January Term

January Term is something University High School students cherish each year. For three weeks in January, between the first and second semesters, students take a break from their usual classes and immerse themselves in a single subject of their choosing.

From art history to space exploration, from interior design to Hong Kong cinema, our J-Term topics change each year, but students always enjoy the opportunity to learn something new, travel, and focus on a single subject. January Term classes count as a single semester class.

The Benefits of Offering a January Term

  • Hands-on, applied, active, and creative learning activities
  • Different kinds of experiences and the teaching of unconventional classes
  • Opportunities to get off campus, travel, and bring in outside speakers and resources
  • In-depth, intensive, and rigorous classes that reflect student interest
  • Deeper understanding of the school’s core values

These are experiences. These are ideas that jump from the page of a textbook into real life, and that nourish a love and appreciation for what it really means to be a student and a scholar. In everyday life it is rare for students to be truly and unapologetically passionate about a particular topic, but at University High School in the dead of January, it is not only possible, it is inevitable. And that is exactly what happened to me over these three weeks.


Class of 2017

2018 January Term Course Descriptions

Art History: Important Movements in Italy & France

Students will learn a broad history of important artistic movements in Italy and France. During this course, we will:

  • Give a brief overview with 3-5 art pieces from each of the following periods: Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Classical, Neoclassical, Romanticism, Naturalism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism. Students will be able to identify important art pieces from each period and compare and contrast main characteristics of the periods.
  • Research and present famous Italian and French artists within these periods.
  • Discuss the importance of the Medici family for the art world.
  • Research and discuss Paris architecture – from the Gothic Notre Dame Cathedral to the Baroque Palace of Versailles.
  • Research and discuss Italian architecture – from the Byzantine St. Mark’s Basilica to the Florence Cathedral’s Gothic exterior and Renaissance dome.

During the first two weeks, students will gain an appreciation for the things they will see during their travels to Paris, Venice, Assisi, Rome, and Florence. For the final week of January Term, students will experience art history up close and personal – from visits to the Notre Dame Cathedral and Louvre, a guided tour of Versailles, a walking tour of Venice and Florence, a tour of the Medici house/art museum, and a tour of Rome’s finest architecture, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. It will be an unforgettable January Term!


Austrian Culture & History

Austria has a long, rich, and interesting history. Prior to World War I, it was the center of a huge, multi-ethnic empire. In this phase of its existence, Austria was one of the leading powers of Europe and seen as an important barrier (and conduit) between Europe and “the Orient.” After World War I, Austria was shorn of its empire, then absorbed in the short-lived, but significant, Nazi empire. After the end of the Second World War, Austria developed a new identity: small in size, neutral in its international politics, but proud of its heritage. In more recent years, it has built its economy into one of the highest per capita standards in the world.

This class will focus on the idea of identity and how that concept shifts as circumstances do, using Austria as a way to explore the concept. The class will explore varied topics, from architecture to politics, from music to the economy, with special focus on the more modern versions of Austria.

There will be a trip to Vienna (and maybe another Austrian city or two) at the end of the course. The trip will include, among other things, visits to museums, palaces, monuments, cafes, shops and simply getting the feel for the city. We will take public transit, meet and converse with Österreichers (Austrians), drink Kaffe mit Schlag (coffee with cream), eat Wiener Schnitzel, and generally do as those from Wien (Vienna) do.

Basketball & Beyond

This class offers a study of the origins of basketball and the game’s development from a recreational activity to an internationally appreciated sport. The class will examine styles of play, the business of basketball, and the differences in high school, college, and professional basketball organizations. Women’s and men’s teams will be discussed in all aspects of the sport to give a full picture of the game and its impact on society. In-state travel during the third week will allow Indiana basketball traditions and history to be more fully discussed.

Cooking & Indianapolis

This class will study food and cooking in many forms. We will start with the basics of food prep and knife skills and then move to more involved cooking. We will read food writing, analyze texts, and practice some food writing of our own. There will be field trips within Indianapolis to restaurants to eat, to meet with people in the food industry, to get tours, etc. Student interest will, in part, direct what type of foods we spend our time learning about and how to make, but we’ll be sure to cook, eat, and read about a variety of stuff.

Cosplay Costuming

Cosplay is the art of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game. In this course, students will learn about cosplay and how it has grown into a unique subculture that continues to grow. We will also create and build our own cosplay costumes.

