Curriculum Design
MBacc Courses

A central tenet of the MBacc instructional philosophy is that some parts of secondary education can be completely learned through guided self-study, while other parts are necessarily interactive. The two parts are complementary.

Class Allocation


Each core course in the Minerva® Baccalaureate program is divided into two complementary parts every week:

  • A two-hour interactive seminar on Forum that focuses on peer engagement, interdisciplinary skills development, and knowledge transfer. (2 credits)
  • A three-hour more traditional discipline-centric class taught in person or via a different online platform. (3 credits)

Forum seminars meet twice a week and focus on teaching interdisciplinary concepts and competencies. Standard in-person classes meet three times* per week and focus on teaching disciplinary knowledge. Each block indicates 1 hour.

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Course Integration
Flexible Scheduling

The scope and schedule of the discipline-centric sessions are designed by each partner to align with the 36 Forum-based sessions, so that students come well-prepared to discussions with background knowledge. The course descriptions below only cover the interactive seminar parts of each course; additional topics may be included, as defined and managed by each partner school.

YEAR 1
Biology
This course guides students through the study of living and non-living systems and how they interact with one another. Students explore the world they live in by posing questions and seeking answers through scientific inquiry. Discovery takes place through observation and data collection. Broad topics include the structure, function, diversity, and evolution of organisms on Earth. Learning outcomes for the course concern the ways in which microscopic and macroscopic features of life determine its functions, the dynamic processes occurring within and between organisms and their environments, and the methods that scientists use to generate hypotheses, design experiments, and refine their understanding of the natural world. Key concepts are intentionally related to key concepts in other fields such as math, literary arts, and social studies.
World Cultures
This course adopts perspectives from physical and human geography, history, and anthropology to examine relationships between humans and their environments. Students explore the evolution and interaction of communities around the globe and the shared challenges these communities face, from climate change, to loss of biodiversity, to social inequality. After an overview of methods and perspectives (these include cartography, the study of geographic terrain, and more widely-applicable analytical approaches) each unit is structured around a core skill and its application in a particular world region. As the course proceeds, students draw connections and comparisons, strengthening their ability to research, synthesize, and critically assess different perspectives and contextualize current events within and across regions. By the end of the year, students have honed their perspective-taking, research, pattern analysis, and systems thinking skills and expanded their understanding of spaces and communities around the world.
Literary Arts Fundamentals
This is a literature‐based language arts development course. Students learn fundamental skills in reading, writing, and thinking, based on the reading and analysis of high quality works of fiction and nonfiction by the greatest authors of the past and present. Each of the three units centers on the development of cross-genre skills, like interpretation, making persuasive appeals, and creative writing. In the first semester, students engage with and create works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Assignments emphasize core areas for developing language arts skills including reading for information and appreciation, writing in multiple genres, revising and editing one’s work, building vocabulary, and creating rich and varied sentences. Synchronous class activities provide students opportunities to practice these skills in a collaborative environment, designed to create cross-discipline connections and opportunities to apply their learning outside the classroom.
Geometry
This course introduces students to foundational elements of geometry: points, lines, triangles, quadrilaterals, and circles. Students learn to apply basic transformations to these shapes, to evaluate them for similarity and congruence, and to perform fundamental operations such as finding the distance between two points, the slope and midpoint of a line, and the volume of a figure. To provide early exposure and comfort with more contemporary topics, students learn basic logic and computer programming, beginning with flow charts and geometric proofs that employ them. They also complete a unit in statistics and probability, including work in basic combinatorics. Throughout the course, numerous activities and core assignments emphasize the application of these concepts to real-world scenarios and problems.
Social and Emotional Learning
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is now recognized as an invaluable component of student development. Throughout this course, students will reflect on their own SEL skills and abilities, and their interactions with those around them. Students will spend the first half of the course looking at themselves: executive functioning, self-awareness, and self-management. Through reading, watching, and reflecting on the science of learning and their own habits and emotions, students will develop productive introspection. The second half of the course will encourage students to look outward in their interpersonal relationships and the ways in which they are actively engaged with the world around them. Understanding how effective interactions are formed, maintained, and will be the focus of the final three learning outcomes: social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.
YEAR 2
Chemistry
