Project-based learning, eLearning, and Socratic dialogue, all wrapped up in self-directed learning. It sounds great, but how do all of these elements fit together in practice?

An example of a school year plan

There are many ways to pull these elements together to tailor a microschool for the specific needs of the students at your school. That said, sometimes it’s nice to look at an example. Our friends at Acton Academy have a well-validated model. Here’s an example of their 2011-2012 school year.

Download Acton Academy Master Spreadsheet 2011-2012

Set the foundation with core skills and group integration

As you can see, this is a bird’s-eye view of the entire school year, with weeks represented in columns and themes represented in colors and rows. Time is allocated for core skill mastery, such as reading, writing, math, and foreign languages. Most of this core skill mastery is self-paced using eLearning software. Other skills and concepts are practiced in a group. Acton refers to this as “integration time,” and it includes physical education, art, and history.

Break up the school year into project-based quests

In the Acton model, the school year is split up into six-week segments. Each segment focuses on a specific character trait, examples of people who have displayed that trait, and a corresponding quest. At the end of the six-week segment, the students showcase the final product of their quest. For example, students working on curiosity and exploring entrepreneurship might learn the story of Steve Jobs. Then they would move on to trying their own hand at an entrepreneurial venture, such as a lemonade stand, which they would open to the school on the display day. At the end of the six-week segment, they will have learned a collection of skills that are useful on their own and can also be integrated to be an entrepreneur in the 21st century.

Over the course of an academic year, all of the quests come together to address overarching questions that the students have explored.

Plan the right year for your microschool

This is one permutation of many possibilities for lacing the elements of self-directed learning together. Your school’s calendar and curriculum may take a different shape based on your goals and the needs of your students. Hopefully this example serves as inspiration for your own year-long planning.


“The secret of education is respecting the pupil.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson