Middle school Eagles creating curriculum?  It’s one thing to believe Eagles can govern their own studios; quite another to believe they can create their own Challenges and Quests. But we believe they can.

That’s why Eagle teams will be working for the next few weeks with world-class game designed Jesse Jacobson, creating curriculum together so Jesse can create a prototype of a curriculum creation game, to inspire and equip Guides and Eagles to create their own Quests.

Just think of the power of young heroes who can imagine an interesting problem, and then design a way to inspire others to learn the skills and frameworks needed to solve it.

Just remember.  It’s a secret.  So don’t tell anyone.

Rockets, planets and atoms – Oh my!

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Today we started our “Big and Small” quest, designed to explore the question of whether Eagles are more motivated “feeling small” in an infinite universe or “feeling big” in a microscopic one.

For the next six weeks, our eagles will be tackling difficult challenges in Cosmology, Physics and Chemistry, preparing for a Rocket Olympics the week of February 10th where they will launch rockets (purchased with Eagle Bucks) competing on height, distance, accuracy, beauty and design.

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Along the way, they’ll be learning the practical and theoretical power Newton’s Laws, the Four Fundamental Forces and the Scientific Method.

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Today we started with simple “table cloth” and “dropping object” challenges to experience inertia, gravity and the Scientific Method firsthand, with the results probed in a Socratic discussion.

All of this will prepare our Eagles for a Friday competition that will take cunning and logic – as well as serious attention the the Scientific Method – to win.

 

Besting the Acton MBA’s

The air was electric with intentionality and seriousness.   Fifteen Acton Eagles had earned the right on Friday to prepare an Acton MBA case, and discuss it in the Acton MBA Socratic amphitheater.

Just before the launch, the Eagles learned the session was being taped and would be seen by the incoming MBA class, as a challenge to see who could have the most powerful Socratic Discussion. Game On!

Mason’s opening was crisp and on point.  Claire’s counter equally powerful.  Soon each Eagle was thoughtfully listening, responding, disagreeing or adding evidence.

The deep lessons from the Acton sims:  Robo-rush (bootstrapping); Lemonade stand (customer needs); Cha-Ching (sales funnels); Pricepoint (pricing); Fistful of Dollars (working capital and cash flow) and Galactic Zappers (assembly lines) could be heard in every comment.  So could the impact of the Acton MBA notes our Eagles had read and the entrepreneurship outings in the real world.

“My lemonade stand has a low break even and a rapid payout.”

“Should we price low or high?”

“What other substitutes would satisfy the same customer need?”

“Should we use an artisan production process or an assembly line or the Toyota cell method?”

“How do we defend against competition?”

Any class of Harvard or Acton MBA’s would have been wowed.

But the most impressive comments were those at the end of the day:

“When can we do that again?”

“That was the best adventure so far.  We should earn the right to learn like that again.”

“Can we create a makeshift Socratic amphitheater at Acton Academy?”

“We need to work harder on our own intentionality and Socratic process.  Can we start preparing cases for Civilization.”

“I’ve never had an hour and a half fly by so fast.”

“That was so much FUN!”

Stop and ponder this for a while.  Middle schoolers so excited about thinking and learning that they were begging for more work to do.

It just doesn’t get much better than that.

 

“Coffecake is for Closers”

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“Coffecake is for closers!”*

Why are these Eagles smiling?

First, each qualified for this week’s adventure by completing a difficult weekly Challenge Envelope; only four Eagles out of twenty four made the cut.

Secondly, each earned a treat by having the courage to peddle their Bestselling books, approaching. pitching and closing complete strangers at the local mall.**

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Reading, writing and mathematics, valuable skills in today’s world.  The ability to create, communicate, critically think and sell – priceless!

* Extra credit if you can identify the movie that inspired this quote.

** Don’t worry, Guides were keeping a watchful eye.

From a Bestselling Book to the Academy Awards

Frank Eakin and his family rediscovered the nineteenth book 12 Years as a Slave and helped turn it into an award winning movie.

12 years

On Friday Frank Eakin shared his Hero’s Story with our middle school Eagles via Skype, giving tips such as:

  • Make sure your book is different and stands out.  99% of books don’t sell more than 1,000 copies.
  • The right cover art and extras help a book sell itself.
  • Use inexpensive E-book editions to encourage first adopters.
  • Having a celebrity like Brad Pitt or Louis Gossett Jr. take an interest in your project can help spread the word, without advertising.

