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 robotics to soccer, from protest art to cake decorating, 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.
2020 January Term Course Descriptions
This class will cover the decade or so of Americana between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11, focusing on the historical and the cultural, but particularly the relationship between them. Some of the historical topics we cover may include everything from the Iraq War and the Clinton Scandal to the OJ Simpson trial and Y2K. Culturally, we may cover fashion, music, television, film, literature, and others.
Art Inspired by Math
In this class, we will take mathematical concepts and turn them into art projects. There are obvious mathematical concepts, such as types of symmetry and ratio in perspective drawing, but this class will go beyond the obvious and ask you to do things like:
- Design artwork based on the famous Pythagorean Theorem
- Study fractals and then create a work of art incorporating fractals
- Use a mathematical principle to create similar shapes
- Study the spiral of square roots and then incorporate the concept into a piece of art
- Study the mathematics of three-dimensional solids and create three-dimensional art
Art can inspire math, and math can inspire art. Through searching for a visual way to represent a mathematical concept, mathematical understanding is deepened. And understanding math can lead to innovation in art. If you enjoy both math and art, this is the class for you!
The Art of Cake Decorating & More
This class will cover the basics of baking cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and making cake pops. Students will investigate various recipes, textures, densities, and flavor profiles. This class will also discuss how to decorate cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and cake pops. Students will learn how to make a variety of frostings, including royal icing, buttercream (American, Italian, French, Swiss), ganache, cream cheese, whipped cream, glazed, gum paste (flower paste), and fondant (rolled and poured). They will learn decoration techniques and how to work with a variety of tools to create decorations such as flowers, patterns, or other unique designs. By the end of this course, students will be able to design, bake, and decorate cakes, cookies, cupcakes, and cake pops.
The Art of Protest
In this class, we will explore how people from across the world and in a variety of historical contexts have fought against oppression, injustice, inequality, and violence. We will learn how people have reacted, as well as what they have created, as a result of resistance against oppressive governments, policies, and cultural norms. We will focus on some of the art, music, literature, and social media movements that have been created as a vehicle for protest. One area of focus will be on Latin American artists and songwriters from a variety of Hispanic countries. There is a planned overnight trip to Chicago to visit the National Museum of Mexican Art that will provide students the opportunity to see some works of art that are rooted in protest.
The bike maintenance piece of the class will be very hands-on. Students will have a choice in this portion of the class. One option will ask students to collect a variety of used bikes, repair them, fix them up, and eventually donate these bikes to either Free Wheelin’ or an organization set up to distribute bikes to those less fortunate. The cost for this option should be no more than $125. This will cover replacement parts, books, etc.
If a student wishes to build their own bike, they will be responsible for the cost of the materials (we estimate $650).
Doing Science: Biochemistry & Microbiology
This class will focus on the aspects of science that courses offered during the regular school year don’t have time to explore. We’ll investigate how science and technology influence society and how they’re portrayed in popular culture. Students will also learn about the scientific process by learning basic microbiology, chemistry, and biochemical techniques and then using these to design and conduct their own experiments. Because yeast are non-pathogenic, simple to culture, and reproduce rapidly, they’re an ideal organism for students to safely use for experiments they will design and conduct. To involve students fully in the process, they will be responsible for preparing the reagents for their experiments, including making solutions, growth media, and some of the equipment. Students will be allowed to make their own mistakes, but they’ll have the opportunity to discover them and repeat or revise their process to improve. They will begin with a series of experiments that will guide them through doing genetic crosses with yeast mutants. They will then learn how to amplify DNA with PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to make new mutants, either using traditional genetic methods or using CRISPR. With these basic techniques in hand, students will then research questions they can address with these or similar techniques. For example, a student could test how sensitive a PCR assay would be for detecting a contaminating microbe. Our studies will include reading articles, books or excerpts, and essays; watching relevant films, television programs, and talks/lectures; writing essays and reports; and keeping a laboratory notebook. This class is open to all students – you just need an interest in science!
