In a year of many changes and “firsts,” last winter King’s Academy added another first to its academic repertoire: the January Term.
“If there was ever a time to try something new, I think it was 2020, because of COVID-19,” says faculty member and January Term coordinator Mohammad Al-Quraan ’10.
A two-week online “minimester” that takes place before the start of the spring semester, J-Term saw both Upper and Middle School students enroll in a variety of short online courses designed and led by King’s faculty that allow students to explore exciting new topics.
A short winter term is an increasingly common practice at international universities and boarding schools, according to Al-Quraan, as it offers passion-driven electives that diversify students’ academic interests and opportunities. With 35 courses on a wide range of topics to choose from, J-Term aims to inspire a love of learning and a desire for independent intellectual exploration in students, encouraging engagement, research and critical thinking.
J-Term also provides faculty members with the opportunity to do something new by designing and developing courses on subjects they would not normally teach about. “January term was a great experience because it allowed me to teach about something that I am passionate about but that does not always fit into my courses,” says faculty member Ruby Moore-Bloom.
According to head of the Department of Art, Design and Technology Judith Goltz, J-Term allowed her to challenge herself by offering a course she had never taught before: Digital Music. “It inspired me to practice skills that I learned many years ago and challenged me to push myself to learn new things as well.”
Preparing and completing an entire course online asynchronously was also a new challenge for Al-Quraan, as well as for his students. “Online education isn’t going away after COVID. J-Term was a good step towards giving students some of the practice they need in learning how to be resourceful and responsible with online education.”
Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Michael Kussaim enjoyed seeing his students exercise true independent learning. “Another advantage was that I could focus more on what the students were creating for me, rather than on preparing the lessons, since I’d already done that ahead of time.”
Every course offered a unique structure and topics. Some were centered around learning a skill or exploring a topic, and each course engaged students using a variety of methods, such as through discussions, creating videos, podcasts, artwork or written assignments.
Students showed great enthusiasm for J-Term, according to Al-Quraan, who noted that within a day of registration opening, most courses had already reached capacity.
“It’s rewarding for me as a teacher to see the students engaged and enjoying it; some really went above and beyond in their work,” says Al-Quraan.
Beyond King’s reached out to faculty members and students to learn more about some of the J-Term courses offered this year.
Beyond the Cosmos’ Frontiers
Faculty member and Director of Observatory Abdallah Abu Shihadeh offered this course to ignite students’ passion for learning more about the universe. Students had to think critically and creatively by exploring and debating topics such as dark matter, dark energy, the multiverse, the big bang theory, time travel, and the existence of black holes and wormholes using scientific research and technology.
“[The course] fed students’ curiosity and helped them think more deeply about our universe as well as the beauty and simplicity of Planet Earth,” says Abu Shihadeh. “Students were really enthusiastic, and they got creative producing artwork and works of fiction to reflect on what they learned.”
“Mr. Abdallah’s course was truly an out-of-this-world experience that we students will cherish forever,” says Raya Helmi ’22. “It promoted a sense of engagement in ways that I’ve never seen before as a second-year student at King’s.”
The Arabian Nights' Entertainments in the Past, Present and Future
Faculty member Charlotte Madere offered this course to teach students about the history of familiar narratives — such as “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” — while grappling with literature's role in colonial histories by examining the first English translation of “Alf Laylah wa-Laylah” (“1001 Nights”).
“I had a lot of fun with this course, experimenting with different mediums and perspectives to see what my own modern-day adaptation of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” would look like,” says Lina Obeidat ’23. “Through the adaptations we looked at, it was interesting to explore ideas like the West’s depiction of the East, what that meant for us in the past as well as our modern day.”
This course offered students the opportunity to create their own music, explains Judith Goltz. Students learned the basics of creating and editing digital music using a web-based platform called SoundTrap, including how to layer and create loops, build beats, record and edit tracks, and mixing. They then had to complete four digital music projects. “Digital music is becoming increasingly important as a distinguished art form, especially in the era of COVID-19,” says Goltz. “Many students with no prior musical training were surprised to learn how accessible beat-making is.”
“In the year of COVID-19, PCR testing and lockdowns, everyone is looking for a way back to normalcy,” says faculty member Michael Kussaim on why he chose to offer this course. “There are many misconceptions when it comes to vaccines. Allowing students to learn more about vaccines helps them develop their own opinions and allows them to make an educated decision when taking them.”
“I liked that we learned about vaccines through different sources,” says Sarah Masadeh ’21. “We didn't only read articles, we watched videos, debates and vlogs, which made the learning process a lot more enjoyable.”
This course takes its name from an NPR podcast by the same name, and involves “going back in time to understand the present.” According to history teacher Ruby Moore-Bloom, “Students love learning about current events but often lack the historical context to fully understand the situation.” Students listened to Throughline episodes on a wide variety of topics including politics, race and zombies! They analyzed the podcast episodes prior to recording their own podcasts, applying the same approach to a modern-day issue of their choice.