Maybe one day soon we’ll be walking down the red carpet with one of our Eagles!

The Revolt of the American Colonists has been suppressed. Long live King George!

What’s the difference between a revolution and a revolt?  Between Patriots and Rebels?  Whether you win or lose, for victors write the history.

Today, the revolt of the American Colonists failed.

We began the day reviewing other revolutionary heroes and revolutions:  Mahatma Gandhi; Martin Luther King; Kent State; the Fall of the Berlin Wall; Tienanmen Square.

It started to sink in that revolutions weren’t fun and games – not at all.  Real people, brave people, fought and died; sometimes it seemed for nothing at all.  Often they were students.

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Our Eagles grew increasingly uncomfortable as King George III’s edicts became more burdensome.    Even those loyal to the King grew disenchanted with his continually rising taxes and irksome demands.  Requiring Eagles to put their desks in rows was the last straw!

Given the real world consequences, Eagles learned that defying a Royal Edict would result in solitary confinement (behind a cardboard partition;) left only with a pen and a sheet of paper, like Reverend King and his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

Any violation of the rules of solitary confinement would result in being sent home.

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Several Eagles eventually did draw the King’s wrath and enter solitary confinement.

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Finally the Continental Congress submitted its Declaration of Independence.

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After several passes the brave Rebels  mustered a two thirds majority who pledged pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor.

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It was time to roll the die to see if the revolution had succeeded or failed.

The roll – a 4.  The revolution had failed.

A second roll, to determine the length of time the King’s war reparations would be endured by the Colonists.  A 6 – the maximum sentence of seven months.

The revolt had failed, put down by the Redcoats.

But the lessons endured.  Because no matter how brave the heroes, it’s not about winning or losing, but having the courage to give it your all, no matter what the outcome.

 

 

“Sire, the colonists are revolting.”

Today, the revolutionary plot thickened.

One by one, edicts restricting educational freedom arrived from King George III.

Edict One:  On hearing the Royal Buzzer, subjects must assemble within one minute.

Edict Two:   Before breaks in the schedule, line up in order of height and sing “God save the King.”

Edict Three:  One Khan Academy skill must be mastered per day – from home — or a tax of one Eagle Buck must be paid.

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Each Eagle did deep research on three eighteenth century American colonists: two Patriots and one Loyalist. Then choosing to stand in the shoes of one of these revolutionary leaders, wrote a petition to the King, asking for the edicts to stop.   Some letters were respectful; others threatening; all were critiqued by the group and the most historically accurate and powerful letters chosen to post.

Soon the class learned that they could pass an Educational Declaration of Independence by a two thirds vote.  But declaring such a revolution would lead to the rolling of a six sided die:  a roll of a 1 or 2 and the revolution would succeed and all educational freedoms would be restored; a more likely 3, 4, 5 or 6 and the revolution would fail.  If the revolution failed, a second die would determine whether a onerous set of penalties would be imposed by the King for as short as three weeks or as long as seven month.

The Eagles were in a bind; just like the American colonists of 1776.  Yet the edicts kept coming.

Edict Four required Eagles to remain silently seated at a their desks.

Edict Five asked Eagles to raise a hand to ask permission from a Guide for even the most trivial request.

Edict Six meant a one Eagle Buck tax on lunch.

The usually light atmosphere became oppressive.  The furious colonists began to fight amongst themselves, suggesting traitors in their midst (some did try to sell out to the King, asking for special treatment.)

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Some Eagles put on war paint to prepare their own Tea Party.

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Revolutionary committees formed and emotional speeches rang out.

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Eventually six delegates were elected to the Continental Congress;  some intent on war; others recommending careful negotiation.  All hid their identities when a representative of the King appeared, fearing retribution from the monarch.

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The day ended with no resolution and more edicts expected tomorrow – perhaps even a revolution and a fateful roll of the die – especially given this final silent Mocking-jay protest against tyranny (you have to have seen The Hunger Games to get this one!)

 

The British are coming! The British are coming!

A brief report from the American Revolutionary Front.

As if our Middle School Eagles didn’t have enough to do, today an edict arrived from a mysterious character named King George III, taking away some of the freedoms in the studio.

