MBacc Comparisons

Is the Minerva Baccalaureate program accredited?
Accreditation processes pertain to schools, not specific programs. Like the International Baccalaureate (IB), Advanced Placement (AP), and GCE A-Level curricula, the Minerva Baccalaureate acts as its own accrediting body. Minerva University, which developed the Minerva Baccalaureate program, is accredited through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

How does the program compare with the Advanced Placement (AP) program?
The Advanced Placement (AP) program is subject-based: it is designed to train and assess students in specific disciplines. The Minerva Baccalaureate has a different emphasis. In addition to educating students on a strong core of disciplinary knowledge, we also emphasize cross-disciplinary integration. Thus, rather than just disciplinary depth, our program is also designed to train and assess students on their ability to transfer learning to new contexts. Another difference is that the Advanced Placement program uses exams that measure student ability at a single point in time. In contrast, the Minerva Baccalaureate program uses student performance data collected steadily over three years across a wide range of classes, assignments, and settings. For more information, see here.

How does the program compare with the International Baccalaureate (IB) program?
The Minerva Baccalaureate is more interdisciplinary and more regularized than the IB. The only specific course required of all IB students is Theory of Knowledge (TOK). The amount of synthesis within and between other subject-based IB courses varies. In contrast, every one of the 30 courses in the Minerva Baccalaureate is designed from the ground up with interdisciplinary synthesis as a core goal; since every student takes all 30 of these courses, the experience is quite different. Also, the Minerva Baccalaureate program provides partner schools with detailed lesson plans and assignments for every session of every course, whereas the materials and methods of IB courses—even the core course of TOK—vary significantly from school to school. Finally, there are important differences in assessment: Minerva Baccalaureate uses a large number of very specific learning objectives, whereas IB uses a comparatively small number of holistic criteria for grading student work.

Does the program prepare students adequately for Advanced Placement (AP) exams or A-Level exams?
We do not believe that scores on high-stakes, single-subject exams should be a major factor in college admissions. Their prevalence is falling, but we recognize that they are still used by some campuses. The MBacc's suitability as preparation for these exams varies between subjects, but in most cases, we would recommend that students planning to take an AP or A-Level exam consider using supplementary materials (though, with the exception of calculus and specific science subjects, actually taking such courses may not be necessary). If school administrators determine that advanced course credit is more important to most students than exam scores, they may decide to forgo the Minerva Baccalaureate's optional fourth year, which would create room in student schedules for this purpose.

Curriculum

Do teachers have to find their own teaching materials?
Materials for the Forum-based synchronous sessions are provided in their entirety: instructors will not need to find any additional materials for that portion of each course (though of course they may choose to do so independently). For the non-Forum-based portion of each course, Minerva typically provides materials recommendations, such as electronic (or occasionally hard-copy) textbooks or freely available materials that we know provide good treatment of the disciplinary material. If high schools choose to use our recommended materials, they will need to arrange for students to obtain them, e.g. through site license purchases or posting on the school's Learning Management System (LMS). If a high school decides to not to use these recommendations, their curriculum designers would need to (1) select and obtain appropriate materials, and (2) map the Forum-based sessions onto those materials so that students know exactly where to learn the requisite disciplinary knowledge. The work required for this mapping process will depend on the materials selected, but expect roughly 2 weeks of work for each semester-long course.

How much time do students spend on each course? Is there a specific weekly schedule?
Each of the five courses meets on Forum twice per week for 50-60 minutes each session (1.7-2.0 hours per week). Four of the courses (the personal skills courses are the exception) also have non-Forum-based components such as textbooks etc. assigned and managed by the high school. Students should expect to spend 4 hours per week on that portion of each course. Although the total time required is comparable to traditional courses, it is more flexible because the non-Forum based work could be done in many ways, including completely asynchronously (not in a classroom). That flexibility means that student daily schedules may be arranged to accommodate other academic or extracurricular needs.

What is the ratio of homework to in-class time?
Each 50-60 minute Forum session has specific preparation instructions, which may include reading, viewing, and small pieces of work that students must complete and bring to class. Most students can complete this work (for one session) in 45-60 minutes. In addition to that specific preparation, each course will require other out-of-class work, such as reading textbooks or other materials and completing assignments. For all courses except those in the Personal Skills track, the ratio of total out-of-class time to in-Forum-based-session time is about 3:1 (= 5.5 hours outside of class and 1.7 hours in class).

