Harrison Middleton University

Foundational Courses

Foundational Courses

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


December 25, 2020

Thanks to Sydney Files for today’s post. This post is part of the series Our Mission Extends Beyond Us.

At the International Commerce High Schools, all students start their educational experience by completing progressive foundational courses in several reference books. These courses are incredibly original to the International Commerce High Schools method because they ensure students develop the ability to be independent, self-directed learners. The curriculum teaches students how to use the available tools necessary for success in their high school curriculum and overall lifelong learning. These courses focus on the more general, abstract education goals by specifying what thinking and performance capabilities students should master. Along with developing reference skills that will be useful throughout their course of study, students will review content standards they should possess upon graduation.

Students use five different reference books in their course of study at the International Commerce High Schools: Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Algebra to Go, Writers INC, Geometry to Go, and The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. The courses created for these reference materials follow a similar pattern for completion. Upon assignment, students are given the reference book and a study guide with activities and exercises to be completed independently and with an instructor. Each study guide familiarizes the student with the textbook, identifies essential vocabulary, and shows the student how to use the table of contents, indexes, and other reference pages. The packets are organized into six units where students complete textbook assignments, online assignments, and read primary source documents. To earn credit for a unit, students must complete one hundred percent of the work and review the unit with an instructor through an inquiry-based discussion. Inquiry-based discussion allows students to express their ideas on all the preceding activities and their work’s culmination. During conversations with an instructor, students comment about the content and language selection, support their ideas with evidence, listen to other perspectives, and synthesize different viewpoints to reach a deeper, more informed understanding of the reference materials. Descriptions of each course and their offerings are listed below:

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary course thoroughly introduces students to the dictionary and see that it provides a wealth of knowledge, reaching beyond basic definitions and information about words. This course introduces the core skills learners need to master essential to language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies competencies. Students use an approach that integrates reading, writing, and thinking to learn critical strategies needed to interpret various written and graphic material. Students improve their reading fluency by developing phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, and vocabulary skills. Students expand their vocabulary by inferring word meanings from context clues, distinguishing between the denotative and connotative meanings, and drawing inferences about the importance of new language based on knowledge of linguistic roots and affixes. Finally, students improve their writing abilities by identifying correct punctuation, grammar usage, capitalization, and spelling during the drafting process.

The Algebra to Go reference book reinforces reading comprehension, discussion, and writing skills used in a mathematics course. The study guide integrates reading, writing, and thinking skills needed to interpret various written and graphic mathematic competencies. Students increase the broadness of their subject-specific vocabulary and practice number sense in multiple activities by completing this course. For example, students practice numerical operations and use estimation strategies reasonably and fluently. Exercises guide learners to identify patterns and apply pattern recognition to mathematics and describe and model functions and relationships. Students express and identify problems using linear, quadratic, logarithmic, exponential, cubic, reciprocal, absolute value, step, and other function equations in more advanced activities. Overall, students evaluate conditions, select problem-solving strategies, draw logical conclusions, develop and describe solutions, and recognize their applications in various settings.

Writers INC introduces and enhances students’ abilities to read and comprehend the following types of materials: nonfiction, poetry, and short fiction. This course introduces the core skills learners need to master for essential competency in language arts. The study guide walks students through vital components of composition: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. With given parameters, students use the writing process to compose their narratives, expository essays, functional writing, persuasive essays, literary responses, and research papers where main ideas are clearly expressed and the reader’s attention maintained. As applicable, learners apply literal and figurative language to enhance word choice and a variety of sentence structures and lengths to strengthen the writing flow. As necessary, students formulate thesis statements and support their hypotheses with evidence from primary sources based on research, observation, and experience. Beyond academic writing, students learn to write memos, schedules, and forms. Students edit their essays with guidance from instructors by identifying punctuation, spelling, grammar, and usage errors in their drafts during shared-inquiry discussions. This process enforces correct conventions by addressing writing mechanics, including capitalization, punctuation, spelling, grammar, and usage. The instruction, practice, and assessment of reading comprehension and writing skills prepare students for any future academic or workplace writing.

The Geometry to Go study guide, similar to the Algebra to Go course, reinforces reading comprehension, discussion, and writing skills used in mathematics. This course introduces the core skills learners need to master essential competencies in mathematics problem-solving. The study guide contains exercises where students analyze problem situations, determine the questions to be answered, organize given information, determine how to represent the problems, and identify implicit and explicit assumptions. Learners master the more complicated concepts by using theorems, formulating strategies, applying the process, verifying the solutions, and communicating the reasoning used to obtain the solution. Practicing these skills helps students summarize and share mathematical ideas using formal and informal logic about the roles of definitions, postulates, propositions, and theorems in geometry. To complete the course, students and instructors engage in discussion to evaluate geometric situations, select problem-solving strategies, draw logical conclusions, develop and describe solutions, and recognize their applications.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy thoroughly introduces students to the concept of cultural literacy which includes knowledge beyond basic reading and writing skills, but common concepts of American culture including its language, folklore, stories, entertainment, idioms, and history. This course introduces the core competencies in all subjects including language arts, social studies, science, and mathematics. This study guide provides students a wealth of knowledge, reaching beyond basic definitions and information about words. It provides a means for students to improve their cultural literacy, information commonly understood in America.

Using this dictionary students study basic knowledge from a broad range of topics including:
The Bible; mythology and folklore; proverbs; idioms; world literature, philosophy, and religion; literature in English; conventions of written English; world history; American history; American politics; world geography; American geography; anthropology, psychology, and sociology; business and economics; physical sciences and mathematics; earth sciences; medicine and health; and technology. By studying all these concepts through the view of cultural literacy with instructors, students acquire and use new vocabulary in relevant contexts that will make them successful in their post-secondary goals.

After completing foundational coursework, students at the International Commerce High Schools have finished a rigorous, accelerated academic program in world languages, language arts, literature, social studies, mathematics, and natural sciences. Additionally, students have been exposed to state academic standards and vocabulary for nationally standardized exams, evaluated by American Council on Education, for college credit. All of the courses’ content is reinforced by highly-qualified certified instructors through inquiry-based discussions, allowing them to ask questions and reflect on the culmination of their studies. This process helps students for future high school courses and helps them reach their maximum potential for post-secondary education and goals.

To read the previous post on CLEP Exams, visit: http://www.hmu.edu/hmu-blog/2020/11/27/clep-exams

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