Highlights in Pictures… S6 W5

Outdoor Free Time: At THA, our guides make it a point on the daily schedule to provide lots of outdoor free time to our Warriors. In an age when so many of us seem glued to screens, and children are no exception, there is something so liberating to the spirit about being outside in nature and exploring, playing sports, learning new skills, or even just going for a walk…

One of the most amazing things we witness every day at THA, across all three studios, is a community of learners who work on Core Skills at their own pace, not just memorizing and regurgitating, but learning how to learn and gaining mastery.

Spark Warriors are having a blast with their botany quest!

Other highlights: ES and MS Warriors are gearing up for their Debate Quest exhibition. They have been challenged to plan an Excellent exhibition for the community and involve all of the Warriors as well. This is no easy task and we’re excited to see how it pans out! Launches have been a blast: on Monday we talked about one word and one relationship that perhaps ignites the most gratitude, love, and respect: MOTHER. We asked Warriors to share something about the love and sacrifice of their mom’s that they’ll never forget. Throughout the week we also discussed topics like completion vs. mastery, gratitude (the quality of the session), and current events. A couple of Level 5 Warriors finished the last mission to earn their Independent Learner Badge! On Friday, most of the ES and MS Warriors enjoyed pizza for lunch because one Warrior, who had yet to spend even a single Integrity Point at the school store since the beginning of the school year, submitted 100 points last week for a pizza party.

Hope you enjoy the rest of the pictures, and also can’t wait to see you at our last exhibition of the year this Thursday!

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Monday Mornings…

“Ugh… I hate Mondays…” was a comment heard all too often in the teacher’s lounge as we started the week, during my first years as a teacher. No doubt teaching is a demanding profession, (there’s way more to it than the typical “but you get summers off and all of those holidays” judgment made by people who have no idea how much time good teachers put in to improve their craft). No doubt being a high school teacher at an inner-city school in Chicago is even more demanding but something just felt off about hearing almost every colleague talk about Mondays as dreadful. God forbid if the coffee machine wasn’t working on a Monday morning.

The Warriors at The Humanist Academy, however, have not only “turned learning upside-down” as Jeff and Laura (the founders of Acton Academy) describe it, but they’ve managed to turn this pessimistic impression of Mondays upside down as well.

To say that Mondays at THA are incredible is an understatement. As the Warriors trickle into the studio and gather on the playground, a magical buzz fills the air. During their free-time from 8:00-8:30, they catch up with one another about their weekends or play sports together outside, while some just sit and read. Others will even work on their Core Skills or a Quest challenge. The excitement to be back in the studio and to see their studiomates, the eagerness to learn…it is awesome!

Then right around 8:28 they start to gather around for morning launch. As 8:30 hits, they greet one another and start their day with a few meditative minutes. Their first major challenge: Can you find happiness and peace just by closing your eyes and concentrating on something? Can you train your mind to find a state of flow devoid of any external stimulus? Our Warriors, who started this practice at 1.5-2 minutes every morning, have built up to about 4 and 1/2 minutes of complete silence every morning.

The ensuing discussion, as part of the Morning Launch, is usually Hero’s Journey related and inspirational. Last week, we discussed “Success is a journey, not a destination” and challenged our Warriors to think about excellent work. Is it better to get something done or to take your time? Is it better to focus on the result or the process? We watched this inspiring TED Talk to help provide some context. Tomorrow’s morning launch will center around the inspiring story of Jeison Aristizabal, a hero who, despite being born with cerebral palsy, has impacted thousands of lives.

The Socratic discussions, running-team meetings which involve Warriors supporting one another in setting their goals for the week and reflecting on last week, community-building games, and Core Skills fill the morning, while free-time, DEAR, and Quest usually take up the afternoons.

But perhaps my favorite part of the day happens around 9:30. As I make a round and peak into every studio, I’m almost always at awe of seeing these little societies of heroes engrossed in their own work. One Warrior is working on his math, another is working on her writing, another his spelling, and another is immersed in a book. It is so cool to see them all so engaged in meaningful and productive work, entirely on their own. There’s no teacher telling them what to do. Despite this being a daily occurrence, it still amazes me, especially on Mondays.

