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Microschool Success Story: Tobin Slaven

"Deeper learning makes ALL the difference."

Martina and Tobin Slaven– Acton Academy Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Our Story

During the pandemic, I was running a business with partners and we had a podcast (Book of Experts) that interviewed coached, consultants, and subject matter experts in business. A friend of mine told me I should invite Matt Beaudreau on as a guest (he owns 3 Acton campuses in CA). I had never heard of Acton, and didn't see how it fit. But I did the interview as a favor for a friend. Starting or owning a school was NEVER our plan.

But about halfway through the interview you can see my eyes get really big as I started to understand that Matt was talking about something very different from what I associated with schooling. When he explained that their campus has over 100 learners with just 2 adults, it blew my mind!

Later I shared the podcast with Martina because we were unschooling our 8-year-old daughter at the time. I was intrigued by this Acton model that looked like a "unicorn" approach to building a school. While I left education 20 years ago and vowed to never return, Acton seemed like it was perfectly made for my background as an entrepreneur, a former school administrator and teacher, plus what we were doing with unschooling as a family.

That is how our family journey began.

Here's a little background we learned in opening our school - Acton Academy Fort Lauderdale

Each year there are new and innovative options for Florida families to educate their children outside of traditional education. The Acton Academy model is one of those pathways, but will not be a fit for every family. Actons are learner-driven, which means the adults are not allowed to teach and not even allowed to answer questions. Many people then ask, so how do they learn? You can think of an Acton Academy as a one-room schoolhouse for the 21st Century. Using a combination of tools and systems, the focus is on learning rather than instruction. The learners (there are no "students" in an Acton Academy) are challenged to self-govern their environment like budding civil society. They create contracts and agreements with one another that define behaviors, roles, responsibilities, freedoms, and consequences. Each child is challenged to become an independent learner, responsible for his or her own education. Turns out that when you get the adults out of the way, children learn better. Across 300+ Actons worldwide, learners are jumping 2 to 3 grade levels per year even without a lot of focus on academics. A love of learning becomes the focus of the game.

vPAL Labs

Because adults cannot instruct in an Acton, we are continually looking for ways to equip our learners for their own Hero's Journey. One unique way we are doing that at AAFTL, is incubating an AI startup within the school - like a learning laboratory. vPAL Labs is an ed-tech startup building the world's first AI-powered virtual Personal Assistant + Learning (vPAL) partner for deeper Transformative Learning. What do you do? We give children superpowers - because 2 minds are better than one. How do you do that?

We match them up with an AI-buddy, what we call a vPAL, so that they don’t just learn faster, but they become smarter, more independent, and more compassionate... with themselves and with others. … we are like a match-maker for kids to meet their forever friend (a wingman who also happens to be a robot). Our goal is to match vPALs with 10,000 self-directed learners in 2024.

Big Idea in 6 Words:

"Deeper Learning Makes ALL The Difference." The pedagogical term for Deeper Learning is called Transformative Learning. That is a fancy way of describing experiences that...

  • Examine, question, reconsider, and validate our perspectives of the world around us.

  • The natural process of becoming more mature.

  • Develop new “habits of mind” that are personally meaningful for understanding how the world works.

  • Help us along life’s path, through our own Hero’s Journey, and prepare for important moments in life.

  • How to make tough decisions and navigate sticky situations - a dramatic difference in a child’s development.

  • A thought partner to practice with, who makes us smarter, kinder, and more compassionate... with ourselves and with others. And because we know children learn better when the adults get out of the way.

Having a vPAL means having a digital companion who can help with:

  • Getting unstuck, when we are unsure of what to do next.

  • When we need a kind and nonjudgemental ear because we need to vent - like a sidekick or an imaginary friend who is patient and willing sounding board, because being asked the same question ten thousand times over.

  • When we need a friend or share how we are feeling (with an imaginary friend who will just listen and not judge).

  • A space to reflect when we need a chance to sharpen our understanding of how we see ourselves in a new light or from a new perspective... making sense of the world.

We learn more about ourselves from the questions asked, than answered (the typical focus of AI). Also able to find useful information, figure out new ideas, or make plans. That is how we grow and evolve.

In a world of AI, data is our story.

Our work is not just building tech, but monitoring and managing these collaborations where the more a child engages with their vPAL, the more it understands them. They shape the AI, which in turn will shape their superpowers.

And our goal is to equip children to participate in their World in the most meaningful ways, for both independent and collaborative learning.

Ultimately, it is not about what the vPAL says, but the space it creates for a learner to share and reflect on what they are learning.

Where to Find Tobin and Martina:

2250 SW 31st Ave

Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312


LinkedIn Group - Microschool Florida for Parents and Educators

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