This course introduces students to the foundational concepts of chemistry: atoms, bonds, and reactions. In the fall semester, students develop familiarity with the elements and their atomic structure, especially electron shells. This leads to an examination of pure substances, mixtures, and—through ionic bonds—compounds. A study of intra- and intermolecular forces leads into an examination of solids, liquids, and gases. Reactions and their stoichiometry and kinetics are explored. In spring semester, thermodynamics and the energy of chemical reactions leads to a study of equilibrium. Students learn about types of reactions—redox and acid-base—and their prevalence in the natural world and human industry.
World History
In this course, students experience the broad arc of world history, from the origins of humanity to the present. Fall semester begins with a foundation of the types of historical evidence and interpretation and then proceeds chronologically. Students explore life in the stone age, interpreting the art produced at that time to understand daily life and even the worldview of the artists. Students follow human migrations around the globe, learning about the development of language and the contrasts between nomadic and agricultural societies. They then explore the rise and influence of trade networks, forces of social organization such as political and major belief systems, and the rise and fall of world empires. In spring, the course explores the Columbian exchange, the slave trade, and the rise of industrialization and its concomitant labor issues in the 19th century. It continues with an exploration of imperialism and political polarization and the culmination of these trends in the two world wars and the Cold War. The course closes with an examination of globalization and interdependence as the historical markers of the present.
Literary Arts in Context
Building upon the skills learned in Literary Arts Fundamentals, this course helps students deepen their understanding and appreciation of the ways in which context—especially historical context—informs thematically connected works of fiction and nonfiction. Across a range of assignment types, students sharpen their editing, proofreading, and revision skills, focusing on universal characteristics of good writing such as concision, persuasiveness, use of evidence, anc appropriateness for a specific audience. To broaden their communication skills beyond writing, students examine and produce speeches and multimedia presentations. In addition to the use of core literary forms such as the novels, plays, and poems, the course also employs professionally-relevant forms such as first-person narratives and interviews, research writing, and conference presentations.
Algebra II
Covering the core competencies of symbolic manipulation of quantities, this course uses a wide variety of real-world applications to ensure that students understand the relevance of an otherwise deliberately abstract topic. In the fall semester, students begin with the foundations of algebraic representation and manipulation, considering the nature of equality, the definition of 0 and 1, and the concept of an operation and its inverse. The course continues with an exploration of rational, complex, and polynomial functions and their solutions. In spring semester, students learn to manipulate infinite series and test for convergence; use matrices and linear algebra to represent and solve systems of equations; and explore the unit circle and its associated trigonometric functions. Finally, a probability & statistics unit revisits and substantially expands the foundation built in the prerequisite course (Geometry) via the introduction of sample spaces, the normal distribution, and independence and conditional probability.
Collaboration and Community
Building upon the foundational competencies of Social and Emotional Learning, this course helps students further extend their personal skills to a cluster of related social competencies. In the fall semester, we cover empathy, active listening, and perspective-taking, including an appreciation of diversity. This leads into an appreciation of social and ethical norms and techniques to support collaboration and manage conflict. In spring semester, students learn to appreciate and practice the many facets of responsible decision making, which include making good use of social supports and considering the needs and interests of others in communities both local and global. Finally, by learning about contemporary teen activism, students are empowered to reflect on their own ability to make a difference, and to apply tools of active citizenship toward the broad range of UN Sustainable Development Goals.
YEAR 3
Physics
The course is mathematical but not calculus-based. Its core goals are to help students understand the unity of the natural sciences and to apply quantitative theories to models of natural phenomena. In fall semester, the course covers Newtonian physics of motion and its underlying concepts of mass, force, and energy. In spring, this is extended to harmonic motion, waves, and sound. The course concludes with treatment of static electricity and basic circuits. Virtual labs are used throughout the course to allow students to conduct experiments, gather and interpret data, and develop direct experience with the phenomena of each unit.
Comparative Government
The course begins with an historical and ethical consideration of political power and authority, and consideration of the fundamental question of why so many societies have given the state power over individuals. This leads naturally to a review of political legitimacy and stability, and case studies of its opposite. To better understand actual implementations of state power, students explore the role and implementation of executive, legislative, and judicial systems around the world, as well as the ways in which those institutions acquire, share, and transfer power—electoral and otherwise. Students explore the sociology of political parties, identities, and affiliations, the forces that shape them and civic participation more generally. The course concludes with a review of major recent transnational forces, including globalization and corporate power.
