Every year at Acton Academy, we have an overarching question we try to relate to our session-long projects. This year’s question is: “Who do you want to be?”
We started this off with our first quest, which was Building the Tribe and Building our Community. We had the Eagles draw avatars of themselves where they focused on who they want to be in the community. In each hand, their avatar is holding something they want to learn about or grow in, such as being a better sibling or getting better at Math. They also had little words around them of things they are already good at or passionate about.
Next we had our quests of Game Design, learning how to be a gracious winner, and how to handle losing, where they focused on who they want to show up as when they are playing the game. They were also able to show their own personal creativity when designing their own game.
We also had our Kindness Quest, where we talked about giving back to the community. The Eagles did random acts of kindness where they focused on who they want to be as they are giving back.
Right now, we are in the midst of our Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture Quest, where they get to discover who they want to show up as in their creativity as they learn about designing a building or a playground. They are also learning how to give feedback and how to use feedback to make their drafts and models better.
Here at Acton Academy, we always direct the Eagles back to the Question of the Year and tie everything into the Hero’s Journey.
Let me ask you a Socratic question like what we ask our Eagles, “What do you think is better: to learn a little bit about a lot of things or to learn a lot about one thing?” What do you think is more important or the better way to function between these two?
I challenge you to think about how you would answer this question because I have witnessed people in my life who were highly specialized in their jobs, yet lose their jobs (thank you Covid) and have nowhere to go. They have limited options as to how they could pivot unless they are able to start over and learn something new. On the other hand, my friends who diversified themselves and learned enough about a whole lot of things were able to pivot and keep going, no matter what life throws at them.
Here at Acton Academy, we value having our students learn about a lot of things. Once they get into middle school, they start doing apprenticeship work. Part of their day is out in the community working at a job they choose, shadowing somebody. They learn all they can about something they are interested in. As a result, they are able to decide if it is something they really love to do. Then they will switch to a new apprenticeship in a different industry that also interests them.
As they try on different hats, it’s amazing that our Eagles are able to diversify their portfolio as a middle schooler. Once they get into adulthood, our hope is they learned just enough about a lot of things so they can decide where they want to go. We do not want them to limit themselves to one area, hoping that if they specialize enough they will get a high enough pay rate.
Here at Acton Academy, our Eagles are well-rounded. They are able to go where the need is and fit in everywhere – this is what is really needed in the job marketplace and makes our graduates stand out from the crowd.
Research shows that you learn something when you do it. For instance, you will learn Math more by applying it to a project, such as building something.
Often, memorizing facts is short term. 10 minutes before the test, many students cram as they memorize all the formulas for Math problems. But 10 minutes after the test, all the formulas are forgotten! They can never recall them again.
You might ask, “Do I really need to memorize a formula to do trigonometry in today’s world?” Not really, unless you’re going to be an engineer. There are certain things you should memorize like your parents’ birthdays and your address. But you do not need to memorize everything! There are so many things that you can just easily ask Google. We should spend our time using our brains for creativity or learning better communication skills.
Here at Acton Academy, we take the learning of our Eagles to the next level by telling them, “Practice the basics, but without pressure!” We encourage them to practice them as if they are playing a game. And when it’s time for our quests and big projects, they will take that knowledge, and they will use them. Through doing projects they are inspired by, they will absorb the learning and will remember forever.
New Year’s Day is often marked with people setting goals for the New Year and coming up with ideas of who they want to be and how they want to be in the future.
At Acton Academy, we like to help our Eagles focus on inner growth and outer growth. Every New Year, we will often have a board where on one side we would have the previous year (2020 in this case) of looking back and sharing the things we are most grateful for or most proud of that happened in 2020. The upcoming year (2021 in this case) would be the other side of the column and we would share our goals or the things we are looking forward to.
You can do this exercise with children as young as three years old. You can do it with tape on a wall and post-it notes on either side. You can do it with pictures too. Have a conversation with them and ask questions such as, “What do you want to learn to do?” “Do you want to finally climb to the top of that big boulder in our backyard?” It’s really important to do this with your children because it enables them to see that time is a vehicle for us to change ourselves. We can look at the past and be grateful for all that happened, but it is setting our goals for the future that determine our lives.
