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