An Open Letter to the Explorations Community

Posted October 28, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: Perspectives

Like many of you, I am acutely touched by last week’s episode of school violence in Marysville.  It is terribly hard to hear of, and to imagine, the bloodshed and suffering — so close to home geographically as well as emotionally.  We are fully in sympathy of the families of those students impacted.  And we are in anguish over the persistent violence in our society.  My personal feeling is that we are challenged to move toward a higher state of civility that will eventually render violence a thing of the past.
CIMG2849I was especially touched by a conversation I had today with Christine Olsen, who as a teenager attended the high school that was the site of the last week’s shooting.  She chose to send her son to Explorations in part because she wanted to optimize the safety and sanity of the environment that surrounds him in his youth.  Had circumstances turned out differently, he might have been in that cafeteria when the gunfire began.  The idea of any of our kids being victims of such a horror is an awful one, and I stand emotionally alongside the families involved.
While none of us are reliably outside the reach of violence, we can act to increase our safety.  At Explorations, this means maintaining meaningful and honest relationships, making sure each member of the community is respected, and teaching skills in communication and conflict resolution.  (We also train staff in emergency management and run lockdown drills periodically.) There is no guarantee that these strategies will keep us safe.  But they are important, both to increase the immediate well being of our students, and to help prepare them for a world still deeply enmeshed in patterns of violence.
Thank you for entrusting your wonderful young people to our care, and we will continue to support their safety and their growth as best we can.
 – Daniel

Ten things that make Explorations Academy unique.

Posted October 15, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: Perspectives

We feature three aspects of Explorations Academy in all our outreach materials.  These stand as the most salient benefits of our school:

• We work to make education personally meaningful to each student.

• We provide young people with a healthy and respectful social environment.

• We incorporate current events and overseas experiences to help students become global citizens.

logo_20thanniversary_blue_on_whiteOf course, there is much more to our school than what these brief statements cover.  In this, our 20th Anniversary year, we are working to help get the word out about what makes our school special.  This essay is derived from a recent talk by our director, and offers a little more detail about the design principles that underlie the educational experiences at Explorations Academy. So here goes – ten things that set our school apart from institutional high schools:

First, we work to meet each kid’s needs. We treat students as individuals, reflecting a humane rather than institutional approach. This emphasis can be seen in advisor-advisee relationships, in customized assignments, and self-directed study. For example, one of our students was a dancer, and instead of writing a term paper, she developed an interpretive dance for which she worked very hard and delivered a compelling performance.

photo copy 15Second, we emphasize a tough love approach. We describe our school as having a culture of appreciation – meaning we value every kid – coupled with a culture of accountability – meaning we ask the best of every kid. We hold students to high expectations knowing that when we ask a lot of them, they will rise to the occasion. We often will give a student back a good paper, challenging her to make it an excellent paper.

A third feature is the emphasis on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. Forgive the jargon, but the distinction is important. Intrinsic motivation comes from within, and kids work hard because it is important to them. Motivation comes from a sense of ownership, from curiosity, or from the drive for personal achievement. This is very different from working for a grade, or to look good. Life long learning, a buzzword for many schools, takes place only through intrinsic motivation, which many schools don’t support.

Forensics - Tim and Analisa - sheep brainsFourth (more jargon here, sorry) we use a heuristic or discovery approach rather than a predictable, linear approach. This means kids – and often teachers – are finding things out for themselves rather than just consulting a resource. For example, our water quality chemistry class gives kids a jug of dirty water, and their job is to figure out what’s in it and how to make it drinkable by term end.

Perhaps one of the more obvious features of our school is our experiential methodology. Instead of giving kids a passive, mediated education, we bring them to the forefront of their own learning through active immediate experience, including (on average) one day per week outside the building. For example, during a trip last week to a print shop, art students talked with the artist/owner and could see what it actually means to run a small arts business.

Lia and AnalisaWe also work to craft interdisciplinary curriculum that reflects the complexity of the world. Our cluster approach ties together different academic subjects and helps students see how topics are linked. Student understanding and retention of material is enhanced by seeing the scientific, literary, and social implications of an interwoven concept like “crime and punishment.”

Seventh, our use of authentic assessment tools, rather than simple and arbitrary measures like standardized tests, allow us to evaluate individual students’ learning. Portfolios, narrative evaluations, and self-assessments all bring the student’s unique strengths into the forefront instead of putting them through traditional tests and worksheets.

IN ApplesEighth, we intentionally place students in mixed-age and ability classrooms. Since kids don’t grow in predictable, linear ways, this allows us to honor strengths that aren’t apparent when they are grouped only with those of their same age. Eliminiating labels like “freshmen” and “juniors” also helps build a respectful community, since kids are seen more for themselves than their labels.

Ninth, we incorporate an emergent curriculum. This process begins with course and cluster design, where teachers author the curriculum and create courses like “Arab Spring” that help keep students on top of current world events. We also allow within each syllabus the space for emergent issues to be added that reflect current events or things that students identify as topics they want to explore in more depth.

