OUR APPROACH FAQ.

This FAQ page is specific to the learning approach at Acton Academy Waterloo. Please see our SCHOOL FAQ page for all questions and answers related to logistics, administration, and policies.

*Please note that some of the FAQ answers refer to the Elementary Studio - Acton model - only. The Montessori Studio closely follows a Montessori model of education and the Elementary Studio follows the Acton model of education. If any questions come up as you read through these FAQ’s, please get in touch! We’re always here to help.

+ Is Acton Academy a Montessori or Reggio inspired school?

We offer a Montessori-based program for our youngest Eagles as we believe that the Montessori method works best in the early years of childhood development.

We respect and incorporate both Maria Montessori’s and the Reggio philosophy in our Elementary Studio but we do not consider ourselves a Montessori school. We have applied the best of both methods: mixed-age classrooms, student choice within limits, large blocks of work time, learning through “discovery,” and freedom of movement in the classroom. We believe we have surpassed these approaches in our Elementary Studio by taking our program two important steps further - using the best 21st century e-learning tools and adhering to the Socratic method of instruction (which emphasizes asking and answering the right questions to stimulate critical thinking).

Reason Magazine describes the Acton Academy model as "Montessori meets Silicon Valley". We wouldn't necessarily describe ourselves using this phrase, but we do think it can give potential parents a general idea to start from.

Like the Montessori and Reggio approaches, we also believe in the principles of respect, responsibility, and community, and encourage them through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum.

+ Does the Montessori Studio provide an "authentic" Montessori experience?

It depends on what you mean when you say "authentic". Our Montessori Studio closely follows Montessori principles, however, we do incorporate a few additional elements from the Acton model (including introductory level socratic discussions, goal setting, town hall meetings) and, on most days, we offer activity time (PE, drama, art, cooking, etc.) in the afternoons instead of a second traditional Montessori work period. Our space will also be designed as more colourful and modern looking version of a typical Montessori classroom and our classroom age range will be slightly different as well. In saying this, we do follow all of the key components of the Montessori approach (and the additional elements we include do not contravene any of Maria Montessori's core beliefs) and thus we consider the experience we provide to be very closely aligned with Montessori teachings. The following is a list of the Montessori principles we follow:

  • A deep respect for the child as a unique individual as the cornerstone of all the other principles
  • Three hour work cycle to deepen learning and improve focus, concentration, and attention span
  • Mixed-age groupings to allow for peer-to-peer learning, leadership opportunities and mix-ed age socialization
  • Freedom of movement and independent choice
  • A harmonious, attractive, and orderly learning space that encourages independent learning
  • Focus on five key areas of learning, including: practical life, sensorial, mathematics, language, and culture
  • Experiential learning, investigation, and research, through the use of authentic Montessori materials, spread out throughout the space, divided by key area
  • The teacher acts as a guide, facilitating the child's independent learning
  • Focus on educating the whole child, including physical, spiritual, social, mental, and emotional education
  • Emphasis on peace, the community, mutual respect, and a global perspective, including learning for conducting peaceful conflict resolution

+ How is the Acton model different from the traditional school model?

The Acton Academy model is based on the micro-school concept and is a learner-driven community. A micro-school is a modernized version of the one-room school house with mixed-age level groupings, personalized education, a small student population, and lower overhead in operating structure. We want to grow organically and have like-minded families involved with Acton Academy Waterloo. Starting small allows us to get to know each child while building from the ground up.

In addition to the micro-school structure, here are other characteristics that differentiate our model from traditional school:

  • Student-driven, self-paced learning
  • Real-world projects and apprenticeships
  • Student self-governance
  • Mixed-age classes
  • Guides rather than teachers
  • Socratic discussions rather than lectures
  • Exploration and assessment of skill levels, learning styles, aptitudes, personality traits, and interests
  • Mastery learning and student portfolios of achievements rather than grades
  • No homework, focused time at school instead
  • No teaching "to the test"

+ Does Acton Academy Waterloo follow the Ontario Education Curriculum?

The short answer is no, Acton Academy Waterloo does not follow the Ontario Education Curriculum.

Our Montessori Studio follows a traditional Montessori-based curriculum, with a "sprinkle" of the Acton model. We use the full complement of Montessori materials to give Eagles a concrete, sensory, and developmentally appropriate learning experience.

