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 live performance to artificial intelligence, from baseball to video game design, 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

2019 January Term Course Descriptions

The Art of Live Performance

This course will focus on a variety of live performers, from stand-up comics, talk show hosts, street performers, clowning artists, improv artists, and Broadway actors, by analyzing what these performers do and what makes them successful in their individual crafts. This January Term course will end with a trip to New York City to see improv performances, watch street performers, visit circus training centers, tour NBC studios, and see two Broadway shows.

Baking & Bread

In this course, students will learn to make multiple kinds of breads and doughs, from sourdough to pizza to banana bread. Students will learn about the basics of bread baking: reading recipes, calculating baker’s percentage, flour types, wheat varieties, basic bread chemistry, shaping techniques, and more. Students will make many varieties of bread, yeasted and not. Students will also visit local bakeries, from Whole Foods to Amelia’s, to get an understanding of industrial baking. Students can expect to take home some basic bread baking skills, as well as all of the necessary equipment to bake bread at home.

Baseball & Beyond

This class will study the history and rules of America’s pastime, baseball, from Abner Doubleday’s first rules to today’s game. From Honus Wagner to Jackie Robinson to Ken Griffey, Jr. to Hunter Greene, we will discuss how the game and the players that play it have changed. We will also look at early predecessors to baseball such as rounders, cricket, and the Egyptian game seker-hamat, and we will discuss the impact of the Negro Leagues. This class will travel to both the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, as well as the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame in Cincinnati.

Build A Bike

In this January Term course, students will learn bike maintenance, how bikes are becoming an important part of urban life, and the history of cycling from the Grand Tours to the history of cycling in Indianapolis.

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).

The Celtic Nations: Legends, Lochs & Languages

We all know the word “Celtic,” but most of us may think first of Ireland when we hear the term. Officially, there are six “Celtic Nations”: territories in Europe where a Celtic language and cultural traits survive. Among these are Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, and the province of Brittany in France. The natives of these areas share a fascinating history and have had to work hard to maintain their distinct culture and language despite discrimination and social isolation. In the first two weeks of the class, we will learn about the traditions, beliefs, legends, symbols, music, and languages of these areas. During the third week, we will travel to northwestern France and the British Isles to visit some of the magical places we have studied, hear (and learn a little of) the languages of Breton, Welsh, and Scottish Gaelic, and see for ourselves what these Celtic cultures share and how they are each unique.

Crime & Culture

America has a fascination with crime. Television shows about crime captivate viewers on a nightly basis. Films about crime such as The Godfather, Scarface, and Goodfellas have captured the attention of generations of movie audiences. Detective novels and spy thrillers regularly appear on bestseller lists. Hip-hop and rock lyrics frequently discuss—and often glorify—criminal acts, while numerous popular video games revolve around murder. Despite criticism that American culture increases crime rates by making crime appear fun and exciting while numbing Americans to its consequences, the impact of crime on culture only seems to be increasing every year. Students in this class will study films, television shows, literature, music, visual art, and video games and will discuss the effect of each of those on crime and vice versa. Students will also look in detail at some particular types of criminals and crimes that are often portrayed in popular culture such as Mafia organizations, serial killers, drug cartels, racketeering, heists, and kidnapping. While doing that, students will learn about federal and state laws that address those groups and crimes. Students will also study key constitutional rights for criminal defendants and look at how the law attempts to protect civil liberties while still giving federal and local law enforcement the ability to use new technology such as wiretapping and GPS surveillance to fight crime.

Disney 2.0: The Making of an American Icon

This course will look at the history of Disney. Class time will cover the biography of Walt Disney, the development of the industry, and its impact on society. Specific topics will include Disney pioneered developments, i.e. Imagineers, and the use of audio-animatronics in theme parks. The impact of Disney on everyday life, as well as its global influence, will be examined. This class will include units on science and engineering behind animatronics, roller coasters, etc., the effects of the acquisition of the Star Wars and Marvel franchises, and a look at the increased competition in the theme park arena due to the success of Universal’s Harry Potter World.

Week three will include travel to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida where students will have in-park assignments based on classroom learning and will participate in a class offered by Walt Disney World.

Film Art

From the enormous summer blockbusters to the indie arthouse, films continue to captivate viewers and communicate truths unlike any other art form. This class will seek to dissect and understand that communication through an appreciation of the nuances of the language of film. We will spend our time together watching, reading about, and analyzing the different ways films speak to us. Along the way students will come to better understand the way filmmakers play upon our common understanding to evoke emotions and communicate ideas. By the end of the course, students will be more discerning consumers of film. Students will learn to appreciate and enjoy films like never before.


Forensic Science

How do you solve a crime? This class will provide students with an introduction to the field of forensic science. We will start with the basic knowledge necessary to begin a crime scene investigation (blood types, bone structures, DNA, etc…) and proceed to more advanced concepts (blood splatter patterns, wound patterns, crime scene evidence collection, etc.). Forensics involves many areas of science including biology, chemistry, anatomy, physics, and earth science. Students will incorporate the use of technology, communication skills, language arts, and mathematics during the term. There will be a major emphasis on complex reasoning and critical thinking as students work individually and within teams to solve crimes.

Hack Yourself: Science & Skills of Happiness

The rates of mental illness and stressed-induced diseases continue to rise at a rapid pace in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world. Americans are unhappy, stressed out, and depressed. It doesn’t have to be this way!

