Tag Archives: Charlie

The Charge of the Acton Brigade

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

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

We assembled to read Lord Tennyson’s famous poem:

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

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

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

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

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

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Brave Charlie would capture the flag too.

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

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

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

Summer: Intentional Celebration

At Acton Academy, we see the summer session as six weeks of intentional celebration.

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Yesterday, three middle schoolers were awarded Independent Learner badges in a school wide ceremony, symbolizing that they had completed all of the challenges necessary to become an Independent Learner.  An elementary Eagle received his Independent Learner binder during the ceremony, signifying that he had completed all of the math, reading, writing and critical thinking prerequisites needed to start work on his Independent Learner challenges.

The Independent Learner; Running Partner; Socratic Guide; Project Leader and even more senior learning badges present challenges that Eagles need to master to run their own companies and not-for-profits.  Each badge earned is a big event at Acton, and worthy of a celebration.

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Intentional celebration can be just pure fun too, especially since Eagles are still learning  long after most traditional schools have dismissed for the summer.

Today was “Crazy Hair” day, with the middle schoolers inviting the elementary Eagles over to serve them a surprise Ice Cream sundae party.

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Learning can be fun and hard at the same time.  It also can be intentional and celebrated — just like a Hero’s Journey.

Speeches that change the world

Winston Churchill.

Martin Luther King.

Ronald Reagan.

At key turning points, great leaders use powerful words to change the world.

Yesterday, each MS Eagle gave an original ten minute speech, standing in the shoes of a great leader, at a particular place and time. Winston Churchill; George S Patton; Joan of Arc; Nat Turner; Sam Houston; Ethan Allen; Pocahontas; William B Travis; George Washington and others.

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Over a six week period, draft after draft of the speeches were written, focusing on Ideas; Organization; Sentence Fluency; Word Choice; Voice and Convention (grammar.)  Peer critiques were provided, but not one word of text was changed because of advice from an adult Guide.

Then time to verbally draft.  To listen for which words had impact, cadence and flow; to eliminate others.  To hone the delivery and solicit the advice of peers.  Could middle schoolers really teach each other how to give powerful speeches?

Yesterday, we found out the answer, in front of a roomful of parents, elementary school Eagles and other guests.  The results were stunning.  Truly stunning.  At times you felt that Churchill or Houston or Joan of Arc were in the room.  The words were beautiful.  So were the deliveries.

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Then time for a celebration.  A well earned celebration.

Our Eagles now know that when called on to give a world changing speech, they can deliver.  Quite a skill to have in your quiver.  Even more amazing that you and your friends taught each other how to do it.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the vedict is….

“All rise. Court is in session.”

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Today the Elementary and Middle School Eagles recreated the Salem Witch Trials.Would those accused of witchcraft and sowing illness in Salem hang or go free?

The setting was 17th century Salem, but Eagles were free to submit 21st century forensic science and psychology experiments as evidence.

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Elementary Eagle Townspeople protested outside.  Opening statements came from the prosecution and defense.  Witnesses were questioned and cross examined.  All written by the Eagles, based on 17th century characters they created.

Finally it was time for closing statements in the Middle School trial. Then the judge delivered instructions to the Parent Jury.

After fifteen minutes, the verdict was in: the defendants were “not guilty,” but asked to close a local bakery that may have been responsible for illnesses in Salem.

Case closed – and the end of another successful Quest.

From Tribes to Prison

Today we continued the Psychology Quest by recreating (with kinder and gentler oversight) the Stanford Prison experiment made famous by Zimbardo, with Eagles tribal loyalties still fully intact.

During launch, Eagles were informed that there were secret police among them, armed with the power to arrest for a “lack of intention” or even on a whim.  Tension was in the air during Core Skills.

Mid-morning, we paused to run the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and discussed what game theory can teach us about human nature; how “past determines the future” and the importance and fragility of trust.

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Then, at 11 AM, one Eagle donned a hat, reflective sunglasses and a badge and made the first arrest.  Soon, another arrest followed and more Eagles were deputized to serve as jailers.