Is the program writing intensive? Can you recommend supplemental writing classes?
In general, the Forum-based portion of each Minerva Baccalaureate course includes 4-6 assignments per semester, typically 2-3 smaller works and 2-3 larger ones. For obvious reasons, the Language Arts courses explicitly target writing per se, requiring students to write about 1 page per week, but the program overall regards writing competencies as a set of cross-course learning outcomes, which means that writing skills are assessed explicitly in every course. We do not currently have a specific recommendation for extra-programmatic writing support programs.

Does the program satisfy University of California a-g requirements?
The program was designed to meet UC a-g requirements. We are in the process of submitting the courses to the University of California for approval. We are seeking the Honors designation for all courses in program years 2 and 3 (for 10th and 11th grade students).

Does the program satisfy General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) requirements?
The only GCSE subject not covered by the MBacc curriculum is modern & ancient languages. For all other core subjects, the MBacc curriculum addresses GCSE targets very well, though in some cases there is a difference in emphasis. For example, our biology course teaches more evolution and less human health. In other core subjects (mathematics, humanities, and English), the MBacc addresses substantially all GCSE standards and may even be sufficient for A-Level preparation. Note: Because Forum-based sessions are virtual, our "labs" are as well: the MBacc does not include what the GCSE calls Practical Activities, such as the hands-on use of various scientific apparatus.

Does the program include laboratory science activities?
The program includes a number of excellent third-party virtual lab experiences that allow students to design experiments and use virtual instruments to collect data. These activities provide many of the learning benefits of time in a physical lab. However, since the Forum-based sessions are entirely virtual, any actual physical lab or field-based activities should be designed and added by the high school into the non-Forum-based parts of the course.

Does the MBacc curriculum address the calculus admissions requirement of some university STEM programs?
MBacc's year-3 math course aligns with pre-calculus and computer programming. However, a student could take a high school (including AP) calculus course in that year, benefitting from the spaced practice as well as a deeper grasp of calculus's applications that comes from the applied and integrative nature of the Forum-based classes. Students could also take calculus in year 4, either alongside the dual-credit Cornerstone courses or simply as a regular high school or AP course. (Note: the four Cornerstones—which must be taken all together—are demanding college-level courses; students and parents / advisors should carefully consider the overall academic load of additional work.)

How often will curriculum reviews take place, and what role do partner schools play?
We expect that each course will undergo deep review and revision each year for the first three years it is taught. Thereafter, we expect light revision every year and deep review every 3 years. Partner schools provide administrative and curricular feedback via their Academic Program Managers (APMs), with whom they meet at least monthly, and student-based input via surveys administered 1-2 times per year.

To what extent does the curriculum make use or draw lessons from diverse cultural/economic backgrounds?
MBacc course design teams include consultants from our partner high schools; so far this has led to representation from the United States, Canada, and the Dominican Republic, but this could expand to include (for example) South Korea, Senegal, and beyond. In some cases, we employ Minerva University work/study students to assist in materials selection and lesson plan development; these students are extremely culturally and economically diverse. Finally, where relevant—especially in the Social Sciences courses—the content itself is intrinsically culturally diverse.

Administration

Should teachers have course-specific knowledge and training?
The curriculum is organized by subject, but it is critical to recognize that the Forum-based portions of each class (i.e., the synchronous meetings with instructors and students) are interdisciplinary. The other part of each course (i.e., the portion that is not on Forum and might not be in traditional class settings at all) is where students focus on single-discipline material. For staffing purposes, the best candidates will be experienced high school teachers with depth in a particular discipline and a readiness to facilitate interdisciplinary sessions that build upon it.

Do you train new teachers on how to use Forum?
Yes. We provide everything that your instructors need to effectively use and teach on Forum. They will prepare for our training course with readings on the science of learning, learn about how to facilitate fully active learning sessions, how to use Forum, and how to use our assessment tools effectively. They will also actually teach (to their fellow faculty and a group of Minerva undergraduates) the first two lesson plans of their assigned course and receive constructive feedback.

