Mini-Courses in Two Seasons

Mini-courses are one of the many hallmarks of a student's TPS middle school experience. For one week in late fall and one week in early spring, students in grades 6-8 break from the regular academic program and pursue topics of study that are new to them, that speak to a particular interest or passion, or that expand upon concepts and content introduced to them in coursework earlier in the year. Courses are taught by TPS teachers or "guest instructors" (primarily TPS parents!).

The 2014 Fall Mini-Courses will run from Monday, November 17 through Friday, November 21. Students will take part in one course in each of the time blocks listed below. Here are the exciting course offerings.


 • Hogwarts 101

This is a course for Harry Potter lovers! You will be sorted into houses, learn to make potions, gain points for your house, design new fantastic beasts, and more! It is best if you know something about these stories, but if not, we’ll bring you up to speed.

• Law and Order

Have you ever wondered what happens during a trial? Or do you just love to argue? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, our mini-course would be perfect for you. We’ll discuss the people in a trial, what lawyers do, and how a criminal is sentenced. At the end of the week we’ll have our own trial, where you will be the lawyers.

• Hip Hop

Are you ready to dance? Hip Hop will reveal your inner beat! You will get to learn new ways to dance to music with a beat. Join us and have a fun time dancing to great choreography and the opportunity to bust a move in freestyle!

• Healthy Snacks

During this week, we will prepare and cook various healthy snacks. Students will wash, cut, and cook different types of food for the class to enjoy. There will be lots of sweet and savory snacks to be eaten!

• Intro to Italian

This course will provide an introduction to the pronunciation and basic linguistic aspects of the Italian language. We will also explore Italian culture through history, poetry, film, and, of course, food.

• Short Stories

Over the course of the week, we will tackle both quality and quantity with at least a dozen short stories, including classics by Roald Dahl, O. Henry, Saki, and Edith Wharton. In addition, we will try our hand at a few writing exercises to focus our ideas and brevity.

• Digestion - You Are a Tube

You have often heard that “you are what you eat.” In this mini-course we will look at what goes into our mouths, how it comes out, and all that happens in between. You will keep a log of what you eat for the week in order to evaluate the nutritional value of your food intake.  

• Cool Graphic Design

This course will provide a taste of graphic design principles, from logo design to web design and all the fundamentals that apply across the board.



• Ultimate Frisbee

Running around a large field, throwing a frisbee, hopefully catching the frisbee, working with teammates in a competitive, yet friendly atmosphere...did we mention running around a large field?  These are all important aspects of ultimate frisbee, a game in which two teams work against each other to advance the frisbee past the opposing team’s goal line.  In this mini-course you will learn the rules, practice skills and strategy, and play lots of ultimate frisbee games.  

• Philly Ghost Tours

Do you like to be scared and hear spooky stories? During this course, we will travel around Philadelphia, which is one of America’s most historic and haunted cities. We will walk through Independence Hall and Washington Square, and hear the chilling tales of our Founding Fathers. Discover what may be lurking in the shadows of your own backyard!

• Me, MySELFIE & I

Just this year, Merriam-Webster added the word “selfie” to its prestigious dictionary. Many critics see this move as a sign that the self-obsessed world of teen-tech-culture has taken over the world. However, the “self-portrait” has a long and important place in the history of human self-expression and identity. There is power in telling our own story, and how we present ourselves says much about our place in the world. In this mini-course we will examine “selfies” throughout history, from cave wall paintings thousands of years old, to Obama and the Pope’s selfie this spring. We will each create our own “selfies” using the style, medium, and materials of our own choice.

• Act One

To act or not to ac t… that’s not even a question! Have you always wanted to act, but were afraid to try? Think Shakespeare is too hard for you?  Join us, and we’ll take the Bard’s sonnets from the page to the stage.

• Scratch

Learn how computers do what they do! This course is open to all levels of experience and interest.  Our goal will be to program a computer game that is both fun and educational.  We will visit the Scratch website to see examples of what other students have done and will work to produce something we can add to the site.