Daniel-at-ranchTenth, we work to empower kids to become change agents, not just working to support their individual achievement, but helping them see the impact that they can and hopefully will have upon the world. This goal serves to help them increase their individual capacity. It also recognizes that education takes place in context, and our global context is in great need of change agents!

There are a lot of other principles and ideas that we could go into, but this covers a number of the strategies that we use at Explorations Academy to deliver a cutting-edge education. Thanks for your time reading through this and thanks for your interest in our wonderful school!

NEWS FLASH: Week Four Typo!

Posted May 14, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: The Great Mystery

“A poet can survive anything but a misprint.”

These famous Oscar Wilde words could also be said of Super Sleuths and Mystery Masters.  But alas, errors do occasionally occur in the affairs of humans, and this is one particularly egregious error:

Super Sleuth, Week Four, Clue 3 should have read “…closest to the NE corner of Section 25…”  But with one single letter incorrect, our intrepid Super Sleuth teams all went to the NW corner rather than the NE corner, and were understandably stymied as a result.

Please accept our most abundant and profuse apologies!  But:  WE WILL SURVIVE!

To our knowledge, this is the first typo in four years of Great Mysteries, totaling over 100 clue locations.  Nevertheless, we accept full blame and all the insults, criticisms, and pinpokes into voodoo dolls that are our due.  We’re VERY sorry.

And yet the Great Mystery goes on!

We hope to see you all tonight.  And in the meantime, here are some Week Four hints should you need them — we did not have time to use the US Mail to provide them to you, so you’re stuck with the electronic version.

Week Four Hints!

Week Four Winner… and SS HINTS!

Posted May 12, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: The Great Mystery

Well, we’re swinging into the final days of The Great Mystery, and we’re glad to have you along with us on this rather odd and at times unpredictable adventure!  Here’s hoping you’re all having fun!

The Veg Heads claim the Week Four Family Edition Prize!

The Veg Heads claim the Week Four Family Edition Prize!

First, kudos, honors, and recognitions are due — to the Veg Heads, who claimed the Week Four Family Edition prize: a gift certificate at Good To Go Meat Pies.  And lets hoist a few further flags to Last Ditch, who came in with the correct Week Four Family Edition answer at or before the moment when the Veg Heads arrived, but were gracious enough — having won two weekly prizes already! — to concede the Week Four Prize to the other team.  That is the spirit of fun, enjoyment, and lighthearted generosity that makes The Great Mystery so special.  Many honors to these two fine teams!

And now, how about that Super Sleuth Week Four anagrammatic puzzle?  At least a couple teams of intrepid sleuths have gotten as far as a jumbled pile of letters… and then (metaphorically, of course) flung their alphabet up in the air, only to find that the 22 letters DID NOT miraculously land in a neat array describing a single location in our fine town of Bellingham!  And with Wednesday’s denouement (pardon our French) just around the corner, perhaps it would be de rigueur (pardon our other French) to offer a hint or two to help you on your way.

So here we go, two hints.  First, logophiles amongst us may be familiar with the game of Scrabble, in which letters are assigned different point values.  The less common letters, understandably, get higher point values.  (Basic supply-and-demand economics, herein at work in the world of word play.)  Thus this hint:  Look to the higher value letters (J, Q, Z, X, and perhaps K) and place them in words first, then see what else unfolds.

Second:  The anagram, once resolved, will convert those 22 letters into three complete words, which in this order contain five, five, and twelve letters.

Have at it, have fun, and we’ll see you on Wednesday!  We’ll meet at 6pm at the… well, you have the clue to where we’re meeting.  Expect lots of odd and interesting bits of activity, some extra prizes, and be sure to bring your bike photos to contest for the Bike Prize, some marketing photos to contest for the Shameless Marketing Prize (we need to receive them digitally, but bring a printout if you can), and your team members to help you solve the puzzles that may fly at you that evening.  You must be present to win the Culminating Mystery!

Finally, thanks so much for being part of The Great Mystery and supporting cutting edge education!

The Great Mystery Week Three Winners are In!

Posted May 6, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: The Great Mystery

Lisa Spreyer of the Sherlock Holmies, who are off to the Upfront!

Lisa Spreyer of the Sherlock Holmies, who are off to celebrate their success at the Upfront Theatre!

Another dramatic finish brought successful teams streaming into our office this morning with their correct Week Three Answers!  We are pleased and proud to announce that the Sherlock Holmies claimed the Week Three Super Sleuth prize, which was four passes to the Upfront Theatre.  Congratulations, Sherlock Holmies!

Meanwhile, Team Milo Burgy prevailed in the Family Edition contest.  We celebrate them and their sleuthiness, which netted them two certificates for large pizzas at McKay’s Taphouse/Pizza Pipeline.

Please help us thank the businesses that make The Great Mystery  – and Explorations Academy’s unique brand of innovative education — possible for the benefit of our greater community!