Hollywood, Then & Now
This course will be part film history and part film production. It will compare and contrast Hollywood’s “Golden Age” of the studio system (roughly, the 1920s up to ’50s) with the era spanning from the birth of the modern blockbuster to the present (~1975 to 2020). We will be comparing and contrasting these eras in terms of the business itself, the types of films being produced, the cultural and social impacts of film on American society, and the ways in which the art and business of film illustrate larger ideas about how art, politics, economics, and society all coexist. Students will be exposed to films from these various eras, and the comparison will extend both to the ways in which films were conceived/produced and to the themes and content of the films themselves. Additionally, students will be given a deeper insight into what happens on a film set and the various roles and processes that are essential to filmmaking. During the final week of the course we will travel to Los Angeles and explore Hollywood ourselves. Highlights of the trip will include guided tours of major studios, exploration of historic sites, speaking with people working in the film industry today, and (hopefully) the brand-new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures that is set to open later this year.
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, Americans have 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, passed 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 other works that encapsulate different regions of the country. 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, majesty of the Cascade Mountains, and the awe of the red-rock Utah desert. The ever-changing American landscape will be our teacher as we chart our own journey across this country.
In this course, we will focus on understanding the modern era in France in its many facets, from the founding of the 3rdRepublic in 1870 to the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement of today. We will learn about the development of France into a modern society, with a focus on the arts (music, art, fashion, and literature), technology, politics, economics, and social change. We will also learn how one of the most beautiful regions of France, Alsace, became a rallying point for generations of French people and why it remains so important today. Of course, we will also do plenty of role-playing to prepare for using our French skills in cafés, hotels, shops, and restaurants. Following our two weeks in the classroom, we will travel to France, where we will discover Paris, visit sites related to the world wars and other notable 20th century events, travel by high-speed train to Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, and experience for ourselves what makes today’s France such a complex and fascinating society.
National Parks: History & Contemporary Issues
This class will explore many of the topics that surround the national parks of the United States, focusing on the history of the parks and contemporary issues that deal with the parks. Among the issues we will examine are the use of the land in the parks, the social and economic effects on the people who live near the parks, and the effect of tourism in the parks. We will gather our knowledge from many sources, including books, films, lectures, discussions, internet sources, and guest speakers. Additionally, we will have several outdoor activities that will put us in the mindset to consider some of the issues raised. The biggest of these activities is a multi-day trip to Yosemite National Park. The course will include a good deal of writing through short response exercises and one longer paper.
Oceanic Studies is an interdisciplinary science course that studies the world’s oceans as a hyper-complex system. We will learn about the various ecosystems within the oceans, with a specific a focus toward coral reef ecology. We will also study the physical and chemical composition of the ocean, examine currents as a major driving force of global events, and explore the effects of climate change. In addition to classroom instruction, the course will include working toward certification for SCUBA Open Water certification. From readings to classroom to swimming pool to a living coral reef, the class will be both academically and physically demanding.
In the sixth running of University High School’s Oceanic Studies J-Term course, we will conclude the class with a week-long trip to the nation of Belize. The coast of Belize hosts the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere and second largest reef on the planet. Students will complete their final open water dives, snorkel, and work with a local field station to further enrich their study of coral reef ecology.
Potential students must be able to swim 200 yards without stopping, be physically capable of certifying in open water SCUBA (claustrophobia or chronic asthma may be medically disqualifying), and be able to travel easily (very small planes and short hull ocean watercraft imply easy motion sickness susceptibility and could make this trip between challenging and miserable). Students must also be able to acquire an international passport and visa (if applicable) clearing them to travel to Belize on or by the dates posted.
Relationships 101: Friends, Family, & Dating
This class will investigate the joys, challenges, heartaches, controversies, and popular culture portrayals of relationships with family members, friends, and romantic partners. It will enable students to have numerous opportunities to think, write, and talk about their own experiences and consider how they can try to make them as positive and rewarding as possible in the future. We will spend approximately one week each focusing on family, friends, and dating and will read books and articles and watch films and television shows relating to each type of relationship, as we discuss how accurately those forms of media portray how we all interact with each other and how those portrayals might impact our own expectations for relationships. We will talk about challenging topics such as divorce, illness, grief, betrayal, and abuse as well as much more uplifting topics such as the process of making friends, dating as a teenager and as an adult, falling in love, being a child, and figuring out how to be a parent. We will also look at legal and controversial questions such as those relating to gay marriage, polygamy, child custody, and relationship-related crimes.
