Education meets future

From the elective subject ‘Media Communication’ to robot programming to receiving the ‘Digital School’ award – digitalisation is transforming classrooms at the Phorms Campus Berlin Süd, the Phorms Taunus Campus (Frankfurt) and at the Josef-Schwarz-Schule
Author: Nicole Erdmann | Illustration: Friederike Schlenz | 2019/1

Phorms Campus Berlin Süd

These days, social networks and digital media are an integral part of our students’ everyday lives. They chat via WhatsApp, send each other photos on Snapchat and post selfies on Instagram. But how are these ever-present media apps affecting young people’s communicative behaviour, and do they pose any risks? These are the questions covered in the elective subject ‘Media Communication’, launched by sixth form coordinator Stefan Diettrich in 2015, as requested by Valérie Hardt, head of secondary school at Phorms Campus Berlin Süd. Understanding, questioning, creating and designing digital media and technology are the key skills that the year 9s and 10s learn in this class. The idea is that students improve their own communicative behaviour and therefore become more aware of, and reflect more closely upon, their own media consumption. ‘What do I need to know about copyright laws? What data am I giving away? There’s a huge range of issues to this topic, and we use this class to work through them all with our young people,’ explains Diettrich.

This class is well-received by students, who are very grateful for everything it is teaching them. ‘Since taking this subject, I think a lot more carefully about what I actually want to post online,’ says year 9 student Maria. This subject also covers location services, data theft and personalised advertising. Alongside social media, the students also get to try out useful programs for editing films or creating GIFs, as the term ‘media communication’ also includes photographs, moving images and computer games.

For instance, Aljoscha Peters, who is teaching the subject this year for the first time, and his students are investigating representation and stereotypes in films, series and reality TV shows, as well as the effect of media on how we form our opinions. Homework, worksheets, videos and texts are available via the school’s very own, specially created online digital platform. Diettrich seems to be satisfied with how successful the ‘Media Communication’ subject has been in its first few years. ‘It provides the students with a more detailed insight into the ever-present media world, with the hope that they will navigate it more safely and knowledgeably.’

Phorms Taunus Campus (Frankfurt)

More and more professional fields require employees to have programming skills. That’s why students at the Phorms Taunus Campus start learning the very basics from as early as years 5 and 6 in their ICT (Information and Communication Technology) lessons. As of this academic year, there is also a ‘Robotics and Programming’ project within STEM* subjects for years 8 and 9. ‘We’re running this project to enrich and expand our students’ essential, basic skills through practical experience with “tangible” technology,’ explains ICT teacher Karin Griesar. For instance, in the first stage, students learn how to direct a robot so that it can find its way through a labyrinth on its own. In the advanced phase, students design, construct and programme a robot that helps to reduce food waste. ‘Successfully completing these practical tasks showed the students that there is far more to programming than just semantics and syntax. I could see how pleased they were when they figured something out, and how they enjoyed working carefully and creatively to find the right answers,’ says Griesar.

There’s also a digital side to creativity in art lessons, which are being taught as of this academic year. It is run by teacher Jonathan Grissett with a focus on the topic of media. ‘We spend a lot of time expanding our understanding of images, symbols and colours, as they form the basis for the analysis and creation of media content,’ explains Grissett. This subject is project-based. The students gain an understanding of how various forms of media work and use technical tools to create different types of presentations. Through these lessons, Grissett hopes to encourage his students to take a critical approach to any kind of media, so that they are better equipped to carefully navigate them in future. 


* STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (similar to the German MINT subjects)


From online learning platforms to the ‘Seesaw’ app to students programming small robots: the Josef-Schwarz-Schule (JSS for short) has integrated digital education into its school curriculum and, as a result, earned the title of ‘Digital School’, awarded in 2018 by the ‘MINT Zukunft schaffen!’ initiative (STEM – creating the future! initiative). ‘We regularly work with technology and believe it’s important to prepare children for the digital world, and it’s obviously wonderful to be able to show that with certificates like these,’ explains Franziska Korten, who, along with the rest of the leadership team, oversees the digital development of the school.

Use of digital media is a part of everyday school life, in every department. All students have access to tablets and laptops. Even year 1s use digital learning games. From year 3 onwards, students research topics on the internet, under their teachers’ supervision, and use age-appropriate painting and calculator software.

The JSS also runs an after-school Lego club, where students can programme machines and robots, designed for their age level, which can make noises or walk around in a ready-made stadium. ‘The children have a lot of fun at the Lego club – it’s always very well attended!’ says Korten.

This year, the ‘Seesaw’ app was also introduced at the JSS by teacher Jennifer Hohenschläger. The app supports communication with parents and provides a transparent insight into everyday school life, as well as the children’s educational development and achievements.

Primary school head Lisa Schüfer seems satisfied with the school’s digital development: ‘We’re so proud of our dedicated teachers, who are always open-minded about new forms of media and strive to teach the children how to use them safely and carefully. Without these colleagues, we would never have been awarded that title.’

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