And as we draw closer to the close of this colossal puzzle, please prepare yourself for our Culminating Mystery event.  This event is coming up next week, at the close of Week Four.  On Wednesday, May 14th from 6 to 8 pm at an undisclosed Bellingham location, we will welcome Great Mystery teams to come celebrate the overall event.  Culminating Mystery prizes will of course be awarded, along with the Bike Prize, and several other prizes that you might not even know about yet.  So adjust your schedule, cancel your Vegas plans, stay tuned, and don’t miss it!  More info will be trickling your way as the date for this awesome event draw near.  See you then!

Week Two: The Great Mystery Rages On!

Posted April 29, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: The Great Mystery, Uncategorized

As we roll into the second week of the 2014 Great Mystery, we have a lot of puzzlement permeating our lovely burg, particularly amongst our dedicated Super Sleuth contingent.  (Which is probably fitting!)  That said, all clue locations have been recently field-verified, and — breaking news! — we now have winners for both the Family Edition and Super Sleuth Week Two prizes!

Week 2 Family Winner

Deb from Last Ditch with the Family Edition Prize!

Congratulations to Last Ditch, the Family Edition team that popped into our office right at 7:30 am Monday with the Week Two answer.  They were the early birds… but instead of getting worms, they were awarded a $25 Mallard Ice Cream gift certificate.  You can bet that Last Ditch will be savoring their treat, especially since they were the first team in for Week One also!

Week 2 Super Sleuth Winner

Keith from Team Assessmo claims the Super Sleuth prize!

The Super Sleuth prize took some more hunting.  We had a couple of teams wondering if a clue was missing.  Well, right after a round of Tuesday field verification (nothing worse than looking for something that isn’t there, but our checking revealed that all was well in clue-land) Team Assessmo came into our office with the Week Two Super Sleuth answer, and proudly claimed their own $25 Mallard Ice Cream gift certificate!

A quote from Team Assessmo:  “You really have to clear your eyes to find some of these clues!  You can be looking straight at a wall and see only a wall… and then you can come back [their team required multiple visits to at least one clue location before succeeding] and have a shocking revelation to find it right in front of you.”

So with fun being had by all (we hope), we roll into Week Three with clues going out Thursday May 1.  Watch your mailbox, keep your wits and eyes sharp, and if you need them, there will be some additional Week Two hints arriving with your Week Three clue.  Keep the afternoon of May 14th open for our final celebration, tell all your friends about The Great Mystery, and be sure to patronize our generous Community Partners and prize donors.  And don’t forget to photodocument your amazing Great Mystery experiences for our Shameless Marketing Prize!

The Great Mystery Returns!

Posted April 21, 2014 by explorationsacademy
Categories: The Great Mystery, Uncategorized

2012 Mystery LogoThe Great Mystery, Explorations Academy’s unique team problem solving challenge, returns this week with a vengeance! Both Super Sleuth and Family Edition teams have kicked their analytic skills into high gear, and as of this fine Monday morning, BOTH Super Sleuth and Family Edition prizes have been claimed.

We celebrate all those who participate in this rollicking adventure.  Four clues (for the Family Edition) and four separate clues (for Super Sleuths) had teams spending their Easter Weekend racing around Bellingham, checking their maps, crossing bridges, scratching their heads, braving Easter traffic to cross busy streets, and — in many cases — successfully locating the Week One Answer.  This morning saw a record number of teams coming in to claim a prize, although (unfortunately) there was but one Week One prize per challenge level to be had.


The Family Edition prize went to the Last Ditch or Last Chance (they may be desperate, but they apparently still have identity issues too). This team received four free passes to enjoy an afternoon at the Spark Museum of Radio and Electricity.  The Super Sleuth prize, consisting of gift certificates for organic food at Terra Organica, was jointly claimed by two teams that arrived almost simultaneously in our office:  The Thing Finders and Ladies of the Eighties.  The Thing Finders, technically first, were kind enough to share the prize!

NEWS FLASH!!!  Speaking of prizes, we have added a new prize to this year’s Great Mystery!  Countless hordes of concerned local citizens have come forth to say that they have never heard of the Great Mystery and are unaware of how awesome an endeavor it really is.  (Feel free to tell your friends about The Great Mystery, by the way, since we still have room for a few more teams!)  So, the new prize is our Shameless Marketing Prize:  Submit your best photos or videos of your team in the thick of Great Mystery sleuthing, and we will collect them all and award a special prize to the best of them!  (While collecting them all for future promotional use, of course!)

Finally:  Please, as you go about your mysterious activities, honor the privacy and professional needs of the citizenry of our town.  We have had a few teams that thought they needed to ask a marine biologist where to find a “captive starfish” when the relevant clue was not under that person’s scientific purview…

Anyhow, thanks to you all for participating in this wonderful lark.  Stay tuned for more updates, and happy sleuthing!


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