Learning Design at Acton Academy

Often the learning design at Acton Academy seems confusing; especially with each Arrow pursuing independent learning plans.

Below are four principles that form the foundation for our learning design.  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 a part of the community.  If the Arrows want to belong to the tribe, they will accept hard work and the Hero’s Journey as the price of membership, deeply embedding the core belief that grit matters more than IQ for heroes in the long run.

Plus, motivated Arrows can work at ten times 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, we make reading fun and enjoyable (see point number one above.)  We allow Arrows to read anything they want.  Once Arrows love to read, we offer more challenging ideas, authors and genres.

Hint: We never mention the word “classic.”  Sadly, many children define ”classic” as “a boring book that grown-ups make you read.”  Instead of “classics,” we offer Badge Books and Deep Books.

Writing (Communication): We start early with Socratic discussions.   Then, we make writing fun by starting with journaling or lighthearted creative writing. Arrows always write and communicate for a reason, usually leading up to an Exhibition, so that quality matters to the Arrows.  Over time, we offer more difficult challenges and genres.  All through out the process we use peer critiques to boost motivation; Arrows will write and revise a great deal if they can share with friends.

Handwriting and spelling will come over time, but we also provide Arrows incentives to improve these earlier, which 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:  Beast Academy and other critical thinking based math challenges not only develop basic math skills, but more importantly, mathematical reasoning and logical thinking. This is supplemented with real-world projects that provides a foundation for the future.

Civilization:  We introduce articles, videos and ethical dilemmas that put the Arrows in the shoes of a heroic decision maker. Arrows must then take a firm stand and debate the alternatives in a Socratic Discussion.

We provide additional motivation for Core Skills by harnessing Arrows naturally competitive nature and ask them to track and post the results for the Core Skills activities above. The end result: deep learning happens.

3. Quests for 21st Century Skills

As Core Skills are being mastered, Quests apply those skills to real-world problems and develop mastery of 21st Century skills and subjects like Science.  A Quest is simply a series of hands-on, real world projects connected by a compelling narrative that culminates in a public Exhibition at the end.

We start the year with simpler Quests.  Then, we add increasingly more complex and difficult Quests that stretch the Arrows more as the year goes on.

4. Real World Apprenticeships

When they’re ready, we ask Arrows to begin real world apprenticeships.  This includes each Arrow 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.

The challenge to Arrows is 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.

Arrow-Driven-Learning in a tightly-bound community of heroes offers 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 requires rigorous  contracts 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.

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