Tag Archives: Jack

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.

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.

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.

“That’s mean…you’re better than that.”

It’s starts with a passing remark between friends.  Perhaps even something misheard.  Feelings are hurt but unexpressed.

Later, something biting in response, disguised as humor: sarcasm.

No matter the cause, the effect is corrosive.  Soon, a friendship may be lost.  Later, it may cost a marriage.

Are unkind words merely a rite of middle school passage?  We think not. We believe our Eagles can transcend petty meanness.

Over the years, Acton MBA students have done thousands of “Stars and Steppingstone” interviews with successful people from 30 to 85 years old.  If you listen carefully, the older, wiser role models will all tell you the same thing, that near the end of life, you will ask some form of the following three questions:

  • Did I contribute something meaningful?
  • Was I a good person?; and
  • Who did I love and who loved me?

Monday, 14 year old Maria Teresa’s story reminded our Eagles of the first question; that each is expected to change the world in a meaningful way.

Tuesday, we examined the second question, what it means to be a “good person” and how sarcasm and passive aggressive behavior are small acts of cowardice, the easy way out.  Acton heroes are expected to confront mean remarks head on, so relationships can be repaired.

One young Eagle even had the courage to gently but firmly confront a friend, in front of the entire class, using the new techniques of conflict resolution we had practiced.  A genuine act of bravery for both parties.

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By the end of class, nine brave Eagles stepped forward with a bold promise.  To wear honesty bracelets for one week, as a commitment to call out and stamp out mean comments, so as to make the community stronger.

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Can middle school students really build a far healthier community than most adults?

We believe they can and will.

“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.

Back in the Flow

The first day back from break almost always is a challenge.  The second day, better.

We opened with a clip from Whodunnit – a wonderful test of our Eagle’s observational powers.  Attention to detail matters. It matters for a writer who uses crisp details to hook you into a story; it matters to a cook who needs “everything in its place;” it matters to a detective at a crime scene.

We also are tightening the focus on goals – long term goals for the session; weekly SMART goals; daily goal check ins with Running Partners.

After setting ambitious goals for all three, Eagles were back at work in Khan for math; were introduced to our new Mystery Writing challenge by Ms Abigail; and continued on their Detective Quest with hands on work collecting fingerprints and documenting a crime scene.

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Eagles guiding Eagles

Many outsiders have been skeptical when I predict we’ll find peer guiding and peer course creation to be far more powerful than using adult leaders.  After all, who would believe that a middle or high schooler could be trusted with the learning of an younger student?

Today we had our first real test as two elementary school Eagles, Lazlo and Sam, came into the middle school to lead the six MS Eagles who had reached 50 skills in Khan  in an introduction to the Manga High math program (our three MS’ers who graduated from AA ES already know Manga.)  Given the round of applause at the end, the mission was a rousing success.

The Elementary Eagles invited the MS’ers to join them in a Manga challenge against a high school.  Last year, the ES’ers made it all the way to third place in all of North America, competing against middle schools and high schools.

We worked hard this week on SMART goals and encouraging Eagles to set goals and hold themselves and their Running Partners for “giving their best.”  We’ll continue that emphasis in the weeks ahead.

Ms Abigail pushed forward on the film project.  Below an Eagle is presenting a specific filming technique he had researched, as Eagles discuss how they might use it in their individual films.

How bright is the future of our Eagles?  So bright, they have to wear shades!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using the Pythagorean theory for surveying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Becoming a writer

Students have been writing in their journals every day; some have been writing a lot; others far less.  Today, we made our first major push into more serious writing.

After checking the day’s SMART goals in morning huddle, we dove straight into the writing project.

Eagles started by reading journal entries from four authors chosen by Ms Abigail: J.K. Rowling on inventing the word “horcrux;” Anne Frank’s diary;  a post from an eighteen year old learning a lesson about “eye contact;” and an entry from a college student about his cat. As they read, each student noted the most powerful parts of each selection.

Next, we had a short Socratic discussion on what elements made for strong writing: “being specific;” “describing sights, smells, sounds, tastes and touch;” and “connecting with the reader’s emotions” were among the student’s observations. We also discussed “man vs man; man versus nature; and man versus himself/herself” as different ways to describe classic conflicts.

We then adjourned for each student to spend fifteen minutes of solitude considering the question: “At the end of your hero’s journey, which question will be most important to you: (1) Have I contributed something meaningful? (2) Was I a good person? or (3) Who did I love, and who loved me?”

Eagles then had thirty minutes to turn their ideas into a rough draft. As shown below, some wrote at desks; some in bean bag chairs; others outside near the lake.

After the drafts we complete, Eagles broke into groups of three, to read their favorite sentences, and receive affirmation and coaching from their peers, reinforcing the “power elements” they had identified before.

Two and a half hours of a concentrated writing workshop had passed in an instant, with the students making almost all of the discoveries. In the “lessons learned,” a powerful series of ideas surfaced about “how to write” (learn to do); about how writing affects your hero’s journey (learn to be) and about how the process we had used to create and critique writing could be improved.

In the afternoon, Eagles focused on their new MyHJ assignments of finding a Guide and Running Partner, and core skills.

Building Community

At Acton Academy, we spend an enormous amount of time and energy the first five weeks building a powerful learning community, constructed by the students.

Today, we continued to establish the reading, writing (communications) and math rhythms for core skills, while Ms Anna launched the start of Project Time with a series of experiences that equip students to develop their own “rules of engagement” that will determine how the community governs itself.

Without knowing it, Eagles are absorbing the lessons and habits required to run a world class organization, while they learn.  Notice the intensity of concentration that’s already evident.

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