Our Elementary Studio follows the Acton model, which is unique and innovative in its approach to learning. Following the Ontario Curriculum would provide too many restrictions and limits on how and what our Eagles learn and wouldn't allow us to have full control over our approach.

This article provides a very basic idea of the principles that form the foundation for the Acton curriculum.

+ How is the Acton model similar and different from homeschooling and unschooling?

Aside from the significant fact that Acton Academy Waterloo does not take place at home with a child's parent and siblings (and instead takes place in a bricks and mortar "school" setting), you will find that there are many similarities between the two. As with anything else, there are many different homeschooling and unschooling philosophies and approaches, but we've found that most of them are based on the following principles, that we have in common with them.

  • Focus on developing the whole child
  • Focus on interaction, not instruction
  • Children learn at their own pace
  • Children discover their passions and pursue them
  • Learner-driven environment
  • Child-centred environment
  • Deep respect for children and what they are capable of
  • Mixed age setting and experiences
  • Fosters a love of learning and develops life-long learners
  • Encourages creativity and out-of-the-box thinking

There are many benefits to homeschooling and unschooling that we cannot offer at Acton Academy Waterloo, most importantly the deepening of the parent/child/sibling relationships and connection that is developed by spending every day learning together as a family. However, we believe there are also some benefits to our program that are quite difficult to replicate at home, including: daily peer-to-peer teaching and relationship building, highly challenging quest-based projects, real world exhibitions of work every 6 weeks, and group-based socratic discussions.

Clark Aldrich, author of Unschooling Rules, is in many ways considered an intellectual Founding Father of Acton Academy. If you are considering Acton Academy for your family, we highly recommend giving it a read! The forward was written by our very own Jeff Sandefer, one of the owners of the founding Acton Academy in Texas.

Many families would ideally like to start, or continue, homeschooling or unschooling, but are not able to for one reason or another. We believe that Acton Academy Waterloo is the best alternative schooling option for these Waterloo Region families, who value the principles of homeschooling and/or unschooling as well as an innovative 21st century approach to education for their children. Families in our affiliate Acton communities have found the transition from homeschooling and unschooling to the Acton model (and vice versa) has been quite smooth for children and their families.

+ Are children at Acton Academy Waterloo grouped by grade level?

We believe that children learn best when working with children younger and older than themselves rather than split up into groups based solely on age, so we don't group our Eagles by grade level. Multi-age studios allow children to be both teachers and learners, further increasing their learning.

Watch this short video to find out more about why we group children in multi-age studios.

+ Why doesn't Acton Academy hire traditional teachers?

We don't hire traditional teachers at Acton Academy because our goal is for our Eagles to learn independently and from one another. We call our staff "guides" and their role is to support, motivate, and guide our Eagles along their journeys. The guides we hire will be warm-hearted, respectful and experienced, and will deeply believe that children are far more capable than often given credit for. In our Montessori Studio, we will be hiring only certified Montessori teachers with experience working in a Montessori school. Although we don't hire traditionally educated teachers, our Eagles have access to expert in every subject, from all around the world, every day of the week.

Do our Eagles have teachers? It all depends on what you mean by the word. Check out this article and this article to learn more about the "teachers" at Acton Academy.

Find out more about the role of guides at Acton Academy here!

Check out our current job postings to find out more about what qualities and qualifications we're looking for when hiring our guides.

+ Why does Acton Academy Waterloo use technology to teach children?

Acton Eagles all around the world are making huge leaps academically by using the best in adaptive game-based software to learn math, spelling, grammar, languages, and more. Online learning is a useful tool and we are excited for our Elementary Eagles to learn how to use computers to access information, communicate effectively, and learn independently.

The Acton Academy approach is considered a "blended learning model", where online learning is only used for only a portion of the day and hands-on, collaborative, learning is used for the rest (and majority) of the day. We believe that by blending both approaches, we are providing the best possible learning opportunities for our Eagles.

Heather Staker, the president and founder of Ready to Blend, as well as an adjunct researcher for the Christensen Institute (and an Acton Academy parent!) describes blended learning at Acton Academy: "In essence, these two components - the personalized, online learning, blended with the collaborative, offline inquiry - are the promise of the next generation of schooling. For too long, schools have been stressed with trying to deliver a standardized, comprehensive education in an inflexible model. Little time is left either for personal adaptation or for deep inquiry. The best blended-learning implementations are breaking the rules of that model and discovering newfound possibilities. The acquisition of core skills is becoming personalized, adaptive, and student-driven. This, in turn, is freeing up time and capacity to attend to higher forms of reasoning and development throughout the rest of the day." (We recommend that you read Heather's full article here.)