Emotional First Aid for Teens and Pre-Adults, within Our Current Context
In times of crisis, the frequency and intensity of mental health needs heighten, which exacerbates the existing lack of mental health awareness and services available, according to Director of Wellness and Advising Nada Dakhil, who, alongside School Counselor Sarah Nino, gave this course. “One way around these challenges is to improve everyone’s ability to provide themselves with emotional first aid, and to assess when the situation requires more specialized interventions — just like the model of physical first aid!” says Dakhil.
The course included units on empathy and active listening, anxiety and panic attacks, mental health stigmas, grief and COVID. “EFA was by far my favorite out of all the J-Term courses I took,” says Mariam Hadi ’24. “I had creative independence and freedom. It didn't feel like work in the slightest.”
As Seen in the Movies
Faculty member Ryan Taylor offered this course in which students investigated questions related to their favorite movies. “The last decade has seen an explosion of blockbuster movies, and as such we have seen a lot of crazy and amazing scenes,” says Taylor. Can a car go through a window of the Burj Khalifa and land safely in the building next door? Who is a better non-powered superhero, Batman or Iron Man? Students were tasked with exploring questions such as if a stunt scene from a movie was actually possible, and for their final project they scrutinized a movie or show to develop their own question about a certain scenario, investigating it, then explaining their answer.
“As Seen in Movies was an extremely enjoyable course; we got to discuss math, morals, debates, and even our own questions,” says Omar Tahabsem ’24.
Introduction to Arts Management
Faculty member Tania Banna offered this course to show students that their artistic skills could expand beyond the borders of performance. The course introduced students to the business side of the arts, providing an overview of careers in arts management and the work that arts managers do, such as bringing art and cultural programs to audiences through festivals, exhibits and film screenings. Students developed proposals for a creative business they chose, and recorded videos to pitch their business.
“Art gives meaning to our lives and helps us understand our world; it allows us to be open to new ideas and experiences,” says Fanar Al Derzi ’21. “Every person on earth does something connected to art every day without noticing, as it’s everywhere.”
Mathematics through History
In this course, faculty member and alumna Shahd Al-Jawhari ’13 posed the infamous question: “Who has the time to come up with this stuff?” Aiming to inspire in students a curiosity about the development of mathematical concepts, students explore how early math and number systems emerged in different parts of the world over different time periods, as well as the lives of some of the most important mathematicians in history.
“Math classes are traditionally dry and focused on formulas and algebra, but telling a story about the Pythagorean Brotherhood and their unusual rituals changes the tone of the class, says Al-Jawhari. “Learning the history of how mathematics emerged is a great way to inspire mathematicians to continue to be curious, which drives all mathematical discoveries, including those that we see today.”
The Evolution of Things
In this course, Al-Quraan invited students to study, analyze and learn how and why everyday objects have come into existence and how they evolved over time, focusing on the recent history of the past few decades.
“Technology changes so quickly around us; understanding some of the past trends and how they’re moving is very intriguing to think about, especially when trying to make educated predictions about what future technology will look like,” says Al-Quraan.
J-Term at the Middle School
Although short-term courses and projects are nothing new for King’s middle schoolers, who at the end of every semester take part in minimesters — multidisciplinary research and projects that demonstrate what they have learned over the course of the semester — J-Term offered a range of fascinating new course options. Students took five courses each: two of the five electives offered by King’s faculty, in addition to two courses provided by Global Online Academy (GOA), an online educational initiative of which King’s is a founding member. For their fifth course, students signed up for Regeneration, a course about sustainable development led by King’s alumnus Zouheir Ghreiwati ’10 (see article on page 60).
The Learning Brain
This GOA course posed the question: “How well do students understand their own brains?” Students were introduced to methods for approaching their own learning, both in the classroom and when studying outside of class. “Students learned about the brain and about different learning styles, and they gained insight into how they best learned,” says faculty member and Middle School J-Term coordinator Lauren Howard. “It was a fascinating metacognitive experience for our kids.”
Growth, Grit and Gratitude
In this GOA course, framed around the three concepts of growth, grit and gratitude, students designed a personalized wellness toolkit packed with life hacks to serve them throughout their time in school and beyond. They identified their strengths, learned how to use them when faced with challenges and explored strategies to change the way they think to affect how they feel and act.
Reflecting on the course, one eighth grader commented: “It made me discover myself on the inside; it gave me the opportunity to open up.”
CREST Bronze Award Projects
Faculty member Gamze Pultz led this course that prepares middle school students for the UK-based CREST Bronze Awards. CREST is the British Science Association's scheme for STEM project work that inspires young people to think and behave like scientists and engineers.
For her CREST project, Tara Baloula ’26 investigated which organic oils and chemicals would make the best acne product for teenagers. “I learned how to find a scientific solution to any problem and how to calculate and explain my results,” she says. “It helped me in real life situations too because I created an acne product, which led to my own hand sanitizer business and I started to sell hand sanitizer!”
Students taking this course, led by faculty members Aileen Eisenberg and Whiting Tennis, delved into the concept of “utopia” to explore the fundamental questions of how societies are — and should be —organized. “We wanted to provide students with an intellectual sandbox to explore the concept of an ideal society,” note Eisenberg and Tennis. “This course allowed students to question whether a perfect society could exist and which organizing principles they would want to prioritize if they were to build one.