“You will never arrive at your destination unless you know where you are going.”
I’ve heard this quote a bunch of different times and I think that it is so powerful. Oftentimes, we just get caught in the busyness of everyday life and we’re just trying to survive from one day to the next. We don’t have big goals and grand visions of our future. But without vision, we’re just steering a ship into the darkness. We’re not heading to a port. We’re not going to the place where we want to ultimately end up.
So at Acton Academy, we will take the New Year’s Day celebration to look at what our personal destinations are and to set goals around those end results. I personally do this once a year with my husband and then we check in every quarter with ourselves and our goals. We re-look over our goals sheet because keeping that in the front of your mind is so important. Oftentimes, we make a New Year’s resolution and by the end of February, we forgot what the resolution was. So I encourage you to talk with your children about what their goals are for the New Year.
I encourage you to pause and be grateful for something that has happened in 2020. I know it was a tough year for a lot of us but we all have something that we can be grateful for. I wish you a Happy 2021!
The holidays are among us right now and I want to talk about children’s energy levels. You have probably noticed right now that they are to the roof and beyond! It seems between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year, children are full of so much energy and it’s so hard for them to focus!
In a traditional school environment, children are still expected to sit at their desks and get their work done, mind all the rules, and they are still expected to do the same thing every day. But here at Acton, we are harnessing the power of this extra energy. We are doing fun adventures and going on little field trips.
Last week, we went to the skate park. We are also bringing in a yoga instructor. Plus, we are doing an extra music session on top of our regular music time. We have an extra music class called Caroling Club. The Eagles will be singing Christmas songs, and we are going to walk around downtown Laconia, caroling outside of different businesses as a part of our Random Acts of Kindness Quest. In doing this quest, we have another field trip where they are going to walk around downtown and distribute their rocks (with positive sayings on them) for people to find!
It is amazing how we can get out in the community and do things that also involve learning and preparation. The Eagles are also earning these trips! Since they all want to participate, they are paying attention at Circle and getting their core skills work done because they might not be able to go on the trip if they don’t!
So aside from having their outlet to use all the extra energy and do good things with it, there is a lot of accountability and self-responsibility involved. Being a microschool gives us the flexibility to ride the wave of the seasons and go with the flow of the Eagle’s energy and interests.
We hope you have a wonderful and healthy Holiday season!
The word curriculum means “to drive in a circle in front of the Emperor” or “to do the Emperor’s bidding.” Either you would live or die because of it!
At a traditional school, you have a curriculum that students have little input on. But here at Acton, instead, we have learning design. The Eagles, our students, go through learner-driven challenges where they come up with their own goals and how far they want to advance in each subject. They create their own learning design that matters to them. And by taking ownership of their educational advancement, they flourish! It’s really all about mindset!
With traditional curriculum, the mindset of children is different. They might be waiting to absorb the information from the top down. The learning design mindset, on the other hand, is the hero’s journey. You are setting forth on this journey of your own choosing. You get to decide how fast and how far you go, as well as how slow you go.
We really love our learning design here at Acton! We find that it also makes each hero’s journey individual. Everybody isn’t doing the same thing all the time and we all don’t fit into the same size box! It’s great to know that every year, our students have an individualized learning design for themselves that they have ownership of.
If you have been following my videos for a while, you know that here at Acton Academy, we try to enable our Eagles to find the answers to their questions. We do that in a Socratic method where we guide them to the answer they are searching for or the source where they can find it.
In doing so, we are empowering them when they get out into the real world. We empower them to become self-reliant and self-sufficient, that when they are asked a question and they don’t know the answer to it, they know how to seek the answers themselves.
This year, what we have noticed with some Eagles, who are spending their first time in this kind of environment, is that they do not quite know how to ask for help. This was puzzling us for a long time. They will say things like, “This math is really hard” and then they’ll just wait. We will then say, “Good, it’s in your challenge zone.” However, what we found out through our journey meetings is that in their minds, that was their way of asking for help. There was one instance where there is a Math problem and it’s really hard for the Eagle. He then says things such as “I cannot find the answer,” or “I do not know what the word is,” which are all statements, not questions.
