Elements of Acton: Real-World Projects

  • Mastery learning
  • Self-directed learning
  • Real-world projects
  • Socratic discussions
  • Identifying strengths and passions

Real-World Projects: What They Are

Real-world projects 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, real-world projects allow students to be active learners in something of interest to them. Teachers act as guides and let students take the lead in asking and answering their own questions, collaborating, and critiquing their work. In addition to being fun for students, studies have shown that real-world projects increase students’ long-term retention, collaboration skills, and ability to problem solve.

How We Use Real-World Projects at Acton

At Acton, we believe that learning requires students to get out of the classroom and engage with the real world. Real-world projects, or quests, as we call them, can take from several weeks to a couple months to complete and can focus on any subject. For example, students might role-play a historical event and have to make decisions with real-world consequences. Students could be British colonists facing the choice of whether or not to declare independence from King George. The real-world consequences of being subject to a far-away and not democratically elected ruler, in the form of proclamations from King George, could include a ban on talking during work time or playing music during free time. In another project, students might be scientists in a robotics and electricity lab where they are challenged to figure out if water can be used to generate electricity. A math project could require solving math riddles or figuring out math magic tricks.

More on Real-World Projects

Here are some helpful resources on real-world projects:

Five Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning
This Edutopia video explains the five essential components of project-based learning (real-world connection, core to learning, structured collaboration, student driven, and multifaceted assessment) and illustrates each with footage of students in action.

Examples of Quests
Acton Academy Austin's blog Our Hero's Journey features many of the quests the middle schoolers there have done. For example, in The Speech Quest, students not only stepped into the shoes of a historical figure to deliver a world-changing speech, but also budgeted for and arranged travel to the city where the speech was made.