How many teachers should be hired?
Each Forum section should have a maximum of 20 students; 15 is better because it provides more active learning participation opportunities for each student. We recommend at least five instructors, one for each of the five tracks (science, social studies, mathematics, language arts, and personal skills). Because of the special pedagogical and technological training required to teach in the program, we also recommend having some redundancy, such as through one or more substitute instructors who complete the training in anticipation of having to step in on short notice. If the student cohort size is large enough to support multiple sections (i.e., > 30 students), we recommend allocating at least two instructors to each course because this increases flexibility, resiliency, and allows intra-course collaboration.

How will students learn to use Forum?
Approximately one week before Forum-based sessions begin, teachers from each school will lead a two-hour-long student orientation (on Forum, of course) with materials that we provide. This covers technical readiness checks and instruction in how to use Forum to see upcoming classes, submit assignments, receive feedback from instructors, etc. There is a small learning curve but typically students become comfortable, simply through repeated use, within the first few weeks of the program.

Does Forum allow for parental supervision?
Yes, with an important restriction. In general, parental supervision of student educational records is possible through class schedules, report cards, parent-teacher meetings, and other mechanisms managed by the high school, and also through MBacc-specific progress reports created by Minerva, including those available on Forum. However, because class videos include other students, parents may not watch them. Parents with questions about classroom experiences should consult teachers or a school administrator.

Student Profiles

Is the program designed for all students, or just the very best?
The characteristic that is most important for student success in the Minerva Baccalaureate program is engagement. Any student who cares about learning and is willing to try is likely to benefit greatly from the program. This quality is more important than prior academic performance. That said, the curriculum is designed to be challenging; given the workload and level, it may prove too difficult for students with academic performance consistently in the bottom 30% relative to national standards.

What are the mathematics prerequisites for incoming students?
When they start the program—whether that is in grade 9 or 10—students should be ready to learn Geometry or Integrated Math II. Think of the math course the same as other courses, i.e. as having a portion that happens outside Forum (and during which students learn the core material of traditional or integrated math, such as Geometry -> Algebra II -> Trigonometry / Precalculus) and a second portion on Forum. The Forum-based part is much more applied and interdisciplinary than a typical high school math course.

What are the English language ability requirements?
High schools should review the curriculum and make their own determinations regarding student readiness for the program. Because materials and instruction are in English, Minerva recommends that incoming students have a TOEFL iBT score of at least 85. This corresponds to an IELTS score of approximately 6.5.

How do Minerva Baccalaureate students perform on the SAT?
We do not have data on this yet: we expect the first cohort of Minerva Baccalaureate students to take the SAT in 2022.

Graduation and the Diploma

What do students get at the end of the program?
To students who complete the first three years of the Program, Minerva provides a Minerva Baccalaureate Diploma, much in the same way that International Baccalaureate does for IB Diploma students. For students who take the optional fourth year, consisting of Minerva's Cornerstone courses, Minerva University (accredited by WASC) provides units of college transferable credit. High schools are responsible for local accreditation and other regulatory requirements related to the issuance of high school diplomas.

What are the requirements to receive the Minerva Baccalaureate Diploma?
To receive the Minerva Baccalaureate Diploma, students must successfully complete all courses in the first three years of the program. "Successful completion" means attendance and assignment completion in accordance with the policies outlined in the syllabus. There is no performance threshold for remaining in the program: if the high school determines that a student is in academic good standing, the student can continue in the Minerva Baccalaureate regardless of their scores. The Minerva Baccalaureate Diploma Score is continuously updated throughout the three years of the program and reflects the entire history of student performance.

How do the units of Cornerstone credit transfer to other institutions?
Each receiving institution has unique standards regarding transfer credit. In the most generous case, a school may grant credit just as if a student had taken a particular course at that school. This often requires that the student present the syllabus and an argument about which course is the most equivalent. In other cases, the credit is accepted as elective or general-education credit. Minerva students who transfer Cornerstone credits have encountered both of these models, with successful transfer to a variety of US institutions in California, New York, and elsewhere, including at least one ivy league school. In the more restrictive cases, schools accept college-level course completions as evidence to waive prerequisites but do not actually grant credit. Minerva Baccalaureate graduates who are admitted to Minerva Schools for undergraduate study will receive all units of Cornerstone credit, so will enter as second-year students.

Will program graduates be competitive in U.S. university admissions?
The program is designed to provide a world-class educational experience that prepares students for success in the most selective universities and colleges in the world.