Proponents of online learning models (including us!) will tell you that the advantages are many, specifically that it can be tailored to each individual child, self-paced, self-selected, self-directed, and support a range of learning styles. Online learning is often engaging and can be fun, keeping children's attention longer and allowing them to get deeper into the material (in comparison to traditional textbooks and workbooks), allowing many Acton Eagles to advance 2 to 3 academic "grade levels" in just one school year. Online learning also offers access to subject matter experts at a child's fingertips, real-time assessment, and increased parental involvement (parents can log in any time to see what their child is learning).

On the other hand, you will undoubtedly find an unlimited supply of articles and research studies that argue against tech use for children. Although we agree with the concerns many of them raise, the vast majority indicate that, in general, computers are not harmful for elementary-aged children if they are used in moderation and for learning purposes, in a safe environment. We follow these principles by ensuring our youngest Eagles in our Montessori Studio use very little technology (none at all on most days), and limiting our older Eagles in our Elementary Studio to 2-3 hours of computer use per day. We also recommend that parents limit entertainment based electronics use at home, if and when possible, and provide parents with resources and ideas on what activities they can encourage instead.

Although Elementary Eagles spend time on their computers each day, we do not rely on technology alone to teach our Eagles. The majority of their time is spent tech-free - doing hands-on activities including project work, creative and physical activities, time outdoors, and more.

This article from the Acton Academy blog clarifies some of the myths around online learning and tech use at Acton Academy.

Check this article written by an affiliate Acton owner about online Math Mastery at Acton Academy and this article that outlines Acton Eagle's success rates in math using online software.

+ How will my child stay on task in a self-directed environment?

A child's ability to set and track goals in order to evaluate progress is essential to success in a student-driven, individualized learning program. Students need a lot of practice setting specific, measurable goals that are challenging but realistic.

Eagles set weekly and daily goals, track progress, and establish a rhythm of meeting with peers to hold each other accountable. In addition, Eagles will develop an agreement with the guides to set boundaries for acceptable behaviour and rules for engagement in the classroom.

We believe that learning to set goals and challenging yourself are critical skills for the real world and our Eagles are learning these skills every day they are in the studio.

+ Why does Acton Academy Waterloo put so much emphasis on mindfulness, character, and encouraging a growth mindset?

When you look at the world as a hero, you welcome challenges, embrace responsibility, and act kindly towards others, all while being grateful for the opportunities that have come your way. We treat each child who enters our doors as a hero on a Hero’s Journey. Our goal is to equip and inspire these young heroes with the mindset, skills, and courage to change the world, all the while realizing that perseverance, character and grit are far more important than raw talent. We feel building growth mindset, practicing mindfulness, and encouraging character development along with a self-directed model is the most important gift our program offers children.

If you'd like to learn more about why developing a growth mindset is so important for children, check out this Ted Talk by pioneering researcher Carol Dweck and for a deeper dive into the topic, you can read her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

If you'd like to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness in the classroom, check out this article.

+ Why doesn't Acton Academy Waterloo assign homework?

"Homework may be the greatest single extinguisher of children's curiosity that we have yet invented." - Alfie Kohn, Author and expert in education, parenting and human behaviour.

We believe that children should spend their evenings and weekends enjoying family, friends, sports, hobbies, and as much free time to play and explore as possible. After all, we believe that "play is the highest form of research" (a quote made famous by Albert Einstein) and is the most important work for a child. Play and exploration are what keep a child's curiosity alive.

Focused time at school means no homework is necessary. In addition, homework often causes unnecessary stress, conflict, frustration, and exhaustion for children and their families. Finally, no research has ever found any benefit to assigning homework before children are in high school (and even then, very little to no benefit - depending on the study). For these reasons, we do not assign homework at Acton Academy Waterloo.

This video does a good job of summing up our thoughts on homework.

In saying the above, learning doesn't have to end when Eagles head home at the end of the day. The core skills software used in our studios are available 24/7, so students can continue to learn, collaborate, grow, and dig deeper into their learning if they choose to, on thier own time. We also encourage that children read (anything they want!) at home and continue to learn by doing - such as conducting fun experiments with parents, creating art, building businesses, cooking, being involved in family budgeting, problem solving etc. Learning can take place anytime, anywhere, and your child can choose it and own it!