The Spark studio is no exception. You’ll have one Warrior working on a bead chain, another doing sight words, while another is working in the practical life section. They are all working on their goals independently with focus and motivation that’s beyond description. The studio is not entirely quiet; there’s a soft, inviting buzz in the background as one Warrior teaches another one a work, while the others work silently. As I walk around and observe the Warriors in flow, I can’t help but think, “Ahh…I love Mondays!”

When Quest time comes around the Spark Warriors are out in the garden working on their botany quest, while the ES and MS Warriors have transformed their studio into a law school as they prepare for their upcoming debate.

I’m not sure how many professionals out there dread showing up to work on a Monday morning. My guess would be that the number is significant. While I’m not sure how many people out there are just waiting for Friday to hit so they can escape the discouraging realities of their weekdays, I am certainly sure of two things: 1) Mondays at THA are definitely something to look forward to, and 2) Our hope is that during their time at THA and throughout their Hero’s Journey, they discover their calling, a higher purpose that helps them lead a meaningful life, makes a positive impact on society, and inevitably makes waking up on a Monday morning THAT much more exciting.

Session 6 – A Strong Start!

Session 5 ended on an incredible high: our ES and MS Warriors led an amazing Astrophysics exhibition at Lake Tawakoni – about 1.5 hours away from the light pollution of the city. They organized about a 3 hour program in which they explained complex physics and astronomy concepts through simple presentations, hands on experiments, a 17 minute documentary created by Middle Schoolers, a Q and A panel, a Jeopardy Game for parents, and much more! It wasn’t all smooth, and although the cloudy night made the stargazing finale a little less exciting, our Warriors certainly shined… (See more pics below!)

After a week of reflection, rest, rejuvenation, and productivity (for several Warriors), they returned to the studio once again, ready, eager and excited to learn.

Here are a couple highlights:

  1. We transformed the ES and MS Studios into a branch of Yale Law School during Quest time, as our Warriors began their Debate Quest as first year law students at one of the nation’s top law programs. Critical thinking, research, logical development, articulation and clarity of thought, seeing and appreciating multiple perspectives, analyzing an argument, collaboration… these are all skills that naturally develop through debates. They will spend the next six weeks learning and developing debate skills, researching Socratic questions, and engaging in debates as they prepare for their exhibition. The Warriors are pumped! (Here’s the Quest Map!)

2. ES and MS Warriors began their Writer’s Workshop and Genre topics respectively. Both will be venturing into meaningful persuasive writing. (See maps below).

MS Genre Map – Session 6 – 2019
ES Writer’s Workshop Map

3. Spark Studio Updates: It was awesome to see the Spark Warriors so eager to return, so focused, and so excited about their Botany Quest this session.

4. Launches, as always, were such a blast. Here are some of the major Questions posed to our Warriors during Socratic discussions and powerful launches:

  1. Would you rather have a productive break or a relaxing break?
  2. What was a big lesson learned from last session and how will you use that lesson to improve this session?
  3. How do younger Warriors view older Warriors and v.v.? Are you proud of how you view the older or younger Warriors? How can we improve on this?
  4. How would you rate your Session 5 Exhibition? How do you feel after seeing the feedback from parent surveys? What are your major takeaways?
  5. What is more convincing: a well articulated argument, sound supporting research and evidence, or speaking with passion and emotion?
  6. And so much more! Enjoy the pics from the last few weeks!

Questions are More Powerful than Answers…

The important thing is to never stop questioning, curiosity has its own reason for existing.

Albert Einstein

Questions play a critical role at THA. Every morning, Warriors “launch” their day with a serious of powerful questions and end their day at closing group with more thought provoking and reflective questions. As Warriors set goals each morning they ask themselves, “What do I want to accomplish today? Where did I leave off yesterday and how successful was I? What do I have time for today?…”

Not only do Guides try to never answer any questions through out the day (so that Warriors can figure things out on their own) being a Socratic guide requires a lot of mental presence and energy: you have to work hard to respond with the right Socratic question to support the Warrior’s journey. You have to provide tough, conflicting choices where both options seem plausible. You have use the moment to spark curiosity, or hold up a mirror, without solving the problem or without any judgment.

