Following final exams in mid-May, the Upper School puts a pause on traditional academic courses like math, science, and history, and transitions into mini-courses for the final weeks of the school year. Mini-courses are required, active courses that serve as the capstone of each school year and emphasize the delight of intellectual pursuits.
This experiential learning initiative offers a curriculum of non-academic courses across grade levels taught by Ellis teachers, outside experts, alumnae, and the occasional student. In mini-courses, students have time to complete individual projects, travel, and explore potential passions in courses designed to be experiential, interdisciplinary, and community-based. In recent years, students have taken study trips to Russia, England, France, Italy, Crow Canyon, Spain, and New York City.
Mini-courses are a time for Ellis girls to embrace new ideas, unwind, and have fun. A pressure-free experience, mini-courses give the Ellis Upper School community the opportunity to collaborate, reflect, and innovate together in a joyful environment before summer break.

2016-2017 Mini-courses

List of 21 items.

  • Cooking the Classics

    This mini-course will read passages from famous works of literature that feature foods.  We will discuss the significance of the meal in the passage then recreate those dishes.

  • The Course That Dare Not Speak Its Name (Gay History from 1850 to the Present)

    This class is about the history of homosexuality since the word came into use in the middle of the nineteenth century. Although our focus is on gay men, we will be sure to attend to lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer subjects. All are welcome!

  • The Unconventional Challenge: Fashion Through the Decades

    Do you love fashion? Do you want drama? This minicourse has it!  As they say in fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day, you’re out. During the course, students will have an opportunity to visit collections, screen fashion documentaries, meet with people who work in the fashion industry, and examine fashion as a powerful historical and social statement. Students will ultimately create a unique lookbook of their winning designs and compete for the chance to win the grand prize.  

  • Mindfulness Matters

    This course will focus on the importance of mindfulness and self-care.  We will introduce a variety of mindfulness practices, including reflection, meditation, journaling, and others.

  • Speak Like A Native

    Students can improve their pronunciation of French through the targeted study of specific sounds and by learning the International Phonetic Alphabet.

  • Intersectional Feminism

    A deep dive into intersectional feminism, the Self, and society. Included in this course is a one day trip to the African American History Museum in Washington, D.C.

  • The Art of Mathematics

    Explore mathematics as art and art as mathematics. With lots of hands-on creating, we will explore Islamic tile patterns, hyperbolic geometry, fractals, symmetry, polyhedra, and whatever else piques our interest. Dig out your compass and straightedge and see beautiful patterns materialize!

  • Dear Data

    Inspired by the Dear Data project by Giorgia Lupi and Stephanie Posavec, we will collect and visualize data about ourselves. During week 1 we will start collecting data and exploring various visualizations and how they help to tell the story of the data. During week 2, we will create our own visualizations and share them.
  • Origami and Papercraft

    We will explore various aspects of Origami and Papercraft in this course. Students will be able to choose what Origami or Papercraft projects to tackle. I will have books available for Origami tutorials, as well as colorful origami paper for folding. I will also have Papercraft templates and Japanese notebook binding that students can select from! Sample projects include: Paper stars, cranes, notebooks/sketchbooks, and paper flowers!

  • Crafting Calm

    Craft your way to serenity! Recent scientific studies have shown that what seems mindless can often lead to mindfulness. We will explore different crafts such as knitting, paper weaving, and screenprinting as ways to de-stress from the busy year. You are also welcome to propose your own idea for a craft project.

  • West Penn Art Project

    A student team has been working all year to create a design plan for murals in the Pediatric and Adolescent wing at West Penn Hospital. This course will involve collaboration with the West Penn staff, final design schemes, and creation and installation of vinyl cut murals at the hospital. New members are welcome to join us!

  • Mini-Course Murder Mystery

    There's been a murder! Can you solve the mystery before the murderer strikes again? Hone your detective skills by working your way through two murderous dinner parties before putting them to the test in one of Pittsburgh's Escape Rooms. Come prepared to dive into a role and solve the mystery!

  • Arrival

    We will watch the Best Picture nominated film Arrival and read the short story upon which it is based, "Story of Your Life." Having consumed some delicious media, we will then devote the rest of our time to discussing the underlying ideas which form the backbone of the story. If time permits, we will expand our discussion to include some other short stories by the author, Ted Chiang.

  • Localmotion

    Students will combine walking for fitness with learning about the local community. We will explore what kind of cultural spaces, green spaces, volunteer organizations, etc. lie within walking distance of Ellis's campus--taking time in the middle of each class to take advantage of or volunteer with these local institutions. Our locations are still tentative, but we want to explore not only the public places with which you may already be familiar (Frick Park, the Animal Rescue League, etc.), but also hidden “treasures” that are invitation-only: a private rain garden created by Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, Tuff Sound Recording Studios, PearlArts Dance Studio, etc.  At the end of the course, our walking will take us to a restaurant of the students' choosing to share a celebratory meal!