This class will focus on understanding of different disciplines with respect to the concepts associated with robotics. The course will be run in parallel with the FIRST robotics season, but students do not have to participate in the FIRST robotics competition to participate in this J-Term course. Students will get exposure to the areas of mechanical engineering, computer programing, wiring of electrical systems, business management, and machine learning/artificial intelligence as we progress through the course. The students will also be designing and fabricating their own parts for these robots throughout the month. By the end of the course the students will have built portions of a large-scale robot and/or a full smaller-scale robot that will be able to be used in robotics competitions later on during the semester.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: The Science of Cooking
Learn the science behind cooking and master the use of the four elements: salt, fat, acid, and heat. In this class you will learn basic scientific principles of food chemistry. The class will be structured around the four components of cooking, and students will learn how to manipulate and leverage these four elements in order to produce well-balanced and delicious food. Students will be expected to sample the dishes made in class. Students will be assessed in a variety of ways including quizzes, writings, projects, and the creation of their own cookbook. By explaining the hows and whys of good cooking, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will teach and inspire cooks how to confidently make better decisions in the kitchen and cook delicious meals. (Class may include some day trips.)
Soccer: The World's Most Beautiful Game
This class will dissect what Pele once called “the world’s most beautiful game” — soccer. Soccer is so much more than just the world’s most popular sport. Wars have started and wars have temporarily stopped because of a match. Soccer is woven into the fabric of life in many countries, and the mood of a nation can change based on the outcome of a soccer match. The class will discover the origins of soccer, how it has changed over the years, and where it is headed. We will learn why billions of people around the globe appreciate the innocence of this simple game, as well as why they are sometimes disgusted with what has happened to the world governing body, FIFA. The class will learn about the MLS, the Premier League, the Bundesliga, France Ligue 1, Serie A, etc. —the similarities and the differences, and how a nation’s playing style is often a reflection of its culture. We will look at the analytics and the incredible money that shapes the modern game. The history of soccer in Indiana is also a rich one, and we will explore its past, present, and future. Assignments will include a number of reading assignments as well as written responses. The class will culminate with a trip to London to visit a variety of Premier League training sites and a match or two.
Urban Legends: A Study of the Origin & Purpose of Creepy Indiana Urban Legends
What is an urban legend? Indiana has more than its fair share. Devil’s Road in Dubois County, the Crosley Monster of Jennings County… and many more. Where do these types of stories come from? Why do they often last for generations? What was their original purpose? Are they a way for us to seek security in an uncertain world, a way to explain the unexplainable, do they affect our life choices? What common themes do they share? This class will first explore the history of myths and stories in general beginning with ancient Greece and then Indiana. Students will be given the opportunity to research and report on legends from individual cultures they are particularly curious about or interested in, then determine their relationship to urban legends of today. The class will include day trips to nearby sites.
Weaving (Weave No Child Behind)
Get ready for an unbeweavable experience! Throughout this J-Term course students will be given the opportunity to experiment with a variety of weaving processes. From creating a textile on a large loom to constructing a backpack using basket-making techniques and even creating a piece of jewelry using metal wire, students will gain a broad understanding of how weaving can be used with a variety of mediums. A portion of the course will be dedicated to the sourcing and prepping traditional materials for weaving such as wool, cotton, and alpaca. Students will dye their fiber using natural dyes as well as synthetic dyes, creating a unique color palette for their individual projects.
In addition to using traditional fiber, students will also experiment with reclaimed and unconventional materials such as recycled plastic filament, wire, reed, and even vintage textiles. Traditional basket-weaving and contemporary sculptural techniques will also be taught, allowing students to apply the weaving process to a three-dimensional form. This will primarily be a class in which students create original art using the processes taught in class. It will culminate with a final project, allowing students to construct a finished sculptural work of their own invention using the weaving techniques learned. As the class begins each day, you will be able to weave all your troubles behind!
Zero to Hero: Guitar for Absolute Beginners
This course is intended for students with absolutely zero guitar experience but 100% interest. Students with previous experience playing the guitar should not enroll in this course. Again, this is a total beginner course. It will cover the basics of playing. Students enrolled in this course will receive an acoustic guitar. They will learn the basics of guitar playing, such as chords, scales, and strum patterns, as well as learn basic maintenance such as tuning and restringing. At the end of the course, students will be able to teach themselves to play any song! We will also survey important guitarists through history and potentially travel to see a concert or guitar factory.
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.