The result is that Warriors are and will continue to think for themselves, will learn from their own choices, will see the results of their decisions and not be allowed to blame anyone. The result is an environment that cultivates true heroes who believe in themselves and take responsibility for their decisions. It’s an environment where mistakes are not shunned, they are celebrated, and your own flaws are exposed so you can figure out the deeper Socratic questions that guide all of our journeys in order to live a meaningful life: Who am I? What’s my purpose? What do I want to leave behind?

Here are just a few the awesome QUESTIONS from various launches of the past several weeks:

  1. When you look up at the night sky, do you feel big or small? When you think about the vastness of the Universe vs. the power of human potential, which one is more awesome? What is my relationship to the universe? Here’s a video about the “Most Astounding Fact of the Universe” according to a prominent astrophysicist to provide some perspective.
  2. Are there underlying forces that govern the universe? How do they work?
  3. Where do you live? What about in relation to the entire universe, what is your cosmic address?
  4. Can one person ruin the THA Studio Environment? Is it because our systems of accountability are weak or because one person can be that strong?
  5. Is Fear a “great motivator” or is it a poison that requires cleansing? Would you rather be motivated by fear or by passion? Do you agree with Master Yoda that: Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering and suffering is the path of the Dark Side?” What steps can you take to conquer your fears and become truly Fearless – “Abhayam” (in Sanskrit)?
  6. Do people who have less resources and live in tougher situations have a better chance of changing the world or do those who may not live in tougher situations but have more resources have a better chance?
  7. Do you choose an apprenticeship that is safe, a reach, or a dream?
  8. And so many more….

Session 5 – Week 1: Welcome Back!

We had such a blast this week as Warriors returned from break ready to embrace their learning challenges, dive into their Core Skills goals, embark on a new and exciting Quest, and work on their badges. The week was full of amazing learning opportunities: focused Warriors working diligently during silent Core Skills, loads of peer-to-peer collaboration as Warriors taught one another Core Skills concepts and worked together during Quest time, team-building activities, a field trip, PE, Art, Civilization, Sanskrit, free time, Town Hall, conflict-resolution conversations facilitated by the Warrior-Council, and amazing Socratic discussions which included topics like: Exhibition Survey reflections and analysis, Goal Setting and Badge Planning for the Session, reviewing 360 reviews (Full Circle Feedback from studiomates) and setting a Personal Growth Goal for the session (e.g. I will try to be more kind, I will work on my focus, I will be more patient with younger Warriors, etc.), a current events launch on the India-Pakistan tension and how it relates to conflicts in the studio, an introduction to the Quality of the Session – compassion, and an evaluation of how we treat one another in the studio, and so much more!

Here are the Quest Maps for Session 5:

Spark Studio Quest Map – This week they embarked on a journey to understand the beautiful and magnificent world, with its various landforms, bodies of water, and atmospheres (land, water, and air). Through scavenger hunts and different activities they explored the continents and oceans across the globe.
ES and MS Warrior Quest Map – This session they dive deep into astrophysics and astronomy in a search for Truth. This week they pondered questions like “What are we made of?” and “Did our universe come about from random and coincidental events or intellectual design?” They conducted experiments on the Law of Conservation of Mass, they visited UNT’s Sky Theater, and also explored and tested Newton’s Laws. It was such an amazing week!

Writer’s Workshop and Genre Focus for Session 5:

The ES Warriors will be working on writing biographies this session, seeking inspiration from the lives of the great men and women who have come before us and changed the world in significant ways.  MS Warriors will be working on the Apprenticeship process. This week they explored different industries, companies, best practices in networking, as well their own gifts, interests, and passions. (We will post Maps in Week 2’s blog.)

Definitely check out these awesome pictures from the week and feel free to ask your Warriors about all the amazing learning happening at THA!

Education for Life – S4 Exhibition

One of the most frequently asked questions that comes with a conventional education is: Why am I learning this and what does this have to do with life? At THA, all the Core Skills, all the Socratic dialogue, and all the hours spent exploring a topic through a Quest culminate in an Exhibition of Learning for the community. Seldom do they question the applicability and merit of what they are learning, because they have to make it real for their parents and the community. Having to put themselves in front of the community to share their learning through an exhibition is so much more powerful than taking a written test and earning a letter grade. Not only do they learn valuable lessons in public speaking, articulation, collaboration, leadership, responsibility, and applying creativity, but also they build a foundation of amazing, life-oriented experiences that can pave the way for their Hero’s Journey.