• Advanced Spanish

This course will focus on advanced speaking, writing and reading in Spanish. Students will read a story in Spanish, build vocabulary, and engage in group discussions.

• From First Draft to Young Adult Novel

Taught by TPS parent Elizabeth LaBan, author of The Tragedy Paper, this mini-course will teach about the complete writing process using the finished first draft of LaBan’s new not-yet-published young adult novel as a guide. Students will be asked to read the novel before the course begins in order to provide input and thoughts during the course. Students’ ideas, suggestions, and comments will be taken into consideration as LaBan works on the novel’s revisions! Fittingly, this novel grew out of a tiny writing exercise that LaBan taught in her last mini-course, so students can also expect a few more such exercises! Maybe someone will get an idea for their own novel or short story from one of  these short pieces.



• Shakespeare in Film

Shakespeare’s plays have inspired film makers for decades. This year the 8th graders will present The Tempest and Much Ado About Nothing in February’s Shakespeare Festival. In this mini course we’ll look at several film versions of both plays and think about important differences in mood, characterization, and special effects. Among the films will be Helen Mirren’s version of The Tempest, as well as Christopher Plummer’s portrayal at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. We’ll compare Joss Whedon’s modern take on Much Ado to Kenneth Branagh’s version.

• Build a Body

This course is a basic introduction to medicine. Starting with the gross anatomy of the major bones, vessels, and organs, we will then move onto basic physiology and pathology.

• Stage Combat

Learn all about swordfighting, taught by a fencing expert, and geared towards preparing you for the stage. Looking forward to performing some Shakespeare someday? Learn fight routines from classic movies, then use your skills to choreograph your own battles. “Have at Thee!”

• Mystery Science Theatre 3001

Has an evil madman ever forced you watch cheesy sci-fi movies in a spaceship with your robot friends? No? Really? Then this may be your last chance. Join us as we watch funny science-fiction movies from the past, while cracking jokes and eating snacks. And...just maybe learn a little something about human’s evolving understanding of space and the future.

• Afro-Arab Connections

Want to explore a different way of seeing the map, particularly of Africa and the Middle East? In this mini-course, will explore shared cultural and linguistic heritages across continents and the ways that those linkages connect people in interesting and unexpected ways. The goal is for us all to get a taste of studying new languages and develop a new understanding of the global map, and thus the world and city we live in and our place in it!

• Life of Einstein

Einstein is known as the Father of Modern Physics. He made many breakthroughs in new thinking, even though he often held onto old ways of looking at the world and debated his fellow scientist about the weirdness of Quantum Mechanics. Einstein admitted that he made some mistakes.  In this mini course we will read a short biography of Einstein and explore his many contributions to science.  In the process, we will learn about the Universe,

• Team Rube

As a team, students in this course will create a Rube Goldberg machine capable of erasing a chalkboard. Our device will compete in the Philly Rube Goldberg Machine competition in March 2015 at Drexel University (

• Dissection and Scientific Drawing

They say that one doesn’t truly see something until one draws it. In this course, it will be clear that sometimes it’s necessary to dissect something in order to see it, in order to then draw it. We will dissect a variety of animal specimens to compare anatomy and develop our observational skills. Species will include starfish, frogs, earthworms, perch, and grasshoppers.


• Firekeepers, Wilderness Skills: Focus on Fire and Footprints

Learn how to build, sustain and extinguish fire safely, with modern helpers (like matches) and without.  Learn the secrets of Tracking -- identifying tracks, gait, aging a track, and following a trail and animal signs. Read the mysteries left in the dust, track creatures to their homes, and use your knowledge to find everything you need in the wild.

• Workout Through the Decades

Fitness has evolved dramatically over the years. This course will investigate various workout fads from the past and current fitness routines. We will learn how the fitness styles became popular, and we will actually practice the routines. During the course, you can wear leg warmers to Jazzercise, and sweat it out during Cross Fit.

• Can You Eat Your Way Around the World?