Will program graduates be admitted to Minerva University?
Students completing the Cornerstone courses in the optional fourth year of the program are likely to be well-prepared for undergraduate study at Minerva University, and are encouraged to apply. Please note admission is not guaranteed.

What happens if a student fails a course?
With respect to Minerva's standards, a student passes a course if their attendance meets the policies laid out in the syllabus and completes all required assignments. If a student passes all courses according to these criteria, they may remain in the program, even if their scores are very low. High schools are free to make an independent determination about whether a student is eligible to remain in the Minerva Baccalaureate program.

Instruction and Assessment

What are the characteristics of an ideal Minerva Baccalaureate instructor?
The Minerva Baccalaureate curriculum is, among other things, critical, creative, conceptual, evidential, cross-disciplinary, and applied. Instructors should be champions for the ways that their discipline(s) connects to other disciplines and keenly attuned to the relevance it has for students' lives and enduring global questions. They should be able to quickly recognize fruitful and subtle applications, and be ready to collaborate with students to help them think through new problems in real-time. This calls for patience, quick thinking, and great skill in creating opportunities for students to contribute, even if this means letting them struggle. Instructors should plan on speaking for at most 30% of each class session; in addition, they should make effective use of Forum's talk-time functionality to ensure a fair distribution of student contributions during class. Time management skills are also important in assessment: students need timely, actionable feedback on specific learning outcomes. Instructors must attentively monitor each student's progress to determine where s/he might need particular support. But above all, perhaps the single most important characteristic for a Minerva Baccalaureate instructor is a sense of joyful urgency in helping their students become well-informed and versatile thinkers.

What are the workload requirements for teachers?
Instructor preparation for class typically requires ~30-60 minutes per session. Each lesson plan is 50-60 minutes long, but most instructors use the full hour to greet students before class and chat afterward. Many instructors schedule office hours just before or after class. Assessing the video recording of a class session takes about 15-20 minutes, especially if done immediately after class. Assessing medium and larger assignments is comparable to doing the same work without Forum.

How should teachers use interdisciplinary materials and methods?
For background on active learning, we recommend our book. For general background on interdisciplinary instruction, consult one of the many books or websites from reputable educational sources, such as this one from XQ Institute.

How do students learn interdisciplinary skills and synthesize their knowledge?
The Forum-based class sessions include a wide variety of active learning activities designed to promote interdisciplinary conceptual and skill development. Some common techniques include having students work in breakout groups to apply concepts introduced in pre-class work, facilitated whole-class discussions and debates, and the use of subtle, synthetic, interdisciplinary reflection polls at the end of class sessions.

What is the meaning of "guided self-study?"
This means that students are provided with materials and an approximate schedule for working through those materials. They are expected to read and complete exercises on their own, supported by instructors via office hours, study halls, or other mechanisms—even traditional physical classrooms.

What are the subjects of the eight college-level Cornerstone courses?
The Cornerstones are interdisciplinary courses addressing a wide range of topics through the lens of four core competencies: critical thinking, creative thinking, effective communication, and effective interaction. See our book for detailed descriptions of all these courses.

Since the classes are online, where do the students do the rest of their schoolwork?
The Forum-based part of the classes are conducted virtually with their peers and instructor, but high schools determine whether and how to use supplementary in-person learning.

How are grades calculated?
The calculation of course grades for high schools transcripts is entirely the prerogative of the high school. For that purpose, school administrators may use scores from Forum-based class sessions and assignments as needed. We will share a separate document explaining the Minerva Baccalaureate diploma score calculation.

Are there tests and quizzes?
High schools may decide for themselves whether they want to use quizzes and tests for the non-Forum-based part of each course, but the Forum-based part of each course does not include traditional forms of either one. Many class sessions will require the students to complete pre-class work exercises and in-class polls; these will often be graded, but they are not directly comparable to conventional quizzes—they are shorter and more synthetic than the direct knowledge tests common in quizzes. The Forum-based parts of the course also include a range of medium and large assignments, but again, these are unlike traditional exams—e.g., they are not proctored or timed and, as above, extend student understanding well beyond direct checks of declarative knowledge.

Can schools use Forum to create special study sessions and courses?
Forum supports the creation of ad-hoc classrooms for peer study groups and other purposes. Teachers and students can create these rooms at any time. However, constructing a full Forum-based course is a more significant undertaking, as the design of lesson plans that use fully active learning is a special skill and requires use of a separate piece of Minerva software. Please contact us if you are interested in exploring this possibility.