Garden to Table: Sustainable Food Systems & You

We love FOOD! But where does it come from? How does it get to us? And what in the world do you do with it if it didn’t come in a box? Indianapolis is quickly becoming a hub for local and slow food movements. In this course, we will examine our relationship with food – from the garden to our dinner tables – and we will learn how our decisions influence our health, community, and environment. We will also examine sustainable food systems as global citizens and dig into the future of food security with 9+ billion people on the planet.

This course will be divided into three distinct sections: 1) history and current facts about food and sustainability, 2) visit to local community farms, restaurants, and nonprofit organizations, 3) hands-on experiences in horticulture, food safety, and food preparation of simple dishes. It is important to note that this course is not designed as a culinary class. We will have some cooking lessons; however, it will not be main emphasis of this class.

Genealogy: Who Are You & Where Did You Come From?

How much do you know about your ancestors and where your family is from? Why does it matter so much to some people? This class will explore the idea of genealogy. Students will learn how to research and collect information about their family histories. We will explore some of the unexpected questions and issues that arise when you start poking into the past. Everybody likes to learn about the hero, but what do you do when you learn about scandals or less savory characters? What makes finding information easy or difficult? We will also look at family history from a larger scale. We will explore how DNA is being used to trace family histories and the larger history of human migration, including testing our own DNA.

Heading Out: History & Practice of Camping

This class will use historian Terrance Young’s book, Heading Out: A History of American Camping, as a starting point. Why, in a country that has spent over a century developing increasingly sophisticated living arrangements, do people want to camp?

We’ll look at this desire to “head out” as it has evolved from the middle of the 19th century to the present day. We’ll find that the idea of camping contains some enduring ideas about relationship to nature along with reflections of the changing nature of American living standards.

In addition to a history component, the class will also consider the attraction of outdoor living, especially as it has been reflected in the arts. Photography, painting, poetry, film, and story have all been used to express this love of nature; we’ll explore sources from Burns to O’Keefe to Adams to Muir.

Finally, we’ll head out ourselves! We’ll get at least a couple of full-day hikes – probably in state parks. The bigger project will be to hopefully get in a two-night excursion – probably in the Hoosier National Forest.

History & Evolution of Hip-Hop

Perhaps no cultural movement has made a greater impact on American society during the last 30 years than hip-hop. Students in this course will examine the humble early beginnings of hip-hop music and culture in the late 1970s and look at how that fringe movement became a worldwide phenomenon by the early 1990s – as it continues to be to the present. In doing so, students will develop a heightened awareness of hip-hop music, fashion, dance, street art, film, and television from a variety of eras. They will also study numerous controversies related to hip-hop, including obscenity, violence, misogyny, and race relations. Finally, students will study the interaction between hip-hop and areas of society such as politics, sports, and law. Students will be required to read a lengthy book on the history and economics of hip-hop, so daily reading homework will be assigned in addition to a final paper and other periodic assignments.


Hemingway, Hurricanes, and Art Deco: South Florida Culture & Ecology

South Florida is a fascinating mix of international cultures, artistic and architectural influences, and an incredible range of biodiversity. In this J-Term class, we’ll start with a titan of American literature, Ernest Hemingway, examining the way in which Hemingway’s writing was influenced by the decade he spent living in Key West. We’ll read his works and also study the history of the Florida Keys themselves, a region ripe with American history and natural exploration. From Key West we’ll then consider the rich biodiversity of the Keys — everything from dolphins and alligators to hurricanes and mangrove “forests,” — and examine how ecotourism and preservation manage human interaction with these wild places. Our study will conclude with an examination of Miami, specifically the city’s incredible Art Deco architecture and Caribbean/Cuban heritage. After developing a full cultural and ecological picture of the wonderfully diverse southern tip of Florida, we’ll then travel there and see these sites in person, adding an experiential immersion to what we’ve studied.

Hong Kong: City & Cinema

Hong Kong is a unique global city. It became a British colony after the Opium War in the 1840s, and was “handed over” to China in 1997. As such, Hong Kong is often said to be a bridge between “East” and “West.” Hong Kong residents speak English, Cantonese and (increasingly) Mandarin. Hong Kong is home to some of the wealthiest people in the world, and to some of the poorest. It is a city that personifies the paradoxes of globalization. Hong Kong is also home to the third largest movie studio in the world. Films produced in Hong Kong are often geared to both a local and a global audience, and so influence perceptions of Asia around the world. This class will view some of those films, from the early martial arts films of Bruce Lee to the more recent avant-garde films of Wong Kar Wai. We will analyze them through lenses such as gender, ethnicity, and globalization. The class will culminate in a trip to Hong Kong, where we will see locations identifiable from the films we viewed and visit other landmarks of cultural and historical import.