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At first, all of those jailed were Oranges, leading to charges of prejudice.  Then a few Reds filled out the prison. Only a few Eagles remained as bystanders.

Grievances were filed.  Privileges taken away. Punishments levied.  Punishments increased.  Soon a few guards – surprisingly some of the kindest Eagles – began to let power go to their heads.  Duty became cruel delight.

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One Eagle prisoner agreed to denounce his tribe (photo above as an Eagle changes his tribe colors); in a real prisoner’s dilemma bind, an Eagle ratted out an innocent classmate; another prisoner agree to become an informant in return for pay and privileges.

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Before long, a number of Eagle prisoners were in solitary confinement.  And even some taunting began.  It was time to call the experiment before things got out of hand. (Guides commented how eerily the posing mimicked photos from Abu Graib.)

During a lengthy debrief, it was clear that powerful lessons had been learned, like:

  • “Given power, a human will become an animal;”
  • “Power hides the truth;” and
  • “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

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Then it was time to heal the tribe.  In a powerful ritual, the Eagles tied their tribal bandanas to a rope that was used in a trust exercise, and then following a discussion about and photos from Abu Graib and how each of our shadows can cause us to treat fellow human beings as objects, we buried our shadow objects and reunited a tribe.

Understanding the power of Tribes and Shadows.  Feeling the power of a Shadow unleashed. Turning Shadows from projection to Gold.  All experiences that leaders who will someday change the world should experience, long before they hold the corrupting influence of real world power in their hands.

Apprenticeships: Ready for Lift Off

We launched this morning by listening to Ronald Reagan’s Challenger speech and comparing it to Franklin Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address.

The goal is to have Eagles luxuriate in great speeches – soaking in the most powerful words, phrases and symbols as they listen and observe more intentionally.

Next session each Eagle each will choose a historical figure and write and deliver a speech as that character, at an important time and place.

This morning Eagles rehearsed and polished their final Apprenticeship pitches – determined to secure each a real world apprenticeship by April.

  • How do you grab someone’s attention early in an email, call or in person meeting, long enough to ask an important question?
  • How do you explain a complex idea like an apprenticeship, in just a few words?
  • How do you ask for the job; clearly, directly in a way that’s difficult to refuse?

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Bravely, our Eagles explored these questions and prepared for the “Big Ask” next week.

Then, in the afternoon, ink blot tests and more Jungian dream analysis, the beginning of understanding the power of that FDR and Reagan’s symbols – and especially the Hero’s Journey — are deep inside each one of us.

Inner work and the dreams of heroes

This week our Detectives-in-Training become Forensic Psychologists in training, as our Eagles begin to dig into their own inner worlds.

Why do some people keep repeating unhelpful behaviors?  How can understanding yourself make you a more successful athlete or a better friend?  How can you decide whether the boy or girl you just met is the “right one” for you or a passing infatuation?

All pressing questions for middle school students.

During the next five weeks in the Psychology Quest, we’ll explore dreams, the shadow self (projecting); active imagination, scapegoating and mob mentality, all as the Eagles began preparing for a reenactment of the Salem Witch trials with modern day forensics.

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On Day One of the Psychology Quest, Eagles were introduced to Carl Jung as a hero, and explored the unconscious, sub-conscious and conscious mind through word association, free drawing and free sculpting.

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A psychologist would have a field day with the symbols, archetypes and emotions that poured out.

Our Eagles also received dream journals and pledged to start recording their nightly dreams, for later analysis.

Let the dreams begin!

Making Waffles, Planning Parties and Standardized Tests

Today the Middle School Eagles had a self organized Waffle Party – each bringing recipes, supplies and equipment.

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Yes, we had Core Skills today. Yes, we practiced how to pitch for an apprenticeship. Yes, we reviewed “lessons learned” from the Detective Quest.

We even had an inspiring Hero Talk from our Acton Academy Guatemala Guide Daniel, who challenged our Eagles to concert their dreams into reality – today!

