Transforming high school for the 21st century

The Minerva team creates a new program crafted for individualized high-school instruction: the Minerva Baccalaureate.

March 10, 2021

It’s no secret that high schools across the U.S. have been forced to rapidly innovate and adapt their learning models over the past year, with varied levels of success. To help these schools and their students, Minerva, an innovator in postsecondary education, has created a new program crafted for individualized high-school instruction: the Minerva Baccalaureate.

Minerva has the bold goal of replacing the widely used Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs, both of which, Minerva asserts, reinforce teach-to-the-test cultures. Instead, Minerva offers a blended-learning model that combines elements of guided self-study with virtual classroom instruction. The curriculum weaves together learnings across disciplines and periods of time to ensure that students absorb their education and apply it in new ways throughout their lifetimes.

Nurturing critical wisdom is at the heart of Minerva’s aims. As Minerva’s founder, Ben Nelson, puts it, “The premise is quite radical. In effect, what we refer to as the education sector is actually the certification sector, where you take a class and a test that certifies your ability to recall certain information. Then you move on. But when you take that same learner and test their retention six months later, they’ve lost between 30 percent and 95 percent of their knowledge. Minerva exists to fix that problem. It provides students with an education they can then apply in new situations, and gives them the tools to deepen their mastery over time, as opposed to having that knowledge fade.”

Here’s how the program works: Individual schools purchase the Minerva course of study for a flat annual fee, and apply it in their schools at a cost calculated per student per year afterward. Enrolled students take one of two tracks: A high-school-only program for 10th through 12th grade, or an accelerated track for 9th through 11th grade, culminating in a fourth year of high school that generates 32 hours of college credit plus a capstone project.

Minerva argues that the need in the 21st century is not just for remote instruction — the need is for remote instruction that exceeds the quality of in-person learning.

One significant hurdle for online learners is staying engaged in a virtual format. Minerva leapfrogs that obstacle with Forum™, an interactive and engaging environment designed intentionally for learning. Students participate in two 50-minute live, online classes each day to develop critical thinking, advanced problem solving, and strategic decision-making skills.

Forum tracks every second that a student talks so that teachers can see in real time which students are engaged and which are disengaged. Instructors can also monitor student progress on worksheets, conduct live polls, divide students into breakout groups for discussion, create simulations, and nimbly provide feedback.

The ultimate goal with Forum is to create a learning environment that is even more interactive, dynamic, and engaging than an in-person classroom. “One-hundred percent of students are engaged in the vast majority of their class time,” Nelson says.

“The online engagement that happens in Forum is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It really is like being in class, in-person in so many ways,” said Renée Mindek, dean of innovation at The Academy at Laurel Springs School, one of two pilot schools that launched the Minerva program in 2020.

Another component of Minerva’s appeal is that it adapts for both virtual and brick-and-mortar schools. Laurel Springs School is exclusively online, but a second partner school, the American School of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, has traditional in-person instruction. “You can’t think of two more different schools on the extremes of delivery and both in a wildly different context,” says Nelson.

“The way these students will travel through their high-school years together gives me a sense of excitement when I consider how they might impact the world during that time and beyond,” said Sarah Clancy, an instructor at Laurel Springs who teaches cognition, learning, and social development. “I feel like we are building something joyful and educationally innovative which gives me a source of pride in the Laurel Springs School team and our young pioneers.”

Branching into high-school education is a new endeavor for Minerva, which until now has focused exclusively on the higher-education space. Launched by Nelson in 2011, Minerva Project offers a range of undergraduate and post-graduate degree programs in collaboration with local colleges, and has been recognized for its unique teaching of knowledge and skills in around 80 foundational concepts and habits of mind.

Looking to the future, Nelson plans to bring on an additional 10 schools for fall 2021, spread across three different countries. Nelson also lays down the goal of making Minerva Baccalaureate the standard-setter for what high-school curricula will become. “Our goal is to make it the preferred approach to educating high-school students throughout the country.”

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