  • Shakespeare in Performance

    We will read two Shakespeare plays: Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona, respectively a standard text, and a comparatively obscure one. Over the mini-course weekend (May 27-28), as a class we will take a van to the American Shakespeare Center in Virginia and, at the world’s only recreation of the Blackfriars Theatre, see both of these plays in the same conditions that Shakespeare’s original audience would have.

  • I Go to Work

    In this mini-course, we will tackle the basics of a skill you will use throughout your life: how to write effective resumes and cover letters. Beginning with job searching and ending with interview technique, our course will be especially effective for upper-class students but is open to all.

  • Food for Thought

    There’s a strong sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from cooking your own meals; from taking ingredients and combining them to create eye-catching and mouth-watering dishes that can please you and your family and friends. The only problem: For many of us, cooking looks so complex and frustrating that it doesn’t seem worth our time.  Join this course to change that and learn the basics of the culinary arts, including basic cooking methods, knife skills, delicious recipes.  Bon Appétit!

  • Coloring, Convo, and Current Events

    Engage in dialogue about current social, political, and cultural issues while coloring and zentangling.

  • Colored Clay / Wearable Art

    Challenge what are commonly held notions of what is considered jewelry. Gain knowledge of using different colored clays incorporating personal mementos and found objects to create wearable works of art. Work with nontraditional formulas to create colorful patinas and emulate artifacts from a lost civilization. Design  3-dimensional pieces by dapping, folding, forming and cold join manipulation. Use these altered clay pieces to build a unique art piece or personalized piece of jewelry.

  • Playwriting Workshop

    Students will practice dialogue writing exercises, read several published one-act plays, and learn the basic ideas of dramatic structure.  Each student will write and re-write an original scene, which will be workshopped via table-reads, and featured in a public staged reading at the end of the course.

  • The City through its Art

    On this mini-course trip, we will visit museums in Pittsburgh and New York City, meeting a number of museum professionals along the way as we explore the leadership of private collectors and museum curators. Four days of travel will sweep us to museums, introduce us to different collectors and their unique visions, allow sampling of local fare of all types and offer up impromptu interaction with local cultural institutions. Students will prepare for the four-day trip with research into the people, events and/or ideas the led to the creation of the museums that we’ll visit. Students will also be responsible for helping to plan our journey through each city. With Megabus as our transportation, inexpensive hotels as our accommodations and two enthusiastic teachers as guides, interesting travels are sure to ensue! Upon our return to Pittsburgh, we will explore local art institutions and consider comparisons between the art scene in each city. Students will finish the course with a reflective project on the sites visited and the role of personal collections in shaping the contemporary urban cultural life.


2015-2016 Mini-courses

List of 20 items.

  • Asian Culture

    In this mini course, we are planning to divide it into two parts. The first one is interesting parts of Asian culture (languages, cultures, history), and the second part is food! We want to let more people in Ellis learn about different cultures, and understand the differences and similarities.
    Ada Wang/Yolanda Zheng/Izzie Dai
  • Biking the C&O Canal

    From south of Cumberland MD to Washington D.C, we will ride our bikes on the C&O Canal exploring America's history along the way stopping in places like Harper's Ferry and Antietam. The first week will find us training and researching, while the second week we realize our trip, which will begin Tuesday after Memorial Day and end that Friday night as we climb the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and celebrate our arrival. We will camp and eat a lot of diner food along the way. If you're ready for this adventure, pack up your gear, your camera, and your journal and be ready to go at the end of May!
    This course meets all four blocks.
  • Coloring, Convo and Current Events

    We will jump on the trendy coloring bandwagon and color our hearts out while engaging in provocative discussion about things that matter. Each student to bring their own coloring tools (pencils, crayon, marker, etc.).
  • Cooking

    Students will learn about how to shop for food and prepare various dishes.
  • Creative Writing: Fiction

    In this course, students will read a variety of short stories by writers like Raymond Carver, Danielle Evans, Karen Russell, Zadie Smith, George Saunders, and David Foster Wallace. Throughout the course, students will work on a short story or series of short stories. Following the workshop model, we will share our work with one another and offer supportive and constructive feedback. All levels of experience are welcome.
  • Creative Writing: Poetry

    In this creative writing workshop, we will explore a variety of poetic forms and styles, including the sonnet, villanelle, ekphrastic poetry, and ars poetica. Following the workshop model, we will share our work with one another and offer supportive and constructive feedback. All levels of experience are welcome.
  • Dead Poet's Society and American Poetry