All Eagles are hard at work digging into early American history, researching the roles they might take as Patriots or Loyalists to address this threat.  There is talk of a Continental Congress to draft an educational Declaration of Independence.   Other Eagles seem to be currying favor with the King’s representatives.

Apparently King George III is making mischief in the Elementary studio as well.

Stay tuned for more news as it develops.  Until then, beware.  There are spies everywhere.

 

Eagles visit a Shark Tank

Eagles are working in teams to write, produce and sell a “bestselling book” in less than nine weeks.  A daunting challenge.

Launching the challenge several weeks ago was entrepreneur Clint Greenleaf, whose experimentation as an author led to building a self-publishing empire.

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Today entrepreneur Yuen Yung, famous for securing $1 million for his How Do You Roll sushi empire on Shark Tank, arrived to hear publishing pitches from the Eagles.

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As requested, Yuen was tough, peppering the Eagles with questions about customers and Unit Economics.  The performances were – shall we say – uneven.  Eagles know they have a lot of work to do in the next month.  But they were brave enough to pitch, and that matters a lot.

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Afterwards Yuen said: “Wow. I would have never been able to do that at their age.”

We bet he could have – at Acton Academy.

The Eagles take on the Shark Tank – and live to fight another day!

Profound Happenings

Progress is messy. Noisy. Full of angst.

Often you wonder if lessons about pricing; rapid prototyping; and haggling are getting through. Then you have a day of profound happenings.

Today’s Friday Adventure requires finding the most efficient and effective production process for making sandwiches for the homeless; applying lessons learned  from MBA level challenges in Pampered Pooches and Galactic Zappers.

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Those who have earned the adventure are split into two teams and armed with $30 for supplies: one team assigned to Costco; the other to Whole Foods.

The goal: Build as many “excellent sandwiches” as possible, at the lowest possible cost per sandwich.

Immediately a question: “Can we haggle to reduce the cost?”  Eagles find a way to use last week’s hard earned skill again.  A great start.

A list of ingredients.  Estimates of amounts needed for each ingredient and the expected cost per sandwich. We are ready.

Overheard on the way to Whole Foods:”At Acton we work hard all week on an impossible set of tasks, to earn the right to do something even harder where we learn even more.  But that’s OK, because  it’s so fun you can’t wait to get started.”

A profound lesson about motivation.

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Eagles split into teams in the stores.  Every minute counts because labor costs are $1 per hour, per person.  One team hasn’t planned as well and has to start over. Precious time is wasted.

We return to the studio.  The first task is for one Eagle to make sandwiches by hand.   Five sandwiches take a little over seven minutes, requiring 2.5 cents per sandwich in labor.

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Next Eagles are assigned a role in an assembly line, still paid by the hour.  Five sandwiches take one minute and forty seconds.  A much faster cycle time, but with six on a team, a cost of 3.3 cents per sandwich in labor.

Management theory is wrong.  An assembly line is not more efficient than artisan labor.

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Then one more test.  We pay Eagles by the sandwich instead of by the hour.  Workers are given the right to self organize.  Productivity doubles and the labor cost per sandwich plummets.

Lessons begin to tumble out:

“It’s better to work alone than in an assembly line, if a boss makes the assignments.”

“But if you pay people for completing a task and let each person do what they do best, working as a team is more efficient and more fun.” A profound truth; one of the bedrock lessons of entrepreneurship and a civil society.

One Eagle observes: “If you see a bottleneck, you can assign two people to relieve it.”

Another disagrees: “It’s cheaper to just add WIP in front of a station.”  (Adding Work-in-Process inventory is an insight most Harvard Business school graduates would have missed.)

A third Eagle adds: “If you put WIP in the middle of the table where everyone can use it, the process moves even faster.”

This is an  intuitive leap into cell manufacturing and the Toyota Method – never mentioned in the readings but discovered through trial and error by a twelve year old. It might have saved Detroit but eluded American auto executives for decades.

Much math is done on the board, in search of Unit Economics.  The Costco team is declared the winner, with lower cost ingredients and far higher output.  Then a voice from the crowd: “We have to inspect quality.”

Another agrees: “We can’t ask the homeless to eat anything we wouldn’t eat ourselves, just because they don’t have a choice.”

Half of the Costco sandwiches fail inspection; most Whole Foods sandwiches pass.  The Unit Economic results are reversed – the Whole Foods team has won.

One last insight: “Increasing volume doesn’t count if you can’t keep quality high too.”

