The Evangelische Schule Berlin Zentrum (ESBZ), founded in 2007 became, because of its innovative concept and is known as a role model for paradigm change.
ESBZ is radically opens up school to the community, to the world, to non-formal education and extra-curricular settings, so their students learn to act in the real world. ESBZ fosters self-organized learning and interdisciplinary projects. Students learn in inclusive and age-mixed groups. Teachers assume the role of coaches. For learning the basics in german, maths and english students learn independent in individual settings with own prepared material.
Students decide the moment to test themselves and they get personal certificates instead of grades the first three years. In project based learning one day a week they work on two or three projects each year. They choose one topic and then they do research on their own questions in teams. So they get a lot of time to be creative and learn outside school with experts. Every week we have school assembly. Here students learn to speak their mind and also to articulate praise and appreciation which cultivates feedback and empathy. Often we invite famous people, who are engaged for the common good.
The most important subjects are our life-lesson-subjects: responsibility, challenge and intercultural challenge.
Responsibility is focused on civic engagement in the local community. For this project we give our students, beginning at the age of 12, time to practice citizenship in community-engagement once a week. There they could take responsibility for elderly people in retirement homes, for young children in kindergartens or school-classes in under-priviliged districts or for refugees in refugee hostels. Responsibility is the subject, in which the students learn from and with their heart. They learn to be a human in community, sharing human values.
Challenge begins at the age of 13 and occurs three times until they are 15. Our students face a big, self-chosen challenge outside Berlin in groups from three to eight students. That could be hiking or biking through Germany, building something in a social institution, helping at an organic farm, planting trees or living in a monastery. They have three weeks and five euro per day. During their challenge students learn to fail, they learn to risk something, they learn to work and live in teams and they learn to deal with insecurity. The groups are accompanied by students from university, who want to become teachers.
Intercultural Challenge is the next level. Its focus is on intercultural understanding and experience, which is very important for the future to become global minded green leaders. Therefore, when students are 16 years, they all go abroad for three months and engage in a social or ecological project in another culture. For example, they help in an social project in Tansania, help to build up schools in Nepal after the earthquake or engage themselves in permaculture in Peru.
About two years ago, a group of approximately 20 students, parents and teachers started developing ideas for a new kind of upper secondary school education for the secondary II classes 11-13, called the Neue Oberstufe (NOS). Students and teachers at the ESBZ increasingly felt that the system of cramming isolated disciplines conflicted with their learning needs. They set out to create a new learning format and a learning environment that would satisfy the legal requirements of the core curriculum (the Rahmenlehrplan – RLP), set by the government, as well as their learning needs. They came up with a solution they found so inspiring that they called it a pulsar.
Pulsars are interdisciplinary learning environments designed and led by experts, not necessarily just teachers, and are a core element of the NOS concept. A pulsar focuses on a particular topic and involves content and skills from a range of subjects, all of which are ultimately required to master the Abitur. A pulsar lasts for a period of one to two weeks. The location of the learning environment can vary, depending on the topic and the experts involved. All students in years 11, 12, and 13 can participate in a pulsar. Experts choose topics that are inspiring, fun and complex, and explore a variety of different aspects from several school subjects. They involve different aspects of practically all subjects with the crucial difference that they actually relate to real life. Students can choose the pulsars from a course catalogue, just like at university.
The learning expedition (LEX) is a student-led research project. A LEX consists of six stages:
First, a student comes up with an idea for a topic he or she would like to explore.
Second, the student gets together with an expert to define a focused research question. Together, they draw up a choice of possible foci and learning paths. The student then chooses the path he or she likes best.
The third step is the planning stage. The students define the outcome they are aiming for, which media they will use and then plan the process, working backwards from the target to the starting point. They also define the criteria of a satisfying result and structure the process record that will guide them through their LEX. The students know that they have to keep a track record that documents their daily work in some way, and choose the format that suits their style and project best. The teachers support the student by providing relevant material and sources, like literature, newspaper articles, expert interviews, documentaries, university lectures etc. Another crucial factor is the level of autonomy the students think they want during their LEX.
Step four is the implementation phase. Of course, the students can modify the level of support they require as their work progresses and their needs change and contact their tutor/teacher.
Fifth, the student presents his findings or learning product at a peer-learning exchange. Finally, the teacher, tutor and the student meet to reflect on their LEX learning process. Self-evaluation and constructive, critical feedback about the quality of the outcome and process are important learning opportunities. Since everything is planned and set by both the student and the teachers, the criteria are transparent from the word go. In retrospect, they can also evaluate how far the level of autonomy they chose corresponded to their needs. These reflections are an important part of the learning experience. Students become aware of their qualities and needs and can gradually improve their level of autonomy and self-evaluation skills.