Concept
   
From a local history and geography project
( = Regionale ökologische Sachunterrichtswerkstatt = A local and ecological elementary social studies and science workshop) to a world-wide net attraction (-online = local ecological teaching concepts on the Web)

Astrid Kaiser

Oldenburg’s concept of active elementary social studies and science makes an attempt to embrace reformist educational approaches to discovering nature, joint action, and creative learning involving the five senses. It seeks to develop inclusive and differentiated elementary social studies and science that will then enable a variety of teaching methods. This concept proceeds from the grounds that general education of such quality can trigger the students’ motivation to learn both the written word and mathematics.

Starting from a joint issue of interest in the classroom, the concept of active social studies and science aims both at going on from the children’s diversity and at opening up various teaching methods such as esthetical, cognitive, critical, action generating or ethics forming approaches. It is differentiated action and dialogues that constitute the two poles, the manifold reflections on a given issue and the joint evaluation of various trials in a community between which a productive response is given to the evolution of society. Hence, we need to account of diversity on the one hand and create a community in which dialogues, the addressing of problems and the generation of solving strategies become feasible on the other.

Currently, most concepts on elementary general education are designed for a traditional social order in which its members are required to reproduce acquired knowledge. It is not refinedness, advancement or diversity but straight-line solving strategies that dominate. What is in demand is an ability to memorise familiar rules and not the ability to communicate productively with different people nor the ability to adjust to new situations.

The materials developed by the Oldenburg workshop constitute an alternative since they are multi-dimensional and perform an abundance of functions. They

  • provide playful hands-on experience
  • impart knowledge
  • visualise contexts
  • support co-operative learning
  • support self-sufficient learning
  • support a discovering approach to learning
  • support a questing approach to learning
  • enable a disclosure of subjective relevance
  • enable a communicative exchange of different views
  • foster creativity
  • foster learning that involves the five senses
  • enable a disclosure of the significance of aesthetical dimensions.
It is inclusive teaching that reveals why emotions need to be expressed in the classroom, teaching cannot overlook the personality forming aspects of its subject matter. After four years of researching and evaluating the mentioned materials that were handed out to different elementary schools in the region, results have proven that especially slow learners were positively motivated.

Hence it can be expected that these materials provide children with learning impairments with better chances to achieve a higher standard of general education. And beyond that, it can be expected that these materials will also help avoid the emergence of learning impairments and behavioural disorders through individual preventive furtherance.

A Project Outline

RÖSA, Regionale ökologische Sachunterrichtswerkstatt, the Local and Ecological Elementary Social Studies and Science Workshop at the Carl von Ossietzky University was founded in 1994 and headed by Professor Dr. Astrid Kaiser.

RÖSA’s work focuses on brightening up classroom instruction by making close-to-garbage objects the subject-matter and developing ideas for them. The team does not employ expensive experimental materials in elementary instruction but rather those remnants that are - despite their actual value - often discarded by households or industry. Objects such as broken mirrors from the glazier’s shop, pipettes taken from empty medicine bottles, used boxes for storing sorted out buttons, stones, old instrument strings or others are considered as useful materials and are screened for their possible fields of application in the classroom.

A considerable number of students are involved in the project that is due to be tested in local schools and hence links teacher training with further education. The students deserve special credit for their supportive work in the designing of new materials that boost action competence in elementary social studies and science. Beyond that, these materials are ecologically beneficial since they replace the text book and are recyclable. With that, new productive and motivating learning settings are created for the children who are simultaneously provided with a sound environmental education. The children are not only encouraged to environmentally responsible actions but also discover that objects can be used over and over and can be redesigned creatively. What is more, these students are able to impart their acquired knowledge to in-service teachers both in further educational modules and during the opening hours of the workshop.

RÖSA was initiated by Professor Dr. Astrid Kaiser, financed by the third-party Gemeinsame Landesplanung Bremen/Niedersachsen and installed at the University of Oldenburg. Over time, RÖSA has now become a potential partner for all school classes of the region that are ready to put active elementary social studies and science through the test. All local teachers have the opportunity to examine classroom material, to seek inspiration to discuss or borrow material for school during opening hours on Wednesdays from 16 to 18 hrs. Students are offered separate office hours.