This article by Acton Academy founder Laura Sandefer about how we view homework at Acton Academy is a must read!

Our views about homework are backed by research that is well documented in this book: The Homework Myth by Alfie Kohn. We encourage you to read it if you have any concerns about our no homework policy.

"The cost of [homework] is extraordinarily high on the students’ education. Homework robs children and their families of meaningful time together. Robs children of self-paced experiment and reflection time where so much learning to be, learning to do and, yes, learning to know actually occurs. This is where boys and girls, on their own, can learn what they love. Homework covers up bad processes and bloated curricula.” - Clark Aldridge, a global education thought leader, labeled a guru by Fortune Magazine.

+ Without tests, grades, and homework at Acton Academy Waterloo, how can parents be sure their child is learning?

The goal of the Acton model is for children to take responsibility for getting their work done and accomplishing their goals. Parents are encouraged to ask their children about their various projects and S.M.A.R.T. goals.

Acton Academy Waterloo offers Elementary Studio parents real-time feedback of their child's progress through the My Journey online platform created exclusively for Acton Academy families. The online tracker is used for our Elementary Studio Eagles and will be used for our Middle School and Launchpad Eagles as our school grows. Eagles update the app daily with a list of work completed and points earned for hard work. At the end of each session, Eagles take home their individual portfolios that showcase their writing, quest project work, and overall accomplishments. Quest projects culminate with a tangible public exhibition of knowledge learned.

More specifically, there are seven ways parents can track their child's progress:

  • Student Portfolios that showcase Eagle’s writing, quest project work, and overall accomplishments.
  • Project Exhibitions where Eagle’s hard work is displayed and presented by them to the outside world.
  • Peer Reviews which give Eagles the opportunity to provide and receive constructive feedback from one another.
  • S.M.A.R.T. goal tracking sheets are used by Eagles to track their goals and accomplishments day by day and week by week.
  • Online dashboards provide hard data on progess (regarding core skills like Math) in incredible detail, and are available to view 24/7/365.
  • Learning Badges are earned by Eagles when they have reached a specific level of mastery or character development and are kept safe and organized in an online journey tracker software exclusive to Acton Academy. The software also tracks work completed and points earned for working hard and focusing.
  • Standardized tests compare Eagle's progress year to year in math, reading, writing and critical thinking, but we never teach to the test! Learn more about our thoughts on Standardized Tests here.

For more on how we track progress, see “How do I know if my child is growing morally and intellectually?” by Acton founder Laura Sandefer.

+ How can we trust that the Acton model works?

Today more than one hundred Acton Academies have already created astounding learning communities. This year, fifty new ones will open their doors. Hundreds of inquiries about starting Acton Academies are pouring in to the founders each week.

Within this group of schools, best practices are freely shared and questions are answered. Answers to every conceivable bump within the methodology have already been found somewhere in the network, and worked through. Our journey as Acton Academy Waterloo is an exciting one, and a well-understood one – thanks to those who have come before us.

In terms of academics, based on standardized tests completed at our affiliate schools, including the main Austin campus, Acton Academy Eagles rank much higher academically than their traditionally school peers. On average, elementary Eagles rank 2 years ahead of their "grade" level, middle school Eagles rank 4-5 years ahead of their "grade" level.

At the end of the day, all you need to do is hear how Eagles from other Acton affiliate school speak, express themselves, and present their work. Parent feedback has also been overwhelmingly positive, hence the wildfire of demand for Acton schools that are opening up all around the world.

+ Does Acton Academy Waterloo set aside time for children to discover and follow their individual passions?

Yes! The entire journey at Acton Academy is based around helping our Eagles discover thier individual passions and encouraging them to pursue them. We do this in a few different ways:

  • Our quest based projects allow our Eagles to delve deep into a wide variety of potential career options including science, engineering, entrepreneurship, the humanities, entomology, architecture, robotics, play and film production, book publishing, video game design, forensic science, astronomy, marine biology, and much more. By exposing our Eagles to such rich hands-on experiences in such a wide variety of potential areas of interest, our Eagles have the chance to figure out what ignites their fire and what they'd like to pursue further.
  • Individually, Eagles work with guides to discover and develop their unique talents and passions through exploration and socratic questioning.
  • Eagles choose what they read at Acton Academy and they read a lot! They have the opportunity to explore and follow their passions by choosing books that personally interest them.
  • Eagles begin annual real world apprenticeships when they move up to the Middle School Studio. Each Eagle will be considering his or her individual gifts and talents; activities that bring them joy or “flow,” and the irresistible opportunities or terrible injustices that inspire them. They will follow their hearts as they "test out" different career options with the ultimate goal of discovering who they are and what truly excites them.