Profound insights.  Lessons for a lifetime, deeply imbedded by authentic discovery. Plus forty homeless in Austin who won’t go to bed hungry tonight.

For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.

Legend has it when Earnest Hemingway was challenged to write a short story in six words, he picked up a cocktail napkin and wrote: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

At once, the mind races with questions.

Today, as part of revising their Bestselling Books, we asked our Eagles to do something similar. In six words or less, answer each of the following:

1. I promise my book will: _____________

2. You should believe me because: ______________

3. The main sub-points (chapters) of my book are:

  • _________________________
  • _________________________
  • _________________________
  • _________________________
  • _________________________

4. The order in which they are arranged is ___________ because _______________________.

5. Each chapter is further subdivided into ________________, then ________________, then ________________, then ______________ because ______________.

Brainstorming is important.  So is letting the words flow onto paper, as part of a rough draft.  But eventually you must organize your thoughts so the real writing can begin.

For this, clarity is everything. (Five words.)

Brevity, a close second.  (Four words.)

Could you run a real factory? Some of our Eagles could.

This week’s entrepreneurship focus is on operations – breaking down and sequencing a series of tasks in a cost effective way.

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Above, Eagles record their scores on the Pampered Pooch exercise.  Think it’s easy?

Then try your hand by clicking the link below :

https://s3.amazonaws.com/myej-static/assets/experience/flash_assets/ops_101/ops_101.htm

Feeling especially good about your operational skills?  Then give Galactic Zappers a try at

http://sims.myej.org/galacticzappers/

Pay careful attention to the relationships between revenue, variable, fixed period costs, primary sunk investments and profits if you want to progress.

A few of our Eagles made it past Level 21, which would be considered a feat for a Harvard or Stanford MBA.

“Is that the best you can do?”

Entrepreneurship is one of our themes this session, part of the Quest to write and peddle a “Bestselling Book.”

Today many of our Eagles learned how to haggle – the art of buying something at a discount – as a Friday Adventure earned by delivering their “best work” on a week’s worth of difficult challenges.  Many were successful; some failed; but all learned to overcome the fear of asking for a discount.

So what prepared our Eagles to haggle?

First a series of readings and on-line experiences on Unit Economics, learning to set price and to calculate revenues, variable costs, contribution, fixed period expenses and primary sunk investments – and more importantly – break even; payout and total profits.

Then playing the Acton MBA PricePoint game, a difficult online simulation where Eagles battled each other as they learned to start, avoid and survive price wars, honing the skill of setting marginal prices in that slippery region between maximizing profits and encouraging competitors to enter.

Next, Eagles read Everyone Needs a Little RLC – a note that describes the “rat-like-cunning” that entrepreneurs develop in the marketplace: enjoying the art of selling; reading people; haggling; not paying cash; protecting your downside and collecting free options.

Finally, Eagles prepared for battle with role plays, asking: “Is that the best you can do?” after a price was quoted and sitting in silence, for as long as it takes, to receive a discount.  And then it was off to used bookstores; used sporting goods stores and other retail outlets and bazaars to work on haggling in the real world!

Does haggling work?  It does for Eagles.  Simply by politely asking and tolerating silence, many Eagles received discounts of 40%; 50% and in one case 71% off list price.  Some Eagles even received major discounts at a popular sandwich shop for lunch.

Today’s lesson?  That simply by having the courage to ask politely and take advantage of the motivating power of marginal economics, you can  reduce you average daily cost of living by 50% or more.

Not a bad lesson for young heroes, preparing to take the real world by storm.

 

 

 

 

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.

Freedom and Accountability Part II

James Madison wrote in Federalist 51: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

Our middle schoolers are no angels, at least not all the time.  But they are an impressive group of young men and women, learning to govern each other with a grace and dignity that few adults could match.

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Today we had a model Town Hall meeting: the choices well framed; each welcomed to speak; the rules of engagement enforced.

Starting next week, we’ll experiment with another self-accountability experiment, and see how it affects motivation.

First each Eagle will certify which weekly challenges from he or she has completed.  Then the Council randomly will draw one computerized deliverable (like Khan Academy) and another non-computerized deliverable (like a journal entry.) Each Eagle will be asked to publicly post his or her results for these deliverables and self rank whether the contribution was in the lower, middle or bottom part of the class.

