Should etiquette be taught in high schools

When another headmaster proudly reports to her that he wants to set up tablet classes at his school in the near future, Tina Veigel happily says, "Oh, that's nice." You don't want to be rude. The headmistress of the Steinhöfelschule, based in Mainz and Heidesheim, prefers to keep to herself that her private business school already had computers and projectors before the turn of the millennium. "In 1998 we had already equipped all classrooms with these instruments," reports the 48-year-old. The Steinhöfelschule is one of the schools in Germany from which others can learn a lot in terms of media skills. "Between 2015 and 2017 we installed digital boards in all rooms. They look like giant cell phone displays," says Veigel. "It is good for students' visual memory that these interactive screens can be used to store and retrieve whiteboard images." The approximately 350 pupils who are taught at the state-approved substitute school are 15 to 22 years old. You can acquire the secondary school leaving certificate and the technical college entrance qualification as well as the high school diploma.

Mainstream schools have to comply with a large number of regulations. That makes innovations difficult

For a vocational school that is also a business school, it is advisable to use modern media in a practical manner. It is part of the training in the commercial branch to deal with how a web shop works. Veigel mentions another reason that speaks in favor of firmly anchoring digital media in the classroom. "Private schools need a special profile," says the headmistress, who teaches data processing and project management. It is important to her that the teachers at the Steinhöfelschule regularly take part in advanced training courses on the subject of multimedia in the classroom. She does not want to do without her permanent IT administrator. She knows "a lot of schools in which the teachers oversee IT projects on the side." Veigel thinks this is wrong, as they often did not have the necessary expertise.

"Our association demands that didactic specialist knowledge for teaching with modern technologies must be conveyed as early as the teacher training at the university," says Klaus Vogt, board member of the Association of German Private School Associations (VDP) in Berlin. In addition, prospective teachers would have to learn how to impart media literacy to their students. "This includes the topics of skill in operating the devices as well as ethics and etiquette," emphasizes Vogt.

The teachers at the Steinhöfelschule pay attention to the three aspects mentioned by Vogt. In this context, ethics means, for example, how one communicates in social media while maintaining respect for others. Another example: "We make it clear to the students that they cannot use a photo from the Internet for a flyer without asking about the copyright." The subject of etiquette also has different facets. "Many young people who come to us do not know that an e-mail is worded differently than a Whatsapp," says the headmistress. "You have to learn it first." But that is also what Veigel understands by etiquette: "When the teacher enters the room, the laptops are closed." Students must turn off their cell phones before the lesson and put them in designated pockets on the wall. "It looks a bit like an advent calendar," explains Veigel. A clever idea: the cell phones remain in sight, which has a calming effect.

For modern digital concepts to work, everyone has to pull together - teachers, students, parents, porters. Veigel is the headmaster and sponsor in personal union, which simplifies a lot. However, in their opinion, private schools have "a huge advantage through self-administration". The public schools, on the other hand, have a harder time introducing modern learning techniques, "because they have to comply with certain regulations and talk to the authorities more than we do. And they lack staff to deal with these issues."

Students from the Steinhöfelschule can also learn the art of programming. The following applies: Practice early. At the Free School Anne-Sophie (FSAS) of the Würth Foundation in Berlin-Zehlendorf, six-year-olds are already making their first steps here: For example, they are developing routes for bee-bots. These are educational robots that look like cartoon bees. The primary school students in another learning group wear headphones and do language and arithmetic exercises on the tablet: "You can't cut five in half," a metallic-sounding voice says to one of the children. "What number can you cut in half?" With the virtual teacher, the students, who are called "learning partners" at the FSAS, are of course not left alone. You can ask your "learning guides" for help. This is what the teachers at this international bilingual private school call themselves. The approximately 340 students come not only from Germany, but also from countries such as Poland, Russia, Israel, China and Croatia. They are taught in German and English - almost all of the 40 or so teachers are native English speakers. Graduates should be able to express themselves fluently and skillfully in English, that is one of the main goals of Sabine Marsch, 38, head of the state-approved primary school and the state-approved high school.

