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9th Grade Academic Structure

Overview

The Innovation Fellowship (TIF) is a new international high school in central Tokyo that focuses on maximizing each student’s “life success” through a pedagogical model grounded in project-based learning (PBL). TIF students spend their school time developing mission-oriented projects at the nexus of five learning areas: what they care about, what they are good at, what they can get paid for, what the world needs, and what they can do in collaboration with people they care about. The experiential learning accomplished through personalized project work is assessed against the aims and objectives of a standard American high school curriculum, supplemented by directed self-study in foundational academic principles, and rendered legible to top-tier universities and international schools in Japan, the United States, and Canada by way of a traditional transcript (see Appendix: Sample TIF Transcript).

9th Grade Curriculum

A standard American high school 9th grade education typically incorporates the following subjects, listed in order of importance from the perspective of college admissions and for the purposes of succeeding at SAT testing: Math, English, Science, Social Studies, Foreign Language, and electives in Technology and the Arts. TIF adapts the academic requirements of a 9th grade education to suit the needs and interests of each student. TIF establishes learning goals and assesses outcomes in each of these areas, and at the end of each term students receive a letter grade (A-F, 4.0 GPA scale) in addition to a narrative report on their progress in each subject. Additionally, in order to best prepare students for the possibility of SAT, Advanced Placement (AP), and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) testing in their later high school years, students enrich their PBL by completing online courses in Algebra I, Geometry, and Biology offered through Khan Academy.

 

TIF’s Project-Based Learning Method

All aspects of the original PBL method implemented at TIF reinforce a singular aim: empower students to achieve life success by designing and executing real-world projects at the intersection of their loftiest dreams and humanity’s greatest needs. In practice, this involves adhering to an iterative and pragmatic process of acquiring and applying knowledge that brings a student ever-closer to achieving a grand ambition.

1. Establish a Personal Mission: Through coaching, peer to peer activities, introspection, research assignments, and interest exposure excursions, a student is tasked with determining where their greatest joys and talents meet the world’s most pressing problems. For example, a student may decide that they want to combat the global food security crisis or shape the future of carbon capture.

2. Identify Humanity’s Front Line: Diving into research and outreach, the student identifies and reports upon the agents of change at the front lines of their own personal mission. What are those actors or organizations doing to solve the problem? What are their academic and professional backgrounds? What obstacles do they face and what innovative solutions are they employing to overcome them?

3. Plan a Next Step Project: Charting a path backwards from the front line, the student determines what discrete project(s) would bring them closer to achieving their personal mission. Rather than mere academic exercises, next step projects are designed to create value, leave a local or regional impact, and require the student to cultivate broadly applicable soft skills as well as field-specific expertise.

4. Take Action: In collaboration with peers, the student brings their next step project to fruition. In doing so, they develop a mastery of the subject matter necessary to generate project outputs. This action- oriented approach to experiential learning places the student in the driver seat of their own education, albeit with a clear roadmap and constant direction from experienced coaches.

5. Reflect, Refine, Repeat: By taking action on a next step project toward a personal mission, the student probes the depths of their passions and develops a deeper understanding – through their successes as well as their limitations – of the challenges faced by innovators within their fields of interest. The completed project is added to an expanding portfolio, at which point they are asked to reflect upon their experience. What could they have done differently? What theories or principles did they need learn to actualize their project? At this point, students refine their project into a logical next step in the direction of their personal mission or, if they discover a greater interest through their project work, repeat the process in order to pivot in the direction of a newly articulated personal mission.

Thus, students spend the majority of their school day working on interdisciplinary projects in collaboration with peers. This dynamic approach integrates key concepts and skills from various subject areas into interconnected workstreams that are developed, assessed, reflected upon, and refined through daily discussions with coaches. Individually and in small groups, a student may be working on 1-5 concurrent next step projects at any point during the term. This method leverages student interest to accelerate learning, and at its best it fosters creative thinkers, articulate presenters, skilled writers, rational inquirers, and, more than anything else, leaders who demonstrate confidence and clarity of vision even when wading into uncharted territory, as the north star of their personal mission is likely to remain moving within the night sky of their professional and academic lives.

Supplementary Educational Plan

Top-tier universities reward applicants with razor-sharp focus, memorable personal narratives, demonstrated records of academic excellence, and unrelenting drive to accomplish their dreams. TIF graduates will match this description to a tee. By enabling students to plumb the depths of their nature and (in so doing) generate project portfolios evidencing their interests and range of accomplishments, TIF prepares students to identify their best-fit colleges, gain admittance by standing out from peers at more conventional learning institutions, and arrive at campus knowing what classes to take, activities to pursue, and connections to forge in order to advance their personal mission and achieve life success.

While much of this work is accomplished through PBL, it remains vital to ensure that all 9th grade academic requirements are met to facilitate university admittance. For this reason, PBL is enriched by a Supplementary Educational Plan, which students advance at a pace of 10 hours per week (1 morning hour and 1 afternoon hour). Of these hours, 4 are dedicated to Math, 2 are dedicated to Science, 2 are dedicated to Foreign Language, 1 is dedicated to a topic that connects project work with English, and 1 is dedicated to tying project work together with Social Studies concepts. Coaches encourage students to integrate this learning back into projects, reinforcing retention through application and striking a balance between targeted and broad subject exposure.