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Life is short.  Our Eagles worked hard these last six weeks. So as we near the end of this six week “sprint,” celebrating achievements — and learning about cooking waffles and party planning — is well within the Acton curriculum.  Even if it never shows up on a standardized test.

“Ummm…I mean like…ummm…like”

Have you ever been driven half crazy by Valley Speak, that teenage compulsion to pause every millisecond to insert “ummm” or “like” into the conversation?

If so, you might find our Eagles’ latest middle school experiment interesting.

In an attempt to improve the quality of discussions, Eagles now “buzz” during a Socratic discussion whenever the work “ummm” or “like” is used.  A “buzz” means your comment is over, and you’ve lost your turn to speak.

At first, eight out of ten comments were “buzzed”.  The conversation moved forward in fits and starts, seemingly engulfed in an angry beehive.  Many speakers were shocked at how often and how much they relied on filler words.

Now, after only two days, the use of filler words has dropped eighty percent or more.

The surprise?  Discussions are now full of purposeful silence.  Listeners lean into the conversation, engaged, instead of tuning out.

As a parent, this may be Acton Academy’s greatest gift to humanity, at least for our family.

A telling detail; a piece of moldy bread, an awkward pause….

What do a telling detail; a piece of moldy bread and an awkward pause have in common?  The are all part of a day of learning at Acton Academy.

Yesterday the Eagles were hard at work completing the first draft of their mystery stories.  We even suspended journalling for most of the week, to allow for more time to add plenty of the telling details that make for excellent writing.

Then came project time, where the science of decomposition (moldy bread) and lie detection (an awkward pause) were two new skills Eagles needed to be investigate, practice and perfect as part of solving the “whodunnit” in our Detective Quest.

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Learning to communicate and persuade in ways that matter in the lives of our Eagles.  Putting science into action by practicing skills that not only help solve a quest, but will be used in real life for decades to come.

That’s the difference between “learning to do” and “learning to be” for our Eagles — and the monotony of  regurgitating “learn to know” facts that soon will be forgotten.

Writing their own stories, in every way…

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

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

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

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

Learning to set your own standards

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At Acton Academy, we turn over the governance of the classroom to Eagles.  Above, the past Council met with its recently elected replacements to discuss ways to inspire their fellow travelers to even greater heights.

Why do we trust the setting, encouragement and enforcement of maintaining incredibly high community learning standards to a group of students?  Because they govern themselves far better than if lorded over by adults.  And because we want our Eagles to be leaders, not rule followers.

So how does a beginning author or artist or game designer set their own standards of excellence?  By looking at world class examples and comparing those to his or her first attempts.

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Below, photos of Eagles creating and comparing prototype games.

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And most importantly, the criteria they developed to judge whether or not a game is “world class.”

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Here, an example of a group critique in action.

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Because if you can learn to set your own standards; set them high; judge your progress draft after draft, gathering honest critiques as you move towards excellence, you are well on your way to the mastery of any skill, craft or art.

Learning to Gamble – Not!

Friday was Casino Day at Acton, as Eagles spent the afternoon putting their new found probability skills to the test at Blackjack, Craps, Roulette and other games of luck (and some skill.)

Each Eagle traded in Eagles Bucks for chips, and kept careful track of the number of plays, amount wagered and won and lost at each game.  The goal was to decide which game offered the best odds, and why.

The overall lesson – games of chance are not a good bet.  Eventually, the law of large numbers means you will lose!

dragons and an election

Tuesday mornings are core skills intensive, with an extra hour for students to work on foreign language, math, reading, and writing.  Today they also used some of that time to meet in their film crews as the deadline for getting their projects green-lighted for production approaches.


Art provided a change of pace as students worked on their dragon drawings and studied dragon mythology.

It was election day, and a buzz of nervous energy permeated the room especially during project time when Ms. Samantha presented the opportunity to vote for or against an extra 30 minutes of morning silence in the classroom.  Many students were surprised when, despite some preliminary polling that indicated a likely majority against that extra 30 minutes, the final count was in favor of a full hour of silence during core skills.  Lesson learned:  a poll is a snapshot of the present rather than an accurate predictor of the future.