This course will direct the focus to counter-movements that equip individuals with the knowledge and skills to increase and sustain happiness and well-being. We’ll take a look at the emerging science of positive psychology and The Blue Zone Project, an ongoing research project about specific regions in the world with the highest percentage of people who live the longest and are the happiest and healthiest.

The class will involve reading and writing as well as short field trips and time being active. We will complete common personality and strengths inventories to identify individual interests, values, and strengths, and we’ll learn skills of mindfulness and self-compassion to bolster stress resilience. Finally, we’ll take what we’ve learned through science and self-discovery to develop a toolbox of strategies and behaviors to create happier, healthier lives – now and in the future. From making educational and career decisions to being a flourishing member of your communities to experiencing more joy with the ordinary, this January Term course focuses on happiness and living a life of meaning.

History of Rock & Roll

This course will study the origin and history of rock and roll music, both globally and within America. We will consider the social impact of rock music. Depending on student interest and skill, we may also perform rock music. The class will culminate in a trip to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH.

Intelligence Augmentation & Human-Machine Interface

Artificial intelligence (AI) is approaching practical use and is influencing society. It is also augmenting human intelligence (intelligence augmentation = IA). How it continues to do so will dramatically impact society. This course will explore practical and developing technologies for the IA, and also use free-ware tools on machine learning to train an AI. Finally, we’ll explore IA via science fiction.

The Lure of Everest

Mount Everest – the highest mountain in the world! People had tried to climb the mountain for decades before it was first summited in 1953, and now hundreds of people every year travel to the mountain in hopes of standing on the summit. This class will explore many of the topics that surround the world’s highest mountain, including the exploration of Mount Everest, the adventurers who have come to the mountain, the society and religion of the people who live near the mountain, the commercialization of the mountain, and the effect of tourism in Nepal.

We will gather our knowledge from many sources, including books, films, lectures, discussions, Internet sources, and guest speakers. The course will include a good deal of writing through short response exercises and one longer paper.

Additionally, we will have several outdoor activities that will put us in the mindset to consider some of the issues raised. We will travel to the White Mountains in New Hampshire. We will take a three-day mountaineering course there, learning the basics of winter hiking with crampons and ice axes. This course will culminate with attempting to climb Mount Washington – the highest mountain in northeastern North America. Mount Washington has an extensive rise above treeline and allows for a true alpine feel to the climb. Climbers use this mountain as a training ground before heading for a larger mountain like Rainier or Aconcagua – very cool! Students who are interested in this course need to be in good physical shape. While climbing mountains can be exhilarating, it’s also physically demanding. If spending eight to ten hours out in the cold and hiking the equivalent of 12 miles is your thing, this is the January Term course for you!

An additional variable cost is the possible purchase of some hiking and cold weather gear, if not already owned.


Students in this course will take part in the plastics recycling process first-hand by collecting discarded plastics, grinding them up, and using various forming methods to create new products, art, and functional items. Sample projects include carved sculptures, woven sculptures, ceiling lights, table lamps, pots, bowls, woven baskets, and utensils, and students will have the chance to design a unique product or project. This course will also explore aspects of the plastic recycling process including ecological benefits, types of plastics, and participation in recycling programs.

San Francisco: An LGBTQ History

This class will study the history and culture of the LGBTQ rights movement through the vibrant location of San Francisco. Students will examine the evolution of the movement from its origins in the early twentieth century to today. From marriage equality to trans awareness, San Francisco has played a pivotal role in shaping the LGBTQ legal landscape in America. While exploring San Francisco’s role in the LGBTQ movement, we will also learn the history of San Francisco as a city and as a home to many diverse cultures by visiting significant landmarks and areas of the city. Travel in the third week to San Francisco will include a visit the GLBT History Museum, as well as several other iconic neighborhoods and landmarks.

Steak & Salsa

What food represents your country and your hometown? What dance represents American culture? In this course, students will learn about the concept of culture and will investigate how the geography, history, and climate of a country affect the food that is eaten and the dances that represent the people from that region/country. Students will cook/taste some traditional foods from the countries that are studied and will test their dancing skills with a variety of international dances. The class will focus primarily on the Spanish-speaking world, but examples may be used from other countries as well. As a culmination of this class, students will travel to Argentina where they will visit an “estancia,” eat a traditional Argentine steak dinner, learn the tango from a local dance instructor, and attend a professional tango performance. This course will help students more deeply understand the nuances of another culture through hands-on experiences, and in doing so students will reflect on their own personal identity and the cultures in which they live. This class will be taught in English and is open to all students; however, students will have some language instruction prior to travel based on their current level of understanding of Spanish. The itinerary includes all above experiences and most meals. Some meals and gratuities will be covered by students while in the country.

Video Game Design

Video Game Design will cover several topics that are needed for a budding developer to get started. No coding is required for this January Term course, and all of the tools we will use are free. We will be using Blender to learn industry-standard techniques for both modeling and animation. Blender can handle creating both the organic and architectural models we will need on even low-end specs for a laptop.

The first game engine we will be looking at is Scratch from MIT. Scratch will teach the logical thinking process that goes into application development. With its built-in sprite editor and sound manager, students can express their creative side. It is super simple to use with its visual scripting and gets a lot of the technical stuff out of the way and just allows people to focus on what they want to create, and the processes needed to code.

Unity is the standard for multiple industries. Create cinematics like you see in Hollywood with the Octane Render. Create physics simulations used by Nasa and Kerbal Space Station. Create architectural and level design that will allow you to explore places in VR without leaving the comfort of your home. For students that want to explore some coding in this January Term course, C# is offered with use of the Unity Game Engine.

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.