You’ve heard of semesters. You’ve heard of trimesters. But what in the world is a minimester?
I first heard the term in college, when I noticed a slate of classes offered between the fall and spring semesters. Some universities call them minimester classes, some call them intersession classes, but for most new college students these classes are different than any courses they’ve seen before.
For one thing, the entire minimester at my school was only about three weeks long. Minimesters vary from school to school, but they are typically from two to four weeks and are scheduled between regular fall, spring and summer semesters. The courses are short, but individual class periods ran much longer than the typical hour to hour and a half one might expect. In fact, some were three or more hours per class period, and most of them met every day, Monday through Friday, as opposed to just a couple of days a week.
If minimester courses sound intense, they are, but the classes that are typically offered at the college level are more fun and lively than the semester-long courses students usually take. I took several minimester courses during college, including a couple of upper-level communications classes that perfectly fit my minor during the day, and both folk dancing and country line dancing at night. The latter classes fulfilled my dreaded P.E. requirement, believe it or not, and I actually learned quite a bit about the traditional dances done in countries around the world.
Now that I am homeschooling teens, I can’t help but wonder why some of their high school credits couldn’t be completed the same way as the minimester courses I took in college. That would lighten the load during our regular semester considerably, and allow them more time to study courses they want to pursue. Here are a few tips that I think would make scheduling minimester classes easier for every family.
Avoid cramming core STEM classes
The brain needs time to process mathematical and scientific concepts fully, building a strong foundation of knowledge before moving on. The core courses of math and science need to be done over adequate time periods for students to learn each new concept, practice working with it, and build up that solid foundation before moving on to the next.
The minimester packs a lot of information into a very short amount of time; too short for most students to master the concepts they’d need to learn before rapidly moving on.
The only ways I would consider doing a STEM course in a minimester format is if the subject was largely review material, or if it was an elective course, light on new concepts, taken after all prerequisite core courses had been completed.
Watch out for excessive work outside of class
The minimester courses I took were long and demanding, even though the classes were fun. I was worn out after sitting in the same class for hours, knowing I’d be back there again the next day. If you are going to pack a whole semester’s worth of credit in just a few weeks, be wary of courses like literature, creative writing and even history, which can be heavy on reading assignments outside of class.
If your student is one who can eagerly devour a whole novel in an evening or two, you may have more success squeezing a literature course into just two or three weeks. But if they read slowly, or have other projects going on outside of your class time, you would be much better off to save those types of courses for full semesters, where they can take their time.
Think creatively about required courses
Some required courses lend themselves well to a short and intense class. Courses like health and nutrition, for instance, may require little reading outside a short textbook, and may include projects such as shopping for and preparing meals, which can be done over just a couple of weeks.
Many students are required to complete a fine arts credit, which could be a simple art or music appreciation class. If you plan correctly, you may be able to attend a wide variety of student recitals or gallery shows at your local university for free during the last few weeks of a semester. These live experiences, along with whatever coursework you choose, could easily fulfill the fine arts requirement in short order.
And of course, there is the P.E. requirement. I never knew, until I enrolled in one, that a three-week dance class could fulfill a college P.E. credit, but if that sort of class is good enough for college, why wouldn’t it be good enough for high school? Of course, state laws may differ as to the number of required hours, but there is likely nothing stopping you from completing your P.E. credit with a bunch of swim sessions over a summer break, or winter hikes in the woods between your regular semesters.
Most state requirements include a certain number of core credits and a certain number of elective credits, to total that magic number that equals high school graduation. I often hear parents asking what counts as an elective. The short answer is whatever they want, so long as they put in enough hours of study.
As homeschoolers, our students have far more freedom in choosing electives than public or private school kids. When preparing a slate of electives for students in a regular school, administrators have to determine what will benefit the most students, usually at the lowest cost. But as homeschoolers, there is often only one child to consider when planning an elective, as each of our children can choose from a nearly infinite variety of classes on their own.
We also have much more freedom in the way we schedule electives. Our kids may want to spend a long time on a favorite topic, reading book after book and doing projects on their own. Or they might want to take an online class at breakneck speed, learning a new skill they can use immediately. Whether your kid is eager to learn something new, or just in a hurry to get another class out of the way, the minimester may be the perfect option for them.
A minimester elective class is a great way to let your student exercise their own choice, picking a class that interests them. You can design the class together or find a ready-made course that meets your needs. Whether they want to spend time studying the mythology of superheroes, the history of baseball or modern fashion design for cats, there’s really no such thing as a bad elective.
Minimesters are perfect for independent study
Do you ever dream of kicking back and letting your kids spend a while educating themselves? Well, why don’t you give it a try? I’m not saying you can just check out and leave your kids to their own devices for a whole semester. Most core courses require at least some level of teaching and guidance, for even the most gifted students. But once your kids can read fluently and follow directions well, as most high schoolers should be able to do, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to engage in a couple of weeks of independent study.
Give yourself a two week break, either in the middle or at the end of your next semester, and turn your students loose to do a fun and interesting independent study course of their choosing. There are tons of short courses available online, many of which are free. Check with your local library if you don’t know where to start looking.
Make sure the elective course they choose has reading material they can handle or video lessons that they will understand. Determine how many credits will be awarded upon completion of the class, based on the coursework and the number of hours the class is expected to take.
Discuss how many hours each day your child will need devote to study, in order to complete the class over the two week period. If it appears that the class is too involved to complete during a minimester, have them choose an easier elective and save the first course for a regular semester or summer session.
Finally, give yourself permission to relax, and trust your student to tackle their chosen course and earn their credits. Remind them that they are on their own, and that if they fail to complete their elective course in the time allotted, they will either have to forfeit the credit or continue working on it on their own later on. Either way, you get a glorious two week break, and your child gets the experience of independent study before college. That makes the high school minimester a big win for the whole family!
Tavia, also known as The Unplanned Homeschooler, is an award-winning freelance writer, author, convention speaker and homeschooling mother of three awesome kids. She recently published Homeschool Bullies: Dealing with Mean Kids, Cliques and Mama Drama. You can follow her blog and find her new book at www.unplannedhomeschooler.com.