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American Sign Language, Around the World in 10 Days, Disaster Preparedness, The History of LEGOs, Winter Activities & History of Sports in the Snow… It may come as a surprise, but these are the titles of high school courses. In fact, all of these classes were among those offered by Pacelli High School in Wisconsin during this year’s J-term.
Two to three weeks between the first and second semester during which students immerse themselves in a single subject. The classes offered are hands-on, nontraditional, and count as a single semester class.
What are the benefits for students?
A mental break: Students enjoy J-term (also known as January term) because it's a kind of mental break between semesters. They can take their exams before Christmas and completely clear their heads before the second semester begins. J-term gives kids a reason to be excited about coming back to school in January and February, when motivation is often low. Once J-term is over and students return to traditional classes, they are refreshed and ready to learn.
New subjects: All of the classes offered in January are nontraditional, so students have a chance to explore topics they’d never cover otherwise. Some students have made decisions about college programs based on J-term classes they’ve enjoyed.
A college-like atmosphere: Students get a taste of the college experience during January. They commit to studying a single subject, exactly like a collegiate J-term course. They also participate in hands-on projects that involve higher-level thinking.
No boundaries: Since students are focusing on the same class the entire day, J-term provides a tremendous opportunity for field trips and travel. Whether it’s a day trip to a state park or historical museum, or an immersion experience in Portugal or Costa Rica, no other time of the school year is so flexible and accommodating for offering students real-world experiences.
What are the benefits for teachers?
Share a passion: Teachers have the opportunity to bring new areas of expertise or high interest to the classroom. They can pass on knowledge they’d never get to share during a traditional semester course.
Break from the norm: Like students, teachers can benefit from time away from the routine of ordinary classes. J-term also gives them a chance to work with students they might never otherwise interact with. It provides a breath of fresh air before it’s time to kick start the second semester.
Team teach: During J-term, teachers with related interests or areas of expertise can pair up to lead classes. Team teaching is not only fun and takes some pressure off of lesson planning, but it also allows these educators to learn from one another as they explore new teaching styles and ways to incorporate technology.
Who else benefits?
Parents: During J-term, parents have reported that their children become more excited about going to school. Kids are devoted to learning the topic at hand because they're playing an active role in the learning process! What parent wouldn’t enjoy that?!
The community: J-term provides an ideal time for working in tandem with your school’s community. Invite specialists in to present on the topics you are covering in class. Offer an internship course in which students work for local businesses. Get the kids out into the community – and give your school some positive PR – by incorporating volunteer work into the curricula.
What challenges does J-term pose?
Prep time: Since J-term courses are not typical offerings, teachers must spend time preparing lesson plans (and ensuring they know the topics well). They may dedicate additional time to planning travel or organizing speakers. Administrative staff must also spend time scheduling students into J-term classes.
Determining course offerings: It can be difficult to know which courses will be popular among students. You can more easily decide which classes they will benefit from and will enjoy the most by talking with them about their interests and asking for course suggestions.
Cost of travel: Because J-term classes are hands-on and experiential, travel is often involved. Cost can be prohibitive to students, so the leader must decide if the class will take on fundraising efforts.
Shortens the other semesters: A J-term does reduce the amount of time students spend on traditional schedules. It typically cuts into anywhere from 1 to 1.5 weeks per semester. This is easier to do in a private school setting, but calendar workarounds and shorter J-term offerings may be necessary in public schools.
A mental break, newfound dedication and excitement, opportunities to travel, improved community relationships, a chance to explore new topics… If your school could benefit from any of these outcomes, J-term might be for you. The time to start thinking about introducing one is now!
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