Interior Design

Anyone can “pin” inspiration for their dream room, but how many of us actually understand what goes into making a room picture-perfect? This course will introduce students to the basics of interior design. Through a healthy mix of classroom discussions, local site visits, and HGTV viewing, we’ll explore space planning, design styles, color theory, material selection, budgeting, and more. We’ll visit with interior designers and learn about spaces they’ve planned. We’ll visit home furnishing stores and home improvement stores to learn about products and cost. We’ll explore the tiny house movement and the building green movement and discuss how interior design can help people maximize space, efficiency, and money. The culminating project will be a real interior design project proposal for a UHS client. Students will be split into design firm teams to pitch their ideas and budget to the client, and the client will select a winner.

Literature of the American Landscape

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.”
– Anaïs Nin

America is a pretty expansive place. Under the guise of Manifest Destiny, we’ve sought to cover it, conquer it, claim it as our own. For many Americans, the lure of what lay over the next ridge, in the next town, past the next horizon fueled trips that crisscrossed the States in intimate ways. From Lewis and Clark, to Steinbeck, to Kerouac and Didion, American writers have chronicled their trips across this country. The wanderlust of exploration and escapism pushed them out across the land and broadened many of their definitions of self, country, and home.

This class will focus on the writing of several American travelers and the vast geographical and cultural differences around the country. The first two weeks will be spent in discussion and study of various books, poems, essays and such, and the final week will be spent traveling America from the ground-level aboard Amtrak trains. Class will continue in the lounge car as we take in the wide open spaces of Big Sky country, the majesty of the Cascade Mountains, and the awe of the Black Rock Desert. The ever-changing American landscape will be our teacher as we chart our own journey.

Musical Instrument Construction & Songwriting

This course will focus on the physics of musical instrument construction, the creative process, and songwriting. Students will build musical instruments, learn about various styles of music, and compose original works using their created instruments as well as their voices and traditional instruments. Students will learn basic music production skills using various software such as GarageBand, Logic Pro, and music notation apps.

Students will travel to Nashville to tour recording studios and meet songwriters/music creators. This trip will enhance the students’ experience by exposing them to pioneers and leaders in the music industry as well as touring the Gibson guitar plant and other instrument manufacturers in Nashville.

Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi is a dynamic microcontroller that is capable of just about anything a computer is. It runs with the Python programming language, and it is a great way to learn about hardware hacking and coding. You do not need to know how to code already. You will learn what you need to know during this class. The class will explore projects ideas like making a home surveillance system, building your own Amazon Echo, making your own retro game console, creating your own FM pirate radio station, or even curbing your Spotify dependency by creating your own online music stream. The possibilities are endless with Raspberry Pi.

The Role of Media & NGOs in Shaping African Society: Service Trip to Uganda

Students will examine the role the media plays in shaping our views on developing nations in Africa. How has this coverage impacted foreign investment and development in these nations? Are NGO missions influenced by media? We will take an in-depth look at charities operating on the African continent. The class will culminate in travel to northern Uganda where we will spend 2-3 days working with a local nonprofit organization and touring American nonprofits in the region. Students will experience Acholi tribal culture and hospitality by cooking a meal with a local family. We will finish the trip with two nights in a safari lodge, experiencing two wildlife game drives and a boat ride up the Nile River to Murchison Falls, viewing wildlife in and along the river.

Space Exploration & Rocket Science

Space exploration has been a big part of history since 1970, and it’s not all rocket science! Or is it? This course is designed for those who are interested in learning the history of, current events in, and the future of space exploration. You will explore the technical, political, and cultural background behind the space age. You will also learn to the basic math and physics behind the design and flight of rockets. This course will include a trip to Cape Canaveral Florida where we will visit Launch Complex 39, the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), and the Air Force Space and Missile Museum. This course will also include a trip to Purdue University’s Aerospace Sciences Laboratory (ASL) which houses several different wind tunnels, including a Boeing wind tunnel.

Student Internships

This offering is available to a junior or senior student who has completed an application to the program that has been accepted by the Academic Affairs Committee and the course instructor. Students should have a passion for or interest in learning more about a particular career, business, or organization. Students spend each day of January Term off campus, working with an individual or an organization.

Students are responsible for making their own arrangements, but they will receive the guidance and support of the director. Students submit a daily electronic journal entry at the end of each day. In addition, each student will articulate his or her personal experience and evaluate his or her work during the internship through a longer written piece and an oral presentation to the school.