Literary Arts in Comparison
In the final year of the Literary Arts track, students deepen their appreciation for and competence with different forms of writing. In the fall semester, students explore several forms of persuasive writing, producing proposals, narratives, and evaluative pieces (e.g., a review) based on source material from a novel. To support the integration of skills throughout the curriculum, they rewrite, in a different literary style, one of their own assignments from another class; and finally, they read a set of thematically-related pieces (novels, short stories, or plays) and give a presentation of their analysis of these pieces. In spring, students explore a new expressive form—the poetry slam—and complete a contextual analysis of a film and deliver this as an oral presentation. As a summative project, they write a major essay presenting a contextual, literary, and comparative analysis of a novel.
Pre-Calculus and Algorithmic Thinking
This course prepares students for further study of two of the most powerful contemporary STEM-related toolsets: calculus and computer programming. In fall semester, the course covers the key mathematical concepts skills needed for a successful grasp of calculus, but more importantly, it helps students understand why calculus has become such a central tool in so many fields. Students develop their grasp of polynomials and trigonometric functions as well as function composition and inversion. A treatment of complex numbers is extended from the prerequisite course (Algebra II), including polar representation. Vectors, matrices, and their associated operations, are applied to real-world problems. In the spring semester, students encounter a semi-formal introduction to derivatives and integrals, using these—as well as an expansion of probability—to develop original computer simulations of real-world phenomena.
Global Residency
In the final year of the Personal Skills track, students apply the individual and interpersonal competencies they have practiced over the previous two years to first plan (in fall semester) and then implement (in spring) a project related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They have considerable freedom in the choice of project, beginning with a set of self-study exercises to clarify their own values and interests, identify case studies of inspirational teen activists, and use these to narrow the scope of a service learning project. Students then proceed to develop a concrete project plan and timeline, interview a member of the community engaged in similar work, and present their plan to their peers and instructor for feedback. Spring semester is devoted to execution, with multiple rounds of workshops, real-time problem solving and adaptation. Students exit the course with a highly individualized experience, a polished project report, and practical skills.
YEAR 4
Complex Systems
In the fall semester, this course focuses on effective engagement in social systems. Students examine social interaction through the lens of complex systems theory, which provides a powerful framework for understanding human behavior and group dynamics. Students learn to recognize that they are embedded within many different complex social systems, and they apply their understanding of these systems to analyzing and improving social interactions. In spring, students use their knowledge of complexity in social systems as a basis for learning tools for interpersonal and group engagement, including strategy development, negotiation, and leadership. By synthesizing knowledge of complex systems with techniques for influencing individuals and groups, students learn how to interact effectively within and across groups and organizations.
Empirical Analyses
In the fall semester, students in this course learn to combine creative and critical thinking to quantitatively apply methods used in the natural and social sciences. Students learn to frame problems effectively, develop and test hypotheses, and derive insights from empirical evidence. Students dig deeply into different types of data, comparing cases in which direct manipulation of the phenomena being studied is not possible (such as observational studies, case studies, and surveys), and cases in which variables are manipulated to different degrees (such as randomized controlled medical trials and quasi-experiments). The course emphasizes the tenets of good research design, strengths and limitations of different design types, quantitative methods to validate data, and the generalizability of inferences drawn from distinct study designs.
Formal Analyses
In this course, students are introduced to a number of tools from probability and statistics and learn the basics of data science. They practice extracting useful information from data, representing problems formally, and interpreting results. The course covers a number of statistical topics including: probability and conditional probability; populations and samples; random variables, descriptive statistics and distributions; correlates, controls, and confounds; models of random systems including regression models; inference, confidence, and significance; and professional standards in data science and related quantitative disciplines.
Multimodal Communications
To communicate effectively, one must be able to convey the result of one’s thinking to others in a compelling manner, and to persuade them to adopt the same or similar views. Humans organize and interpret what they see and hear according to certain principles. Everything from sophisticated art forms to everyday gadgets must take these principles into account in order to be successful. Knowing these principles enhances our ability to evaluate a wide range of products from films and video games to material objects. Applying them enables us to create high quality multimodal and multimedia communications. In this course, students will learn to interpret and create communications from written essays to presentations to artistic works based on the principles of verbal and nonverbal expression and design.

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