There is no penalty for choosing not to complete a challenge, except the loss of points towards Eagle Bucks, and possibly missing the weekly adventure, if that specific deliverable was required to qualify.

The penalty for certifying you have completed a deliverable and done “your best work” if it’s obvious you haven’t, will be being sent home, no questions asked, since this is a serious violation of the community honor code.

Next week we elect a new Council, as other Eagles earn a chance to lead.  This Council will be missed.

Young Entrepreneurs: Our Hope for the Future

The Seventh Annual Acton Children’s Business Fair: more than one hundred and twenty five new businesses; nearly two hundred young entrepreneurs between ages six and fourteen; over sixteen hundred eager customers.

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Observing adults in America can leave you with a cynical bent.  But even the hardest of hearts would have melted today in the face of the creativity, energy and enthusiasm of our young entrepreneurs.

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Alexis de Tocqueville wrote movingly of civil society in America, those voluntary gatherings of free citizens intent on bettering the community.  Score one today for the power of civil society and hope for the future.

A Hero who disrupted the world of publishing

A real treat today.  Clint Greenleaf, an entrepreneur who disrupted the publishing industry by launching Greenleaf Publishing, shared his Hero Story.

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Here’s Clint’s tale: As a 22 year old accountant he was working sixteen hours a day, successful but not fulfilled.  Then Clint wrote a book about shining shoes; a simple, somewhat crude book, but to his surprise customers bought hundreds of copies each day.  This led to new editions.  Finally to launching a highly successful self-publishing company that changed the world.

The message to our Eagles?  You can do it.  It takes hard work and passion.  Start small. Fail early, cheaply and often.

A powerful message for young entrepreneurs, hard at work disrupting education at Acton Academy; hard at work this session, dedicated to writing and marketing a bestselling book.

Thirty minutes of one man’s generosity that may have launched several budding authors and publishers.  Not a bad morning’s work.

Looking Back; Looking Forward

Last session seems so far ago.  Creating a Learning Community; researching Motivation Heroes; conducting a crisp debate; constructing a Personal Learning Plan for the year.

At times it felt like an all out sprint; at other times frustratingly slow.  Some days the community hummed with intensity; other days Lord of the Flies seemed just around the corner.  And yet, the Eagles owned it; all of it.

Perhaps it’s fitting we saw the movie Gravity the last day of the session, because looking back, it seemed an out-of-this-world experience.

Now it’s time for Session Two.  The overarching question remains the same: “What motivates a Hero?”  As a civilization, it seems we know so little about motivation, despite dozens of theories.

This session we tackle Entrepreneurship and Writing a Bestselling Book.

What motivates an entrepreneur to create and innovate? How do you motivate a team?  Is it really money that drives the world or the love of using your gifts?

Middle schoolers writing a bestselling book?  In nine weeks? Is that really possible?

Most people would say “no.”  What a ridiculous idea. But they haven’t met our Eagles.

 

 

Favorite quotes of the week

My favorite quote this week from an Eagle:

“It’s really hard to explain to my friends who attend other schools that I work harder and get more done than they do, yet I never have homework.  They just don’t get it.”

Another favorite from an Eagle parent following the debate:

“The debates on the porch were amazing!  I was a speech major at UT and never participated in a debate—how can that be?

When my friends ask me about Acton, I tell that that my middle schooler very simply goes to college!”

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.

Lights, camera…dress rehearsal

Today was Dress Rehearsal Day.

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Eagles formed in groups of six.  Each debating pair faced off, one by one.  Rock, paper scissors to decide who would start.  The Opener had two minutes minimum; three minutes maximum “in the box;” then the Challenger followed.

Rebuttals came next; each side allowed two minutes to spot logical fallacies or attack with logos, ethos or pathos. Finally, one minute each to close, with the Challenger going last.

All of this captured on video, for later debriefing.

Some Eagles had too little material, and had to stand “in the box” (a taped area on the floor) until the minimum time expired, a reminder of what would happen on Thursday if you didn’t have enough to say.  Some had too much material, and would have to pare.

Each Eagle received a critique; first warm critiques of praise; then cool critiques with advice of how to improve.

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Then it was time to download and review the video. All getting ready for Thursday’s Debates and Personal Learning Plan presentations.

Soon “standing in the box” would be all too real, in front of a live audience.

 

Nothing concentrates the mind like a…

Nothing concentrates the mind like a public exhibition.

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Samuel Johnson said: “Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind 

In this same spirit, the air is sizzling in anticipation for next Thursday’s Motivation Hero Debate and Personal Learning Plan exhibition.  Nothing like having to perform in public to motivate an Eagle.

Today, we upped the ante with the following Personal Learning Plan Challenge:

“Eagles,

  • Do you want to impress your parents and friends with your Personal Learning Plan (“PLP”)?
  • Do you want to “prove what you can do” to land an exciting apprenticeship this spring? or
  • Would you just like an Ice Cream Party next Friday to celebrate the end of the session?

Here’s the deal: If everyone meets the requirements below, we’ll have an Ice Cream Party next Friday afternoon.  You can even invite the Elementary Eagles to attend if you throw in 40 Eagle Bucks to pay for their ice cream.

All returning Middle School Eagles have to send an email (vetted by another Eagle or Running Partner for grammar) to the entrepreneur or manager who sponsored your apprenticeship with a “thank you for what you inspired me to do this year at Acton” note AND a link to your PLP by next Friday at 10 AM (copy Ms Abgail).

All Eagles new to the MS need to send an email note to your Running Partner’s parents saying “look what my Running Partner inspired me to do,” including a link to your PLP.

Each Eagle’s Running Partner must certify that your Personal Learning Plan has met the minimum recommended requirements, including the Evidence Tickets for each area below, presented in a clear and attractive way:

  • Math deadlines for Pre-Algebra and the next math challenge (Algebra; Geometry; Trig)
  • Reading goals;
  • Writing goals, including typed versions of your three best journaling examples.
  • Civilization goals;
  • Learning Badge goals
  • At least eight MyHJ tickets, including: Gifts; Flow; Opportunities and Injustices; Eulogy and Epitaph; My Heroes; My Three Apprenticeships;
  • For your Motivation Hero Debate:  at least one of the Mentor Text analyses; your final written presentation and at least one of the written video analyses.

Note: As part of the PLP Contest, every parent will receive: (1) a schedule comparing your commitments for this coming year in reading, writing, math and Learning Badges to your classmates; (2) a complete copy of all of the Evidence Tickets for the session; and (3) the minimum requirements listed above, so they can have more perspective on the work you’ve done this semester.

Please feel free to revisit and update your plans – especially for Math and Learning Badges.”

Making promises – to yourself and people you respect.  Public exhibitions, even when it’s hard, because real world consequences prepare heroes for the real world. Special celebrations, because hard work and fun are not mutually exclusive.

Can We Try an Experiment?

Today an Eagle asked if he could try an experiment about motivation (Our overarching question for the year is: “What motivates a hero?”)

Our Eagle was was curious how caffeine and sugar affected motivation. So with the permission of parents, he wanted to offer each Eagle a six ounce cup of coffee at the start of the day.

In a blind test, some Eagles would get caffeinated coffee, others decaf.  Some Eagles would get natural sugar; others artificial sugar.  Eagles would be asked to track their motivation levels and accomplishments during the day.  The results would be discussed and published.

Suddenly the questions began.  About getting permission.  Setting up the trial.  Whether subjective or objective results would be more important to track.  Whether their was a large enough sample size.

A curious twelve year old.  Proposing a real experiment.  Debating the structure of the experiment and the questions that should be asked of classmates.

This is how real scientists are equipped and inspired.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions….

Work hard. Play hard. What comes next?

Decisions. Or better put, decision strategies.

Having a toolkit of decision strategies – different recipes for solving unstructured problems in different ways — is similar to a carpenter having a hammer, a screwdriver and a saw.

If all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail. If you have different decision making tools, it increases your chances of solving a difficult problem.  And it widens your perspective, so you see more of the world that’s in front of you.

Examples?

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Seeing how many “big rocks,” ping pong balls, sand and water you can fit into a container delivers lessons about limits, time, scheduling and the need to decide whether a problem is urgent, important or neither.

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Playing a game where you have a limited time to scoop up low and high dollar poker chips from piles located around the room gives you a visceral sense of the 80/20 Pareto rule, and the need for busy entrepreneurs to “focus and shift.”

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A challenge that simulates defusing a bomb teaches that some tasks must be done exactly right, requiring an entirely different approach to these types of problems.