Lights, Camera, Eagles

Eagles are juggling up to five personal priorities/goals at the moment; some using the leadership rubrics we discussed, others struggling.  Together, the class exceeded its goals of 140 Khan math skills added this week, but two Eagles failed to reach their minimum of 20 skills, so they did not earn the privilege of free time.

At Acton Academy, just like the real world, failure happens often, and is celebrated if it’s early and inexpensive, and leads to valuable lessons.

Friday we continued with our series of standardized reading and math tests, that we hope to wrap up soon (we consider these tests a necessary evil.)

On a positive note, Abigail introduced the new film project, our major writing and communication core skills challenge for the fall, which will involve pitching; story boarding, writing and shooting a film, the be show at the AAMS film festival in December.

Eagles watched trailers from the Toronto Film Festival and as they thought about their films and discussed:  What is a film?  What is a story? Is your life a story?  What makes a good story? They explored the beginning, middle, end of a story and turning points, before dividing into groups to share ideas to compare and contrast various films.

Charlie, Ellie, Jack were elected to the first Governing Council, in a close contest, where all candidates were asked to read selections from The Prince warning about flattery. Next week – to the ranch, to apply science and math to the real world, in search of new paradigms!

Heroic Committments

This was an important day for our Acton Eagles.  We continued to work on journaling (today on the question of how “learning styles” and “love languages” affect Heroes’  Journeys and leadership styles); Khan Academy and “reading your favorite book,” as well as leadership challenges during project time (“untie the knot” and “comfort, challenge and panic zones”.)

Much more importantly, today each Acton Eagle signed the Contract of Promises; Rules of Engagement; Governance Framework and They Say-We Say rubric – making a deeply personal commitment to each of his or her peers.  Before doing so, each student reflected on how the Founding Fathers were really just ordinary people, with extraordinary courage, much like themselves.  We also discussed the bravery of the men and women of the Alamo, accepting Colonel Travis’ challenge and crossing the line he had drawn in the sand.  Then, one-by-one, and in complete silence, each Eagle came forward and signed the documents.

Note that these founding documents are the student’s creation.  In less than two weeks, our Eagles have proposed and debated principles, drafted and wordsmithed and finalized a series of promises and pledges that will govern their own learning.  Quite extraordinary for any group, of any age.

We still have many trials and challenges ahead: electing leaders for their skills and judgment rather than popularity; our Guides staying in Socratic mode; developing and reinforcing the habit of committing to learning goals and following through, especially when learning becomes difficult.  But the foundation has been laid – by the students themselves.

A Day in the Barton Creek Jungle

Thanks to Kenzie for this update:

Today was terrific day at Acton Academy! We had our first field field trip. We learned how to trust each other, and guide one another along the way of learning. We started out learning some handy tricks, then did some physical activity’s, then completed a block game that tricked our minds and were the first class in five years to get the cubes in order from greatest to least with the amount 31 tries, then ended rock climbing with a partner. When we got back to the school we discussed the generous traits that each person did for one another.

(Don’t forget to bring *baby pictures and books*)

Thank You!!

September 4th – Observations

Attached are some photos from the day, starting from the first hero’s walk (notice the first photo of Coach Carpenter on the lower left!

Thank you to Ms. Abigail and Ellie for these observations:

– Ellie took ownership of her new space and acted as a community-minded running buddy by being the first to volunteer to oversee/brainstorm room cleaning tasks

-Jack showed good leadership and listening skills when he volunteered to take a turn moderating the question session.

-Charlie, during art, relayed a story he’d read (about a girl who claimed her eyes were the biggest things in the world because they could contain everything she’s seen) that added dimension to the task at hand.

– Ellie would like to add that Pace was a great Socratic discussion leader during the part of the day when we broke into two groups to ask and answer questions from the question  box