The theoretical and didactical teaching concept of elementary social studies and science can be found in following works:

  • Kaiser, Astrid: Kommunikativer Sachunterricht. In: Spindler, Detlef (ed.): Schule ... und sie bewegt sich doch. Dokumentation der Ostfriesischen Hochschultage der GEW 1996. Oldenburg: ZpB 1997, 179-190.
  • Kaiser, Astrid: Zukünftiger Sachunterricht ist kommunikativer Sachunterricht. In: Pädagogik und Schulalltag 52. Jg. 1997, Issue 1, 14-20.
  • Kaiser, Astrid: Einleitung. In: Praxisbuch handelnder Sachunterricht 2. (Volume 2) Baltmannsweiler (Schneider Verlag) 1998.
  • Die Lernwerkstatt Sachunterricht. In: Eine Welt in der Schule 1997, Issue 2, 7-8.
  • Ausbildung für handlungsorientierten Sachunterricht im Projekt "Regionale ökologische Sachunterrichtssammlung". In: Marquardt-Mau, Brunhilde et al. (ed.): Lehrerbildung Sachunterricht. Bad Heilbrunn 1996, 169-180.
The RÖSA Concept
taken from: Praxisbuch handelnder Sachunterricht 2. (Volume 2) Baltmannsweiler (Schneider Verlag) 1998, p. 3-6.

Reformist educationalists already tried to abandon class books at the turn of the century. They postulated active learning, lively learning and child-apt learning. One hundred years before that, Pestalozzi advocated a learning that involved the head, heart and hands. And 350 years ago it was clear to Comenius that learning should involve the five senses. And such ancient claims even found their expressions here and there.

But nowadays clever publishing houses are introducing the working-sheet as a class book substitute that again addresses children via the word and not via activity or experience.

Hence school history is repeating itself and children are expected to learn by rules and mechanic repetition rather than by problem-solving strategies or by discovering activities. But practice has proven how motivating it is when children are allowed to act, when they are addressed as individuals. And if we recall our elementary school time, we will realise that what we remember are the walks to the cobbler’s or the building of sand-castles and not so much what we put down into our exercise books or learnt by heart several times in local history or geography.

Another path reformist educationalists took was an imaginative esthetical approach to their subject matter. Some had great confidence in the children’s creativity, others involved the five senses in their instructive excursions outside the classroom. The children’s and teachers’ imagination, nowadays, is often flattened under the flap of the photocopier. Usually the aim is to enable the students to fill in blocs of standard words into blanks and not to guide them into their future world. But a considerable number of teachers do not want to be assistants in filling in forms but to teach lessons of a vivacious character, lessons that both the children and they themselves enjoy. But between these two poles there is a high preparation hurdle since it is extremely difficult for the individual teacher to continuously devise material-oriented lessons. Our workshop has collected numerous incentives and aids for active, creative and communicative elementary social studies and science classes. Teachers are welcome to examine the material and seek inspiration for productive teaching. A number of lesson plans will be presented in this volume to illustrate the concept.

This concept makes an attempt to synthesise the reformist advances involving nature discovery, joint action, sensuous and creative learning. At this early stage, our proposals can neither always succeed in nor be far-reaching enough for all schools but the presentation of our materials can certainly be comprehended as impetuses to classroom instruction to improve creative, open, active, and flexible teaching. We know that elementary social studies and science are only at the beginning of their transformation into an integrative and differentiated school subject that will allow multi-dimensional teaching methods.

Conversely, we have witnessed how many schools have set out for project-based or activity-based teaching instead of work-sheet lessons. In this sense, our range of examples should not be conceived as a complete collection but as incentives to advance elementary social studies and science in a joint effort. It is differentiated and multi-dimensional learning that is most essential to us. This mode is most suited to on-going and fast social changes that bring about a diversity of cultures and sub-cultures hence demanding great flexibility from the individual. Following Herbert Hagstedt, we envisage different ways of employing our materials: One possibility is to offer the children the materials as a buffet, another is to construct a circle to enable terminal learning. The workshop concept is an additional method that inspires the children to develop materials, experiment or plan and carry out research steps together in response to a selected issue. Finally, these incentives are also suitable to supplement conventional instruction. Individual experiments can be selected for class or employed as an impetus to issues of conflict. It is especially the variety of the materials that should be tested in today’s school reality in face of the very differing biographies and experiences of the children. It is significant to pick up the thread of diversity and to open up various teaching methods such as esthetical, cognitive, critical, action generating or ethics forming approaches to one subject of common interest. Beyond that, it is of equal significance to evaluate and encourage these methods in discussions. It is differentiated action and dialogues that constitute the two poles, the manifold reflections on a given issue and the joint evaluation of the various trials in a community between which a productive response is given to today’s evolution of society. Hence, we need to account of diversity on the one hand and create a community in which dialogues, the addressing of problems and the generation of solving strategies become feasible in the classroom.

The lesson plans proposed in this practical guide are intended to submit practical examples on the path to modern elementary social studies and science that contributes to preparing small humans for a democratic society and not to a reprint of the elbow society with its trademarked articles and bureaucratic procedures.