    Students will explore the landscape of American poetry through the film, Dead Poet's Society. During this Mini Course, we will view the film in segments and read poetry that corresponds to the literary themes and devices of the film
  • Digital Talking Books

    Students will narrate and monitor the recording of children's books for the Carnegie Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH). They will first take a tour of the LBPH, where they will be trained as narrators before recording books at Ellis. Once published, the digital recordings will be available to patrons of all American public libraries. Students will receive service learning credit for this mini course. 
  • Financial Literacy

    Learn the basics of personal finance -- banking, saving, borrowing, and investing -- including benefits and pitfalls. In your near future, you will be an independent adult, and with some key knowledge you can embrace a life-long goal of responsible financial independence.
  • George Segal Life size Sculpture

    Students will study George Segal's life-size figurative sculptures. We will look at his processes and presentations of his installations. As a group students will choose a figurative pose and recreate Segal's process in plaster.
    C. Sturdevant
  • Illuminating Patterns: Geometric Tiling Installation

    Design, construct, and install a transparent tessellating tiled artwork in the school. Explore the historical cultural context of examples of Islamic tiling. We will use ancient and modern technology for tile design and construction.
    S. Sturdevant/Goldberg
  • Mini-Course Play

    We will be putting on a performance at the end of the 2 weeks of Minicourses. This performance will have a focus on Black female musicians throughout time and their contributions to the music we listen to today.
    Genell Jasper/Leila Reines/Emily Mazur
  • Pilates Plus

    Each class begins and ends with each of us thanking our bodies for being strong, resilient, and unique. Core strength is the focus of our active work since our central strength powers our posture, carriage, and movement. Yoga mat required.
  • Science the S*#t Out of The Martian

    Prepare to dive deeply into the recent Academy Award-nominated film The Martian, as we put its science to the test. Over the course of two weeks we shall watch the film and then vigorously dissect it in approximately 20-minute chunks, assessing the degree to which the science presented is reasonable. You do not need to be capable of surviving on Mars to enjoy this exercise, but you do need to be willing to science the living daylights out of a movie about someone trying to survive on Mars!
  • Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

    Have you ever had the desire to walk the streets of Victorian London with Sherlock Holmes in search of Professor Moriarty? To search the docks for the giant rat of Sumatra? To walk up Baker Street as the fog is rolling in and hear Holmes cry out, "Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot!” Now you can! Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective is a game unlike any other, in which there is no board, no dice, and no pieces. You have only your keen insight and sharp wits to aid you in solving the mysteries at hand. How will you fair in comparison to the great detective? Come, Ellis, come! The game is afoot!
  • Speak French Like A Native

    In this course, you will have an opportunity to improve your pronunciation of French through oral practice and learning the International Phonetic Alphabet.
  • The Queen's Gambit: Learning and Succeeding in Chess

    This course is for players of all levels to experience chess in the form of lessons, games, and competition. Chess combines concentration, planning, and thinking ahead with playing and competing against your opponent. This class not only teaches strategies and defenses to win the game, but also instructs gender equality in a male-dominated sport, motivating Ellis students to embrace competition. Each class will be prepared lessons and exercises that will strengthen each girl’s knowledge of chess and practice games to test what they have learned. At the end of the course, there will be a chess tournament for the members of the class.
    Ashley Priore
  • This Ellis Life

    Modeled after the NPR radio program, "This American Life," this mini-course will introduce students to the narrative story-telling form through several episodes of the program. The course will culminate in a student-created radio hour that focuses on a theme related to Ellis culture and community.
  • Tools for Self-Teaching Japanese

    This mini-course will provide a brief introduction to Japanese language study including a review of different tools students can use to continue after mini courses end! We will focus on four areas of language acquisition: Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. Because of the intense nature of self study of a language, this course will require students to practice Japanese for about 1 hour outside of class each night. Laptops are highly recommended.
    Holtgraver/Erika Amemiya
  • Walking For Fitness

    Students will walk around the neighborhoods surrounding Ellis. The pace will be fast enough to elevate the breathing and heart rate, but slow enough for students to still carry on a conversation. Students will need to wear comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing. If the weather doesn't allow for walking outside, students will be in the weight room.

2016-2017 Mini-courses By Visiting Faculty

List of 3 items.

  • Architecture

    Students will learn Autodesk Revit, a Building Information Modeling Software, by designing a tiny home for themselves. Autodesk Revit is an industry standard in the profession of architecture. It is a component-based software that allows students to visualize construction means and methods and view their designs in two-dimensional floor plans and three-dimensional virtual models.