Core skills like reading, writing and arithmetic. Fundamental.  That’s why Eagles spent three hours this morning in Core Skills “flow.”  But in the 21st Century, having a toolkit of decision making skills is every bit as important as mastering Core Skills for heroes who expect to change the world.

Preparing Scientific Heroes in the 21st Century

How do you teach science in the 21st century?  If you want to inspire young heroes to change the world through discoveries, inventions and innovations, our belief is that you don’t “teach” science at all.

Why not?  Because when you study the lives of world changing scientists, you realize that these heroes weren’t “taught” science in a traditional way.  Sterile historical experiments and textbooks do not provoke the imagination.  And the indoctrination of Scientism – that science is the ruling authority in the modern world and can explain the entire universe – discourages the irreverent curiosity and maverick spirit that lead to new breakthroughs.

Our goal is to equip and inspire our Acton Eagles to be brave scientific paradigm busters, puzzler creators and data gathers, even if they never choose science as a calling.  We invite them to deeply study the lives of paradigm busters like Galileo and Einstein, citizen-scientists like Benjamin Franklin and tireless trial and error scientific entrepreneurs like Thomas Edison or the pioneers at Bell Labs.

In the curriculum, we continually refer to Thomas Khun’s Theory of Scientific Revolutions, the paradigm shifts in the past and the brave heroes who led them, emphasizing how today’s accepted truths may be overthrown by future mavericks.

In real world projects our Eagles face the tensions between competing paradigms and heroes, learning to be skeptics who seek to disprove theories, gaining a practical understanding in hands-on challenges of topics like electricity, chemistry, genetics, biology, physics and cosmology, to name a few.

We want our Eagles to experience firsthand the ego clashes, catfights, accidents, missteps and reversals that made science, by standing in the shoes of Newton or Galileo or Einstein.  To see how scientific advances begin as stories, created in the minds of heroes, influenced by emotions and political intrigue, leading to theories, experiments, inventions  and eventually world changing innovations, all subject to later being overturned by new discoveries or innovations created in a competitive marketplace.

We long for our Eagles to be deeply curious and awed by the mysteries of the natural world and to focus more on provocative questions than answers.  That’s why we’ll often revisit the debate between Francis Bacon and Adam Smith.

Is Bacon correct that discovery leads to invention to innovation in an orderly process, and that government support of institutionalized science is the key to progress?

Or is Adam Smith correct that tinkering with real world problems, adding investment to old science in pursuit of practical trial and error experiments, in places like Edison’s Menlo Park lab and Bell Laboratories, creates the wealth that allows us to invest in basic science?

Teach science as a dry series of facts and an arrogant institutional worldview?  Never.

Expose Eagles to the rich history of scientific creative destruction, debating hard questions in the shoes of real world heroes?  Absolutely.

Equip them with the courage to ask difficult questions and seek their own truth, with the practical skills to design and launch trial and error experiments and the humility to admit when they are wrong?

Now that would be a real scientific advance, wouldn’t it?

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.

Math Challenge: Algebra, Geometry or Trig?

Today was the conclusion of the Math Challenge, with three Eagles pitching to convince their fellow travelers to take either Algebra, Geometry or Trig next.  (Thanks to Khan Academy, Eagles are free to pick and pursue an individual specialty in Math.)

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Each Eagle described the history of their math specialty, how it could be used in real life, the level of difficulty and the “math heroes” who invented and added to it.

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Following the presentation, a spirited Socratic discussion changed quite a few minds.

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Then the final vote: Algebra wins! (Though each Eagle will be allowed to pick his or her individual path.)

Syllabi versus Quests

A battle is raging over the Common Core curriculum, a nationwide effort to deliver a standardized syllabus to every teacher in America.

Yesterday, I asked our middle school Eagles how soon they would be comfortable designing their own Learning Quests, the series of real world challenges, set in a compelling narrative, that Acton Eagles use to acquire world skills and “learn to be” lessons.

“Probably a year and a half,” replied one, “I need to see a few more examples.”

“More like a year,” answered another, “if we made it a priority.”

“We could do it now,” chirped a third, “it just wouldn’t be our best work.”

Government committees, decreeing standardized lessons, designed to allow teachers in a classroom to deliver facts, at a cost of over $10,000 per student per year.

Aspiring heroes, creating their own personalized quests, full of real world challenges, guiding each other and preparing for paying apprenticeships, at a cost of $1500 per student per year.

Care to wager which approach creates more 21st century leaders?