Most available didactical concepts are designed for a traditional social order in which its members are required to reproduce acquired knowledge. It is not refinedness, advancement or diversity but straight-line solving strategies that dominate. What is in demand is an ability to memorise familiar rules and not the ability to communicate productively with different people nor the ability to adjust to new situations. Consequently, the materials presented in this volume need to be multi-dimensional and perform an abundance of functions. They

  • provide playful hands-on experience
  • impart knowledge
  • visualise contexts
  • support co-operative learning
  • support self-sufficient learning
  • support a discovering approach to learning
  • support a questing approach to learning
  • enable a disclosure of subjective relevance
  • enable a communicative exchange of different views
  • foster creativity
  • foster learning that involves the five senses
  • enable a disclosure of the significance of esthetical dimensions
  • advance the ability to reflect from different angles
  • advance modifying activity at school
  • advance modifying activity outside the classroom and
  • advance modifying activity in the environment/in the region.
The specific issues cannot address all functions equally. What is substantial, is that any active elementary social studies and science lessons are not one-sidedly regarded as a playful mode of imparting knowledge or visualisation. Their future task is to prepare for a changing society through factually modifying action as well as to consider the children’s diversity.

The crucial instrument that transports the children’s experiences into instruction is communication, the discussions in the classroom. I therefore consider communicative processes decisive in today’s elementary social studies and science lessons. Dialogues both prepare and follow differentiated activity. Exchanges disclose that own knowledge is relative and, moreover, limited. Hence, subjective experience is enriched and expanded.

A further focus of the proposed concept is the attempt to shift away from the over-burdened teachers in their roles of know-alls. Children are also able to impart knowledge, submit explanations or interpretations to other children and to assist them. This support has proven very helpful for the other children. However, this kind of learning requires time and opportunity. It is their work with activity initiating material that provides children with the chance to listen to the explanations and observe solving strategies of other children to then compare them to their own ones. These are learning incentives that go far beyond the opportunities of frontal teaching.

Assuming we proceed from the basis of rapid social change and an increasing diversity of children in classrooms, then the ideas for pupils’ activity need to support differentiated, multi-dimensional elementary social studies and science that remain adjustable and are not bound to a determined canon of knowledge.

Literature:

Hagstedt, Herbert: Offene Unterrichtsformen. Methodische Modelle und ihre Planbarkeit. In: Hameyer, Uwe et al. (ed.): Innovationsprozesse in der Grundschule. Bad Heilbrunn 1992, 367-382.
Kaiser, Astrid: Einführung in die Didaktik des Sachunterrichts. Baltmannsweiler: Schneider Verlag 1995, 1997 (4th edition).

Materials
RÖSA’s boxes:
u.c. = under construction

  • The Eye/Seeing
  • Work (u.c.)
  • Building
  • Farms
  • Soil
  • The Handicapped/Being Different
  • Earthquakes (u.c.)
  • Bicycles
  • Colour
  • Television
  • Fire
  • Friendship (u.c.)
  • Peace and War
  • Springtime
  • Foot-Perception Course
  • Money/Shopping
  • Heath/Illness
  • Healthy Nutrition
  • Happiness
  • Pets
  • Home (of children from abroad)
  • Me and the Others
  • Indians
  • Children in Other Countries
  • Clothes (u.c.)
  • The Body/The Senses
  • Corn/Bread
  • War and Peace
  • Girls and Boys
  • Light and Shades
  • Air
  • Musical Instruments made of Garbage
  • Magnet Games
  • The Moors
  • Paper
  • The Nose/Smelling (u.c.)
  • The Ear/Hearing
  • Mail
  • Plants
  • Planets, Moon, Stars
  • Rain (u.c.)
  • The Wheel/Bikes/Vehicles
  • Children’s Rights (u.c.)
  • The Rain Forest
  • The Earthworm
  • A Shoe Factory
  • Sheep
  • Snails
  • Mirrors
  • Sexuality
  • Playing The Stone Age
  • Life in the Middle Ages Stones
  • Theatre
  • Electricity
  • Needlework
  • Road Safety Education
  • Death/Grief
  • Primeval Times
  • Tidelands/The North Sea
  • The Woods
  • Water
  • Warmth
  • Paths
  • Christmas (u.c.)
  • Tooth/Teeth
  • Space
  • The Weather
  • Circus
  • Time
  • Newspapers

Project goals

These materials are now to be adapted via the Internet in German primary schools in Chile and then to be discussed and advanced by German and Chilean schools in Internet forums. The central goal is to advance German communication on ecological scientific issues and to crystallise those variants of communication that are productive and practicable for primary school pupils. Socratic discussion forums, guided forums presenting specific problems, a non-guided forum and non-guided e-mail contact between classes are to be field-tested.
On the basis of the distance between Germany, Chile and other countries, primary school pupils learn how an Internet contact can be meaningful. At the same time the language barrier does not exist and can even enhance motivation to further project communication between the schools.
By providing figurative and animating material for project-similar and explorative learning on the Internet, modules are to be developed for interactive, non-receptive learning concepts aiming at own-initiative research on selected themes.