Leaving no morsel unturned, we will attempt to eat food from as many countries as possible. Our journey will begin and end in Philadelphia, but in between we will taste a sampling of the culinary offerings of cultures and people all around our world. By taking walks and visiting restaurants and markets in our neighborhood, we will examine the various ways that humans express themselves in the universal language of food, while reflecting on our own views about food. (Any dietary restrictions will be accommodated.)

• Pallets of Possibility

In this hands-on course, you will be challenged to transform a basic wooden shipping pallet into new possibilities! Could it be a chair? A vertical garden? A cabinet? A desk? Participants will use hand and power tools to re-envision their pallets.

• Visions of the Future

This course is an exploration of the many ways that science-fiction authors and filmmakers have envisioned and influenced the future. From predicting future technology and social conditions to writing alternative histories, science fiction plays a critical role in how we determine what can and should come next for humanity.

• “Cool/I Feel Pretty/America” from West Side Story

These are three of the liveliest, most memorable songs from West Side Story. Join friends to learn how to sing this challenging and delightful repertoire!

• Comics as Literature

In this course, we will study comic strips and graphic novels as a form of literature. We will learn how a comic strip is constructed and discuss how the construction of the page impacts the story that is being told. We will study different comic styles and compare and contrast their effectiveness in telling a story vs. other storytelling media. The final project is to either draw an original comic strip or review a comic strip or graphic novel page of your choice, explaining how the illustration and construct are effective in telling the story. No previous reading of comics or graphic novels is necessary to attend this course. Anyone who has read comics or graphic novels is encouraged to contribute to the teaching of this class.


BLOCK E (meets

• Needlepoint

If you are someone who enjoys working with needle and thread, this is the course for you. For beginners, we’ll work on a sampler of basic stitches. For those who took this course last year, we’ll add to our repertoire of stitches and design a small project (pillow, bookmark, etc.) that can be accomplished in a short amount of time.

 • Fiction Writers Creative Time

Do you have a story you’ve been working on in your mind? Always wanted to start one? Spend the week turning your idea into a full outline for a novel. We will be structuring our stories using the “snowflake” approach. Specific assignments will work towards achieving a full outline, developed characters, and plot arc mapping. Classes will include instruction, discussion, voluntary sharing aloud, no editing whatsoever, and lots of quiet time to focus on your personal project.


Do you like to move and express yourself? Step is a dynamic art form, using our bodies as rhythmic, expressive instruments. We will be stomping and clapping, and learning a complete piece that we can perform by the end of the course. It promises to be a fun time!

• Your Ultimate Playlist

Dig a little deeper into the soundtrack of your life. Why do you like the music that you like? We’ll be talking about — and, more importantly, listening to — music that has something to say. By the end of the week, you’ll have pulled together your own playlist that you can share with the class.

• Yoga and Meditation

Spend the week learning to create a calm center within ourselves by checking out some meditation and yoga practices. We’ll learn different traditions of meditation, try a few different styles, and journal about our experiences. If you are ready to create a calm and quiet community of reflection together, this course is for you.

• Spanish Theater

In this course students will watch two Spanish films, Carol Journey and Sweet Sixteen. We will use these movies to talk about civil war and immigration.

• Advertisements in Spanish

Make your own short Spanish ad in iMovie and GarageBand. Students will work individually, or with a partner, creating and performing short advertisement video clips in Spanish. They will chose an already existing (English) ad and can dub it in Spanish; they can also compose a new skit promoting a product; or they can try to make a movie preview in Spanish.

• Baseball: Skills and Drills

This course will include helpful on information on baseball skills such as throwing, fielding, pitching, hitting, bunting, base running, and general knowledge. Students will participate in various drills and mini games in order to fine-tune each skill. This course will not be actual baseball games.

• Ebola

News of ebola is dominating our headlines. What is Ebola? Why is it so famous? How is it treated? Where does it come from? In this course, we will answer these questions and more. In this course we will learn the basics of the biology involved, dispel misconceptions, look at maps, gain an understanding of the current outbreak.