+ Does Acton Academy Waterloo offer PE and time outdoors?

Encouraging a lifelong love of health, physical fitness, and the outdoors is one of our key principles at Acton Academy Waterloo!

Based on the latest research about the benefits of early morning exercise on concentration, focus, and confidence, all our Eagles start the day with 20-30 minutes of physical activity before moving into their morning work cycles. This session takes place outdoors or in our gym.

After the morning work cycle comes to an end, Eagles have an extended 1.5 hour lunch period that provides plenty of free time for them to get physical and enjoy the outdoors. During the lunch break, we will explore nearby parks and climbing structures. In the afternoons, we offer PE twice a week (outdoors, weather permitting) and will be scheduling additional on and off-site sports such as hiking, skating, rock climbing, gymnastics, yoga, and karate. Our goal is to hire a professional sports coach to run our PE program, and will be able to do so depending on student entrolment numbers.

At Acton Academy Waterloo, we don't schedule mid-morning or mid-afternoon "recess" because we believe that long, uninterrupted, work periods are vital in order to provide "focused learning" opportunities for our Eagles. Focused learning increases a child's attention span and allows children to go "deep" within a subject without having to stop what they are doing at short intervals to move on to the next thing. Focused learning also means no homework and no homework means that Eagles have more free time to be outdoors and active in the evenings and on weekends.

Because our approach to learning is flexible and Eagles are not sitting at desks all day listening to lectures, they are free to take a breather, grab a snack, go for a walk, or even take an exercise break whenever they need to. Does your child needs to do a jumping-jack ever half hour to maintain focus? No problem! Learners at Acton Academy have the freedom to move around as needed!

+ Does Acton Academy Waterloo offer art, music, and drama programs?

Yes! We strongly believe in the benefits of arts! Eagles in both studios have the opportunity to work with a variety of art materials, participate in music education, and explore drama. Not only will art, music, and drama be experienced in a deep way through quest based projects, we will also provide weekly arts sessions in all three areas throughout the year.

We believe (and research shows!) that involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. By exposing Eagles to the arts, we help them build on their motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork skills, while providing them a chance to discover their passions and inner gifts.

+ Does Acton Academy Waterloo offer a French program?

Our goal is to offer our Eagles regular opportunities for learning French but we do not offer a traditional French Immersion program.

Eagles in our Elementary Studio will be encouraged to learn languages (including French) using online software including Rosetta Stone and Duolingo - but the choice in terms of what languages to learn during school time will be between the Eagle and his/her parents. Parents will have a say in how much French we incorporate in our studios and we look forward to meeting our first group of parents to discuss their needs and see how we can accomomdate them.

We will make an effort to hire French speaking guides for our studios (if possible) and have French books available in our classroom library. As the students get older, they have the opportunity to participate in immersion programs in Quebec and abroad as part of the apprenticeship portion of our program.

OUR TERMINOLOGY

+ What do you mean by a "Hero's Journey"?

We believe that each of us has a special calling in life. Intentional pursuit of this calling inevitably forces us to face a series of trials and tests. When faced with courage, integrity, and purpose we are transformed, becoming the heroes in our own lives and the lives of others. This leads to a satisfying and fulfilled life. Our mission is to prepare your child for his or her special journey.

+ What do you mean by "every child is a genius"?

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, It will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." - Albert Einstein

At Acton Academy Waterloo, we encourage students to adopt a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset.” Those with a fixed mindset believe intelligence is an inborn trait. You’re either a “genius” or you’re not. In contrast, those with a growth mindset believe they can develop their intelligence over time. This can lead to profoundly different behaviours. For instance, children who believe intelligence is fixed often value looking smart above all else, avoid taking risks, and fear failure. Children with a growth mindset view challenging work as an opportunity to grow and view failure as an opportunity to learn. At Acton Academy Waterloo, we define “genius” as intelligent behaviours in pursuit of personal goals. Every child can be ingenious in overcoming obstacles and solving problems to pursue his or her own path. For more on the growth mindset, see Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck’s article [“Even Geniuses Work Hard”][1] or her book [Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.][2]

+ What do you mean by "find a calling"?

