To understand Acton, it’s helpful to understand key Acton terms.
We believe that life is full of trials and tests that, when faced with integrity and purpose, lead to a satisfying and fulfilling life. We also believe that each of our learners is destined to uncover their unique passion in life. In turn, our mission is to provide the right learning environment for our learners to discover their passion and prepare for the journey ahead of them.
"THE STUDIO" AND "STUDIO MAINTENANCE"
Our work, play, and maker spaces are all called "studios" (versus classrooms). Our spaces do not have a traditional classroom design and can vary significantly amongst Acton Academies. They all feel a bit more like a startup space… and the learners play a significant role in deciding how their space(s) shall look and feel, as well as how they are to be managed.
"Studio Maintenance" is scheduled time during which the learners perform tasks to help them care for their studio space(s). Some common maintenance activities include: reorganizing studio materials and returning them to their designated spot (e.g., plugging in the ChromeBooks in their charging docs), vacuuming, bringing out the recycles to the pickup location, sorting through the lost and found bucket, cleaning out the fridge, wiping down bookshelves and countertops, etc.).
"LEARNERS" AND "GUIDES"
At Acton Academy, we do not use the terms "student" or "teacher." Rather, we prefer to call our learners exactly what they are... learners. We also prefer to call the adults in the studio with the learners "guides," as that is the most accurate way to describe what it is they are there are to do. A guide’s role is not the same as a traditional teacher's. They do not stand in the front of a classroom and deliver content for students to digest. Nor is it their role to be a subject matter expert with all of the right answers. Rather, the role of a guide is to guide the learners on the path towards learning how to learn. To do this, guides provide learners with the resources and support needed, but not with pre-scripted lessons or answers to questions that the learners are perfectly capable of answering themselves and/or researching.
An independent learner is someone who:
can follow instructions and solve problems;
admits when they don't know something (yet) and will take the initiative to research what they need to in order to figure out the answer or solution;
strives for mastery and excellence in what they do;
is perseverant and resourceful when a roadblock appears (rather than looking for someone else to complete the challenge for them); and
participates in Socratic discussions, voicing their own thoughts and opinions.
Learners with a "growth mindset" believe trial and error, rapid experimentation, and perseverance are the keys to success. Having a growth mindset allows a learner to perceive 'failure' as an opportunity to grow rather than a setback or negative reflection of their worth.
Socratic discussions are designed to enable learners to think critically about big topics and to open their minds to learning, unlearning, and relearning through thoughtful analysis, the forming of their own independent conclusions, and the process of defending their ideas.
A "quest" is a six-week session during which learners engage in experiential learning centered around a specific subject area. Throughout the academic year, there are multiple quests ranging in topics. Examples of quests include chess, electricity, game design, entrepreneurship, ancient Athens, and gardening. Participating in a quest allows a learner to explore the given topic in-depth and through a variety of hands-on experiences. As learners advance in Acton, they take on a greater role in determining quest subject areas.
Although we shy away from using the term "student," Acton Academy is considered a "student-led" learning environment. This means our learners are involved in every step of the decision-making process, from defining studio rules, to determining the studio schedule, to defining appropriate disciplinary actions for studio mates that break the rules. Age-appropriate freedoms are provided to the greatest extent possible (within reason). For example, learners are responsible for setting their own learning goals, tracking their own progress towards achieving their goals, navigating relationships, and reflecting on their personal and academic experiences.
Mastery-based learning focuses on learners mastering a topic before moving on to a more advanced one. This allows learners to work at their own pace and have a true understanding of a topic or skill before moving forward. While this shift in education would help all children, it is essential for gifted learners because they can often achieve mastery at a quicker pace and are therefore limited in a traditional academic setting.