Field-specific Details

 

Math

9th grade Math is uniform at most high schools: students complete courses in Algebra I and Geometry. More ambitious students may also complete Algebra II by the end of 9th grade, at which point they are prepared to answer all SAT math questions and begin coursework in Calculus. Students at TIF will complete Khan Academy modules for Algebra I and Geometry. If they are likely to seek admission at an elite boarding school, private school, or university after TIF, they should consider accelerating their Math progress by completing Algebra II.

 

English

9th grade English courses seek to cover the American Common Core standards. These standards will be deeply integrated into PBL, as students will be reading, writing, and speaking about their projects on a daily basis. Each week, coaches will select standards from Common Core and apply them to project work. For example, can students read, summarize, and synthesize various texts from their industry of interest, such as white papers, journalistic coverage, press releases, research articles, technical handbooks, and business reports? Can they write and present persuasively, narratively, expositorily, and descriptively about their projects? Can they cite specific textual evidence to support the analyses and arguments underwriting their projects?

Science

Biology, Chemistry, and Physics are the sciences taught in most high schools, and usually progress in that order. Students at TIF must complete the Khan Academy Biology course. Additionally, they will be coached to structure their projects in a way that incorporates the scientific method and allows them to practice argument- driven inquiry.

Social Studies

9th grade Social Studies incorporate topics from world history, cultural studies, economics, human geography, government, and psychology. As with English, Social Studies principles will be woven into each student’s PBL. In any given week students may be asked to: research the history of their field; present on a social or cultural issue their project addresses; design a marketing campaign informed by a key concept from psychology; identify the local, regional, and global implications of their missions, or; analyze the economic infrastructure of their industry of interest.

Foreign Language

Exploring the landscape of social entrepreneurship within Tokyo is a central aim of TIF, so all students will study Japanese. Students will be introduced to Japanese grammar, vocabulary, and phrases that can be used during each interest exposure excursion and in relation to each student’s project. They will be encouraged to practice speaking Japanese with peers and coaches. Additionally, each student will be asked to self-study a level- appropriate textbook that leads toward a standardized exam (either AP Japanese or the JLPT).

Technology and the Arts

TIF project work will involve extensive learning in technology and the arts. For example, students will be coached on how to utilize generative AI to support their PBL, will create a project website or blog, and may be asked to study a coding language such as Java, Python, or C++. At different points throughout the year, students will be asked to create artistic project outputs such as a short film, a video essay, a poster presentation, or a client-facing presentation deck.

Recommendation Letter

The quality of a recommendation letter can be the deciding factor between a student being accepted or rejected from a top-tier university, boarding, or private school. Coaches at TIF stand prepared to furnish highly personalized documentation to facilitate a student’s future application to college or – in the event of a transfer request – to another international high school. This includes a comprehensive transcript (with both numerical and narrative grades), a school overview letter, course and project descriptions, and recommendation letters detailing the student’s abilities, accomplishments, personality, and academic as well as professional ambitions.

Co-Curricular and Extra-Curricular Activities

At a conventional high school, participating in extra-curricular activities is usually one of the few avenues whereby students can explore their individual interests, whether that be team sports, debate competitions, community service, or myriad forms of visual, musical, or performing arts. Colleges expect applicants to demonstrate excellence in extra-curriculars, as these activities serve as indicators that a student is independently motivated, collaboratively minded, naturally curious, a capable leader, committed to serving their local community, and able to spend their unstructured time in an effective manner. Unfortunately, the standard extracurricular offerings at a conventional high school rarely check all these boxes, thus requiring those students to pursue more unique and rewarding activities after school, separately from that community.

Due to the personalized and self-driven PBL model practiced at TIF, many activities that would take place outside of a standard curriculum (“extra-curricular”) are instead woven into school time (“co-curricular”). Individually and in collaboration with peers, students may integrate aspects of music, film, theater, journalism, graphic design, programming, debate, etc. into their research and project outputs. Additionally, the academic structure of TIF enables students to develop vital soft skills through their school work, rather than outside of it. Instead of charging a large sum of tuition to fund in-house clubs that students may or may not be interested in, coaches work with students to identify extra-curricular endeavors they wish to explore in Tokyo after school. If students express an interest in, say, joining an extramural sports team, taking music lessons, attending coding classes, or volunteering at an animal shelter, coaches will forge connections and facilitate access whenever possible. Students are especially encouraged to participate in competitions and tournaments within Japan, as colleges favor students who have evidenced athletic, artistic, or academic prowess by earning accolades adjudicated by third-party organizations. By asking families to bear the costs of only those after school activities elected by their student, TIF avoids bloating tuition rates which results in net savings for all families.

Testimonial

With project-based learning guided by seasoned coaches and buttressed by a strategic academic program, The Innovation Fellowship offers students an opportunity to explore their passions, collaborate with peers, and play an active role in their education. Admissions officers at elite universities and private high schools look most favorably upon articulate students with clearly-identified interests, compelling projects, and unique stories. TIF promises to serve as a launching pad for that level of academic excellence. The world needs more programs like TIF.

Dr. Jason Cody Douglass Founder of Cerulean Education Yale University B.A. 2013, M.A. 2018, M.Phil. 2019, Ph.D. 2023

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