How does Forum support make-up work?
Forum has a set of features to allow students to watch recordings of class sessions and submit makeup work. Related tools allow teachers to review that work, accept it or reject it, and mark the student's absence as excused or unexcused. Course syllabi include policies related to this.

Technology

Why use Forum if my school is a traditional "brick & mortar" institution?
In-person environments are great at developing human connections, making abstract concepts concrete, learning to use physical apparatus, and more. They are not great at many educationally-relevant things, such as collaborating on shared documents, accurately measuring student engagement and participation, and shuffling students in and out of groups. Forum is great at all that, and offers other advantages as well. For example, it saves class videos. This means that teachers can watch those and provide targeted feedback on specific things that students say. Also, there is no back row: every student has equal access to the instructor. Its time-tracking features help instructors avoid lecturing, keeping the focus on giving students opportunities to participate in fully active learning, and ensuring equitable distribution of talk-time. Most schools continue live, in-person classes during the MBacc program, but these are just some of the many ways that the Forum sessions can complement the overall high school experience.

Does Forum integrate with other Learning Management Systems (LMSs)?
Forum provides detailed reports of attendance and assessment in CSV format, which can be bulk-imported into many third-party LMSs. Forum also supports single-sign-on (SSO), which can facilitate account access. LTI integration is not yet available. In many cases students will use two systems: Forum and whichever LMS the school uses as the system of record.

What technical support do you provide for Forum?
Minerva provides real time, live technical support from within Forum. We coordinate support schedules with class times, monitor system status, and respond to each user individually as needed.

How many Forum system administrators are needed?
No system administrators are required for Forum: all hosting and support is done by Minerva.

For Parents

How will colleges know the rigor of the program?
One useful reference point in this regard is Minerva's reputation in the education sector, which is apparent from press coverage in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Wall Street Journal. The Minerva Baccalaureate program specifically was covered in Forbes.

How does the program compare to Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB)?
See Curriculum Design.

What are the core principles of the program and the non-academic benefits?

All Minerva programs share three core educational principles: a commitment to fully active learning, the promotion of knowledge transfer through sustained application in diverse contexts, and an emphasis on ongoing constructive feedback rather than high-stakes exams. Benefits that reach beyond the traditional academic sphere include the extraordinary, three-year-long personal skills track that helps high school students develop social and emotional skills as they mature.

What does the program offer advanced students?
Each course in the Minerva Baccalaureate program has two parts: an interdisciplinary seminar-based portion on Forum, and a non-Forum-based part that can be structured however the high school chooses. The primary purpose of the non-Forum-based part is to ensure that each student meets appropriate targets for disciplinary learning. We are confident that the Forum-based sessions will challenge both mainstream and advanced students, but a high school may elect to provide advanced / alternative programming for the non-Forum-based portion to service students who find the mainstream pace insufficiently challenging.

What opportunities do students have for electives?
Schools set their own daily schedules, but the Minerva Baccalaureate program requires 10 hours per week on Forum-based seminars, much less than a typical high school's 30 hours of committed in-class time. This increased flexibility may be used by schools to offer academic support for the core subjects, other required courses, or electives. However, a dominant reason that many schools offer electives is to help each student feel engaged with their learning—to avoid their "tuning out." Unfortunately, many students discover that even if they choose the topic, lecture-based and disciplinary-siloed courses are not particularly engaging. This is one of the reasons that the Minerva Baccalaureate program is so interdisciplinary and does not include lectures. With our use of real-world problems and active learning—and supported by our experience with Minerva undergraduates and other programs—we are confident that all Minerva Baccalaureate students will feel engaged with their learning, even in the core subjects. If high schools still wish to extend their catalog, they can consider extending the school day or offering summer programs.

How do the grades compare to those given in traditional high school courses?
The most unique features of scoring in the Minerva Baccalaureate program include the use of very specific learning outcomes; the fact that many of these transcend specific disciplines; and the careful measurement of students' ability to transfer their learning to new contexts. All of these features are captured in the Diploma Score and are meant to complement but not replace the more traditional, discipline-based grades represented on high school transcripts.

The Minerva Baccalaureate improves class engagement and learning outcomes, preparing students to be more effective leaders, innovators, and global citizens.

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