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ISB academics: challenging and joyful learning

Academics are at the core of who we are at the International School of Beijing (ISB). Woven into every aspect of our curriculum, we hold ourselves to a high standard and are constantly striving to offer the best education in Beijing.

When you choose ISB, you are choosing an international school with high academic standards and one that also provides your child with the skills, support, and care they need to achieve their academic goals. We offer a challenging program that was intentionally designed to impart key knowledge onto our students, and is delivered in a joyful way that inspires collaboration, innovation, discussion, and embraces complex subject matter. Are you curious about enrolling your children at ISB? Find out more about the good reasons to choose an international school.

Incorporated within our academic programming is a focus on multilingualism, as we believe that the more exposure students have to languages from a young age the better prepared they will be to work and live in new environments in our diverse world.

More than that, we provide each grade level with appropriately complex themes and academic challenges and set high expectations together with students to support their growth.

Here are four reasons why our academic program at ISB will prepare your child for their future:

  1. Academically challenging but balanced curriculum
  2. Focus on multilingualism
  3. Intentionally-designed content across grade levels
  4. Access to IB courses

Challenging and joyful curriculum

At ISB, we have redefined the meaning of academic rigor. Our international school curriculum is appropriately challenging across all grade levels and is delivered in a way that inspires joyful learning in our students. 

By shifting away from traditional methods, we seek to inspire our students to develop a love of learning that will support them throughout their education and career. 



Cognitive complexity versus cognitive difficulty

When seeking out the right international school for your child, you are likely looking for a challenging curriculum that will push them to meet high academic standards and one that prepares them for their future, be that in university or further along in their career. You want a curriculum that offers academically challenging work, but how do you know if the challenge meets your expectations? 

Research shows that while challenge is a necessary component of a curriculum, what really matters is the purpose and the impact the level of challenge actually has on the educational experience. This can best be explained by the differences between cognitive complexity and cognitive difficulty.

At ISB, our curriculum offers cognitive complexity over cognitive difficulty. Rather than worksheet after worksheet of problems that require little application of knowledge, we provide your child with problems where they are asked to remember, understand, and apply their knowledge to find the solution. This is the key difference between cognitive complexity and difficulty; cognitive complexity inspires the kind of thinking that will help your child apply what they have learned across the entire curriculum to solve a new problem. This is best exemplified by how well a student is able to transfer their knowledge under a new context. 

One example of how cognitive complexity highlights our students’ ability to transfer knowledge across the curriculum would be a student applying complex critical thinking patterns in history class and applying the same skills to solve a difficult physics problem. Cognitive complexity teaches our students how to think, not just content to memorize. 

This style of education, largely based on Bloom's Taxonomy, organizes learning objectives into six functions: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. With this methodology, your child will do far more than memorize solutions to problems. They will be able to take cognitively complex materials and learn how to solve problems. 


It is our responsibility to give students the foundation they need to grow and develop into adults capable of undertaking whatever new challenge emerges from our rapidly evolving world. 

At ISB, it is vitally important we impart a 21st-century and forward-thinking approach to learning. The challenges faced by our generation are vastly different than those with which future generations will have to contend, which is why it’s critical we align standards and learning objectives for a forward-thinking curriculum. 

Now more so than ever, developing 21st-century skills in your child is vitally important for their future success. As the top international school in Beijing, we at ISB understand the value of incorporating this mindset throughout every aspect of our curriculum. Our forward-thinking and cognitively complex curriculum introduces key 21st-century skills and nourishes them throughout your child’s journey at ISB. 

Here’s a short sampling of some of the 21st-century skills your child will develop at ISB:

  • Inquiry
  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Leadership and responsibility
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Communication and collaboration
  • Global thinking

With these valuable skills as tools at their disposal, your child will be ready to take on any opportunity that comes their way. 


Dual Language Program

Understanding languages is a key aspect of a 21st-century mindset. Our increasingly globalized world means your child may work on projects simultaneously with people all over the world and collaborate with people who speak different native languages. Early language acquisition is a great way to teach your child the importance of bilingualism, diversity, and inclusion, and will help them throughout their careers. 

At ISB, your Elementary School child will have the option to take part in our Dual Language Program, which creates an additive environment, whereby the first language is maintained and the second language is acquired. We recognize the importance of acknowledging local culture in China and strive for language and cultural proficiency.

By enrolling in the optional Dual Language Program your child will have reading, writing, speaking, and listening proficiency in both languages and will have the necessary vocabulary to discuss complex themes and have in-depth conversations in either language. 


Tailored to suit needs at any age

Our intentionally designed curriculum is developed to provide optimal learning at any age. From our Early Years program through High School, our curriculum offers suitable complexity and challenge to propel students to their goals in an age-appropriate manner.


Elementary School

Research into education for Early Years students indicates a heavy push towards play-based learning and welcoming learning environments that fosters developmental progress in a safe, comfortable manner. For many students, this is their first experience with education outside of the home, and we take that into consideration when designing our curriculum and learning spaces.

Consisting of students from Early Years 3 until Grade 5, our Elementary students learn through inquiry-based activities; classrooms are filled with challenging and joyful activities to spark a lifelong love of learning in your child. Additionally, our Elementary School Library has over 26,000 books across multiple genres and languages available for your child to share and enjoy, as well as classrooms and facilities designed to support student learning like our visual and performing arts classrooms and our theater. 

From this introductory phase, our students learn the foundations of education that will prepare them for the exploratory stage of Middle School.



Middle School

Between Grades 6 and grade 8, Middle School is a time of personal development and discovering who they are as a person and as a young academic. 

Our Middle School curriculum consists of core subjects divided into theme-based units which provide students with more opportunities to engage in-depth with the content, ask questions, collaborate with peers, and experiment. Students are encouraged to pursue their developing interests and discover which methods are most beneficial and relevant to their specific learning needs.

Our Enrichment Program is an excellent example of how ISB creates learning opportunities for students. Enrichment courses run for a full quarter and students can choose two areas of interest to pursue or an academic group to take part in each quarter. With over 100 Enrichment options available to them, your child will have ample opportunities to try something outside of their comfort zone and discover something new. 

Middle School students also have dedicated time each week of mentoring. This time spent with their mentor and peers is designed to build authentic relationships, nurture social emotional learning, and develop skills in a safe and supportive environment. Students learn to develop self-awareness, self-management, social cultural competence, and take purposeful action to find their place in the world. 


High School

Entering High School presents your child with numerous exciting possibilities for their future. It is a time in their life when they can fully take advantage of the many unique options an education at ISB can offer. It’s also a time in their life when the responsibilities begin shifting from parent to child, and with these new responsibilities come high expectations.  




ISB offers IBDP

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) is an internationally recognized curriculum that promotes international-mindedness and critical thinking skills within the framework of a challenging curriculum. It is immediately recognized on post-secondary applications and helps your child stand out as a dedicated and impressive candidate. Discover the reasons to choose the IB Programme.

This two-year pre-university program is available to all Grade 11 and 12 students at ISB, and with a 100-percent pass rate in IB courses, ISB is the top international school in Beijing for students interested in undertaking the IB. With more than 50 IB courses available to students and a 1:12 mentor-to-student ratio, your child will have a breadth of options to choose from and can design a course that meets their academic goals. 


Download the free eBook

Discover how ISB has created a challenging and joyful learning experience by redefining what academic rigor means for our students.

ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.

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