Here are some glimpses of the Session 4 Exhibitions from our Elementary, Middle, and Spark Warriors. (Of course, sorry to say, nothing beats experiencing it in person!)

The Elementary Warriors capped off their Forensic Science Quest with an unbelievable exhibition! They set up a crime scene and several forensic science based challenges as they asked parents to help solve: “The Case of the Missing Diamond.” In order to narrow down and determine the suspect, parents had to investigate a crime scene, search for clues, conduct fingerprint analysis, footprint analysis, handwriting analysis, review suspect files, and several other challenges… all set up entirely by the Elementary Warriors! It was amazing how it all came together (especially because they took about a week just to decide what the crime would be and put the crime scene together in about a day!). They ended the night with a thought-provoking Warrior-led Socratic discussion.
(See more pictures at the bottom of this post!)
The Middle School Warriors ended their Biology Quest with a bang! After writing over 1600 word biographies on a Biology Hero for this sessions Genre project, they used 15 minutes of their exhibition to read the most powerful part of their biography to the community. Then they took parents over to their biological models and presented a detailed analysis of their displays. They presented on things like: the anatomy of an animal cell, the process of photosynthesis, how DNA works, and the theory of evolution. Finally, they capped off their exhibition with a good old-fashioned Biology Bee: a trivia tournament to test their knowledge of biology. It was such a blast and they learned so much!
Spark Warriors delivered an amazing biology based exhibition as they explained their self-created biomes to the community. It was awesome to see how much they learned about ecosystems, the environment, plants, animals, etc. and how confident they were to talk in front of parents!

Session 4 Week 5!

“These are the kinds of curious, mysterious, and original minds that often end up making major contributions to our world; to reach their full potential, however, they need the latitude to follow their own oblique, nonstandard paths. That latitude is seldom found in a conventional, box-shaped classroom in which everyone is supposed to be doing the exact same lesson, and “differentness” is generally used as a negative.” 

― Sal Khan

Here are some glimpses in pictures of another amazing week at THA!

This week’s morning launches featured a discussion on motivation and in particular: “Mastery Orientation” vs. “Performance Orientation.” Warriors thought about whether they were driven to learn, grow, and improve (Mastery Oriented) or whether they were motivated by how they were viewed in front of others and so they didn’t feel “behind.” Warriors also discussed identifying the “Truth” (Question of the Year) and if “seeing is really believing” as they learned about “deep fakes” and video editing technology. They also had a discussion on the Quality of the Session – Perseverance and what type of attitude one should have toward failure.

Spark Warrior launches featured topics like kindness, consonant blends, and read “The Invisible String” which probed them to think about how we are all connected to one another.  

This week the Spark Warriors and MS Warriors visited the Dallas World Aquarium and put their knowledge of biology and zoology to the test. As MS Warriors explored, they used a self-created handout to help them observe the animals through the lens of a biologist and apply Tinbergen’s four questions of animal behavior…

Spark Warriors spent most of the week exploring their biome of choice: North America, researching what kind of animals, plants, soil, weather, etc exists in such areas. The Dallas World Aquarium gave them a great chance to observe some of these animals as well as new ones, as they thougth more about habitats, environments, survival, behavior, etc.

Core Skills time is usually a favorite at THA as Warriors work on self-paced challenges and develop mastery in math and language. ES Warriors are in the last stages of completing their own allegories, and MS Warriors are wrapping up their Biology Hero Biographies. It is always awesome to see the self-directed learning of multi-age studios in action every single day!

During Quest time, the MS Warriors and ES Warriors conducted experiments to learn how to extract DNA…

THA Parents working through a challenge at Sanskrit Night!
Basketball has become a favorite free time activity for Warriors ever since they started the Basketball unit during PE!

Warriors are having a blast during Art as they challenge their creativity and artistic abilities!

Can’t wait to see what they put together at their exhibitions!