The headmistress formulates another, no less important concern: "You should be able to use digital media competently and responsibly in your studies and at work." Secondary school students work at the FSAS with the digital learning platform Its-Learning - they can view appointments and access teaching materials via computer, tablet and smartphone. "Parents and teachers also communicate with one another via the learning platform," reports the headmistress, who has a doctorate in biology didactics. "There is also a virtual teachers' room on the platform that is only available to educators." The school also uses special apps. "With their help you can put together tasks that correspond to the individual level of knowledge of a student," explains Marsch. These apps have a control function with which the students can see whether they have succeeded in completing a task or not. Seventh to tenth graders get their own iPads, eleventh and twelfth graders get their own laptops. That's how it was before. But from the coming school year, which begins in Berlin on August 20, fifth graders will already be given their own iPads.

With the digital tools, the interior and didactics of schools are also changing. At the FSAS, lessons in secondary school take place in so-called input rooms: the students gather around counters in the form of an elongated oval, at which they stand or sit opposite one another. "The teacher stands at the counter, between the students. Frontal teaching is not common here," says Michael Hog. He is the head of the secondary school and has a PhD in philosophy. An essential part of the didactic concept is independent learning. "For the students there are learning times that are not assigned to any subject. They can then decide for themselves which tasks and media they want to deal with," explains headmistress Marsch. During the times of self-determination, you will find many secondary school students in one of the two learning ateliers. There they learn at desks or standing tables, in groups or alone. You can also nestle in islands of retreat with upholstered armchairs. The studios are generously glazed and offer views of the Zehlendorf residential area with its numerous green spaces. In the learning studios, young people sit looking at screens next to those reading books. "We're not a paperless school," notes Hog.

When programming, of course, the students do not get stuck at the stage of route planning for bee robots. In the basic course "Digital Worlds" they practice programming apps, among other things. Physics teacher Brian Swarthout leads the basic course. But where is the pedagogue? He should be easy to find by his clothes - light blue Crocs and a yellow, red and brown patterned shirt. Swarthout is crouching on the floor somewhere in the room because he is helping students program their Lego Mindstorms robot. In the basic course, the students should build such robots and set certain parameters. "You can design the robot so that it grabs a ball and puts it in a box," explains eleventh grader Antonia Röttgen. The 19-year-old, who wants to graduate next year, adds that she can bring achievements from this course into the Abitur. "We also do 3-D printing, CSS, and web page design," says Swarthout. Röttgen also likes the course because it helps her choose a career. "You get shown a lot of possibilities of what you can do with media. I don't really like Lego Mindstorms," ​​she admits. "But I've discovered that I enjoy creating websites."

With the help of funding, at least some of the possibilities that the FSAS and the Steinhöfelschule have long had at their disposal - that is what many school principals hope for. As part of the new digital pact of the federal government, 3.5 billion euros are to flow into the digital equipment of schools during this legislative period, 1.5 billion in the next. The then Education Minister Johanna Wanka had already announced a digital pact with the same financial scope in 2016, but it was not implemented. "The digital pact is urgently needed, also as a signal that politicians are serious about their promises to advance digital education in schools, but also in vocational training," emphasizes Klaus Vogt from the VDP. "There is a suitable draft of a federal-state agreement for the implementation of the digital pact. The funds are available. We are therefore optimistic that it can be implemented in early 2019."

She thinks the initiative itself is "good," says headmistress Veigel. "But the paper tiger could get too big with the digital pact," she argues. "Who will examine the applicants' concepts? And who will put the measures into practice?" She asks herself. She sees the danger that schools will plan a colorful bundle of technologies because they are seen as chic. Veigel advises every school that wants to apply to develop a concept that will really be of use to its students.