    Mr. Hughes is an architect who directs the Drafting Dreams organization
  • Nine-Mile Run: Watershed Exploration and Restoration

    Let’s get outside, learn about the watershed, and improve habitat for wildlife!  In this course, we will tour the Nine Mile Run stream then learn about climate change, water cycles, and native habitats for wildlife and work together hands-on to revitalize an area by the stream. Anyone with interest in nature, science, or art is encouraged to participate!  The course will be lead by the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association.  Students will need to dress for the outdoors for about half of the course.  All materials will be provided.  

    Ms. Nemeth and Mr. Hiller are staff educators at the Nine-Mile Run Organization
  • Yoga

    This yoga class offers an opportunity to use the imagination to move the body into creative shapes that will offer a connection to the breath, mind, and spirit. This class is open to all students who have a curiosity about the practice of yoga. Come explore, connect, discover, and play.

    Ms. Coy is a yoga instructor from New York City now teaching locally in Pittsburgh, holding workshops, studio classes and private lessons

2016-2017 Mini-courses By Alumnae

List of 1 items.

  • Shape Thinking-Color and 2D Animation!

    Have you ever wanted to learn how to contextualize color? Create small minimalist 2D animations? Dissect the world into basic shapes? See differently by taking this mini course. In the Course, we will play every day with color, color theory, and shape theory to eventually turn our skills into A final 2D animation, and our own Color driven paintings of choice. The course is open to all people, who want to learn the basics of how to paint, draw and design. Walk away from the course with a different way of seeing the world.

    GiGi Nieson (‘16)
    GiGi attends  Pratt University

2016-2017 Mini-courses By Students

List of 5 items.

  • Homelessness in Pittsburgh

    Operation Safety Net, an organization which started when a doctor decided to go out to different camps and treat those living on the streets, is the basis for many of the things we will be doing in this course. Lobbying, volunteering and listening to speakers will contribute to meaningful conversations. An overview of issues like healthcare, housing, and education will be covered and we will have the chance to go and talk with people who have had a personal experience with homelessness.

  • Intro to Sewing

    This course will teach the basics of sewing on a machine. We will go over the fundamentals of sewing and build upon these skills by completing various projects such as pillowcases and a backpack! This class is open to all students, regardless of previous sewing experience.

  • Life through Creative Writing

    Life through Creative Writing will offer students the chance to write, read, and discover the wonders of literature and works together. Students will write all forms of creative writing together,  talk about famous authors and texts, use writing mechanics, and most importantly, read our work together. We will have guest visitors from the writing community, and our main goal is to create an anthology of our work.

  • Mini-course Play

    3 directors/2 plays/1 cast! We will be putting on a performance at the end of the 2 weeks of Minicourses. Stay tuned for the plays chosen by these Seniors who are working on a live theater performance for their Senior Projects.

  • Save the Food!

    This mini-course will look at many facets of food waste and ways to prevent food waste in our community and homes. There will be two parts to this mini course. Week one will consist of student-led discussion based on food waste by watching documentaries, videos, reading the news, and other sources. Week two will be a hands-on student designed and implemented visual at Ellis aimed at reminding people the importance of being mindful of how much food they have and how much they waste. The aims of this mini-course include: helping the Ellis community reduce food waste and educating ourselves and others about the many facets of food waste


2015-2016 Mini-courses By Alumnae

List of 3 items.

  • Sketchbook and Journal Making

    The final product: A hand bound, creative, full color journal or sketchbook. We will look at the basics of bookbinding and construction; explore handwriting and lettering, design, collage, and storytelling. While this would be a great opportunity to create work for portfolios or college admissions, no experience is necessary, and materials will be provided.
  • Social Policy: What to do about Poverty and Inequality in the US

    Is it possible to live on $2 a day in America? Does the poverty line need an update? How is the US criminal justice system “broken”? In order to begin to answer these questions, among others, we’ll read single mothers’ accounts of extreme poverty, divide into groups to calculate a new poverty line based on Pittsburgh's living costs, and interpret data of inequality and incarceration rates. To add action to words, we’ll create and execute feasible action plans as well as examine what might work on a larger level.
  • Water World

    From Pittsburgh to New Orleans and the Jersey shore to island nations, changes along coastlines affect lives every day - from fish sourcing to recreation and more. Coastal protection for urban communities is becoming a “hot trend.” Environmental advocacy is a growing field, too, with attention in the media and by corporations around the world. Join this course to explore issues beyond “pure science” around coastal preservation as well as how you can get involved - and how two Ellis alumni worked on opposite sides of the largest oil spill ever.

The Ellis School

6425 Fifth Avenue | Pittsburgh, PA 15206