What we found out is that we first have to show the Eagles how to ask for help. We have to empower them first to have the confidence, the bravery, and the right words to use to say, “Hey, Guide, I am really struggling with this. Could you help me please?” and then be there to guide them to discover answers on their own.
As the holiday season approaches, we are about to embark on a quest called Gratitude and Community service – a quest that is all about giving back to the community and doing random acts of kindness to people they may or may not know.
We are so excited about this quest because the Eagles are going to learn how to write uplifting letters of gratitude for a life well-lived to the elderly or people on hospice. We are also going to refurbish old bikes, make them sparkly and new again, and give them to children who can’t purchase their own. We are also going to be caroling out in the community and possibly leaving little notes of kindness and uplifting phrases for people to find. The Eagles may have other ideas that we’ll try to incorporate as well.
Also, we will show a lot of videos and teach the Eagles about all the different types of charities that are out there. Oftentimes, when others think about charitable giving or donating your time to a cause, many think of soup kitchens (which are great, of course!) However, people often don’t think outside the box farther than that.
That is why we want to educate the Eagles on how many different types of charities there are. We want to remind them that whatever they are interested in, there is something out there that they can pursue. It doesn’t have to be monetary giving all the time. We can give our time and creativity! There are a whole lot of different ways to give to each other and make this world a better place!
We are excited to launch this quest right after Thanksgiving. It will be 3 weeks before Christmas so it is the perfect time for everybody to think of others and spread some goodwill!
This week, we are expressing core values to the Eagles. In life, it is important to understand that as an individual, we can live by a set of core values. These values are our go-to rules about life, and they determine how we show up and what we expect of ourselves. But aside from that, it is also a great tool to understand others.
For example, you might have a core value of fun and humor, while another person you are working with has a core value of expediting things and being focused. As a result, the two of you might clash at some point when you are trying to be funny in the moment, while the other person just wants to get things done.
It is very interesting to share this with the Eagles. For most of them, it was their first time hearing about this concept. They were given a sheet of paper that has around 50 core values written on it. As they go through the list, they cross out the ones that do not speak to them and encircle the ones that sound like one of their inner voices. We also had them narrow their top ten, and then narrow the top three that rings the truest to them. It was a fun exercise!
With our younger Eagles, we are going over character traits, which has a similar idea. They have a list of character traits where they will encircle the ones they want to become or work on more.
We are also going to put these words on the walls of the studio. In that way, it wouldn’t be like an exercise that you only do once and then forget about. Instead, it would be an exercise that provides a daily reminder for them so they can take action!
You may have heard of 360 reviews, a performance evaluation tool used internally by many companies, including Google and Apple. This past week, we gave out 360 peer reviews to the Eagles where they had to rate each other on their tough-mindedness, which is how they hold themselves and others accountable, and also on their warm-heartedness, which is how kind they are to others.
They all filled out a survey for each person, and we had them guess (on a scale of one to ten) where they thought their studiomates would rank them. Numbers were put up on the board and they found out what their real ranking was.
Everything was anonymous so that nobody could point fingers at each other. It was interesting to see how some of them had no idea how others saw them. This process is like holding up a mirror to each Eagle saying, “This is how people see you!”
We had an Eagle who rated herself at a seven while her studio mates put her at 9.8. She’s very kind, loving, and focused. We also had those Eagles who had not so good results. We were able to take each one of them aside and go over their feedback with them individually.
For instance, we asked one Eagle if he realizes that three different people said he does not respect the studio. If he looks around his desk, he can see scraps of paper all over and even the crumbs he left after eating, and it’s making his studio mates feel uncomfortable. We asked him what he thinks he could do to fix it, or if he even wants to fix it!
We had great conversations with everybody! What will the effects of this activity be on motivation? We don’t really know yet. Stay tuned for that! But what we do know is that the 360 reviews help the Eagles become more aware of their behavioral patterns. It isn’t every day that we can evaluate ourselves or have others evaluate us so we can see how we’re showing up in this world. And the power and opportunity in that is to then choose how we want to show up in this world!
The 360 peer review is a great tool! We’re excited to do another one in three months and we’ll see if we have had positive growth in any of these areas.