Each day our Eagles set out on a journey of deep learning and real-life experiences. They explore the lessons of history, the wonders of nature and the excitement of entrepreneurship. Through their journey, they learn about their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their passions.

The overlap of their strengths and passions with an urgent real-world need is where a calling is born.

+ What do you mean by "every child can change the world"?

We believe each of our Eagles have gifts and passions unique to them. By using these gifts and passions to serve others, they can change the world. This may be as simple as becoming as becoming a coach who sees the light in a child’s eyes and guides her to pursue a dream. It may be by becoming a father or mother who leads a family on a Hero's Journey. It may be becoming an entrepreneur or business leader guided by compassion and integrity.

We encourge our Eagles to "be the change they wish to see in the world", a quote made famous by Mahatma Ghandi.

+ What is an "independent learner"?

Someone who can research questions, follow instructions, participate in discussions, solve problems, strive for mastery, admit that they don't know something, and figure out a solution when they hit a roadblock (without asking an adult for help).

+ What do you mean by a "learner-driven"?

Learner-driven simply means that the learner is in the driver's seat. We believe in a “learner driven education” where students are responsible for leading each other, designing their own learning, and even making their own rules to govern their school.

Acton founder Jeff Sandefer coined the term “learner-driven community,” and we think it captures the two most important aspects of our school. First, we are self-directed, meaning that kids are in charge of their own learning. Second, we are a community of learners in which students are bound together by their pledge to hold themselves and each other to high standards.

+ What is "mastery learning"?

In the traditional educational model, a certain amount of class time is devoted to a particular topic or concept; when that time is over, the entire class moves on, despite widely varying degrees of mastery over the material. In contrast, with mastery learning, students proceed at varying rates toward the same level of mastery. The curriculum is not structured in terms of time, but in terms of target levels of comprehension and achievement. We use a mastery learning approach to core subjects such as math, reading, and writing.

For more on mastery learning, watch “Sal Khan on Digital and Physical Learning”.

+ What do you mean by "Socratic method"?

In the Socratic method, a teacher serves as a guide, setting up scenarios and asking questions to stimulate critical thinking and independent learning. The true purpose of a Socratic discussion is to come to new or deeper understandings of oneself, others and the world through an authentic wrestling with thoughts, information and ideas. And the real adventure is that you have no idea where you will end up.

Acton Academy Waterloo uses the Socratic method rather than lectures because, through discussions and actively making arguments to support their beliefs, students gain a better understanding of a topic than by passively taking notes during a lecture. It creates critical thinkers, willing to take a stand for something they believe, in a way that promotes deep learning.

Check out this article by our affiliate school Acton Academy Washington DC to learn more about about how we use Socratic discussions to enhance learning at Acton Academy Waterloo and this article ay AltEd Austin for an interview with a middle school Eagles explaining his thoughts on Socratic Discussions.

+ What do you mean by a "running partner"?

Running Partners are classmates who meet together regularly to set S.M.A.R.T. goals and hold each other accountable for meeting those goals. Running Partners encourage and inspire each other by asking good questions, listening, and providing affirmation.

+ What do you mean by "S.M.A.R.T. goals"?

One of the key elements of learning at Acton Academy is goal setting. Our Eagles learn early how to set goals big and small to help them along their way. Eagles set these goals each Monday, along with their Running Partner, and tally up the points earned at the end of the week.

S.M.A.R.T stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Sensitive

Watch this video to learn more about S.M.A.R.T. goals!

+ What do you mean by "Core Skills"?

Core skills are the basic toolkit that Eagles need to master to become lifelong learners. Eagles spend 2-3 hours each day, working on their core skills, including reading, writing, and math.

Adaptive online software program such as Khan Academy and Dreambox are used to teach math mastery, while reading and writing are mastered through, well, reading and writing!

Eagles choose what books they want to read and are provided class time (including regular "Drop Everything and Read" sessions) to read them. By choosing what they want to read, our Eagles develop a deep love of reading and most of them choose to continue reading their books at home.

Writer's Workshops take place 2-3 days a week, with the goal of instilling a love of writing, reading, and story-telling and to empower young heroes for the rest of their lives. Each Writers’ Workshop is based on a different genre (stories, web copy, pitches, essays, thank you letters, etc.) and introduces new writing techniques. Guides design a new writing quest each session in which students have full freedom in their choice of content; however, they must learn how to navigate the creative constraints that come with each genre.

+ What do you mean by "Quest-based" projects?

Quest based projects are hands-on projects that engage students in solving problems or in creating products as would be required in the real world. Whether it’s starting a garden or building a rocket, Quest-based projects allow students to be active learners in something of interest to them. Quests start with a narrative that presents a problem that needs to be solved and almost always include a cost-benefit analysis in terms of the proposed solutions - just like in the real world. In addition to being fun, studies have shown that real-world projects increase students’ long-term retention, collaboration skills, and ability to problem solve.

Projects and quests are carefully developed and designed for students to learn traditional "school" topics like science, social studies, and history, as well as less traditional topics such as engineering, entrepreneurship, entomology, architecture, robotics, play and film production, book publishing, video game design, forensic science, marine biology, and much more. Quests are learner-designed projects which not only provide opportunities to learn concepts through “doing,” but when strung together, answer larger questions, fuel passions, and motivate Eagles to strive for a gamer-like set of rewards. In these ways, student quests become powerful drivers of learning.

Quests time is scheduled every afternoon (1-2 hours/day) and each Quest ranges from 4-6 weeks. At the end of each Quest, Eagles present their work at a real-life exhibition to parents, the community, and high performing professionals and experts who provide them with real-world feedback.

This article by Acton Academy Washington D.C. and this article by The Forest School: An Acton Academy provide more information about Quest based projects at Acton Academy.

+ What do you mean by "Learning to Know, Learning to Learn, Learning to do and Learning to be"?

At Acton Academy Waterloo, we believe that there are four different types of learning and that, together, form a well rounded education model. We believe that any school that only focuses on one of these types of learning is failing to fully educate their students.

Below is an excerpt from Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education by Clark Aldrich where he explains three of the types of learning.

"Learning to be focuses on helping someone understand who they are and who they want to be. This type of learning answers such questions as: “What do I love doing?” “What is my dream?” “What gives me energy?” “What are my unique strengths?” and even “What is my role in a group?” Reflection is necessary. Online social networking (such as Facebook) has exploded in part because it partially meets this need. Learning to be is the most individualistic of the three different types of learning.

Learning to do, in contrast, focuses on developing skills that can be applied, such as in the productive world. Learning to do almost always involves significant practice. Learning to do topics include such abstract skills as leadership, innovation, stewardship, and project management on one end, and more literal skills, such as how to build, grow, use, or fix things, on the other.

Learning to know focuses on knowledge that can be captured in books and lectures. This includes timelines and dates, definitions and facts. Google and Wikipedia are the ultimate learning to know tools. Most schools are very busy at developing this type of learning."

We also add Learning to Learn to our curriculum. Learning to learn focuses on developing the ability to pursue and persist in learning, to organize one’s own learning, including through effective management of time and information, both individually and in groups. This competence includes awareness of one’s learning process and needs, identifying available opportunities, and the ability to overcome obstacles in order to learn successfully. In the words of Arie de Geus, a business theorist, “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

+ Why do you call your students "Eagles"?

"When a storm is coming, all other birds seek shelter. The Eagle alone avoids the storm by flying above it. So, in the storms of life, may your heart soar like an Eagle". - Unknown

Acton's young heroes-in-the-making call themselves "Eagles" in honour of the Acton mascot. The founding Eagles from the first ever Acton Academy in Austin, Texas, chose the Eagle for their mascot because, for them, it represented what they wanted their school to stand for: courage, honesty, imagination, peace, and challenge.

For centuries, Eagles have been considered by people all around the world as a symbol of beauty, bravery, courage, honour, pride, determination, and grace. This bird has also been closely associated with leadership characteristics including: having a powerful vision, being fearless, being tenacious, being a problem-solver, and being a gentle and attentive leader.

+ What does "Acton" stand for in "Acton Academy"?

Acton Academy was named after Lord John Emerich Edward Dahlberg Acton (1834-1902) who was a Victorian scholar of Freedom. He saw liberty not as a license, but as the freedom to do what was right. He was suspicious of power for the sake of power, which led to his most famous quote: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." At the Acton Academy, we celebrate his defence of economic, political and religious freedom.