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Landesgymnasium for gifted children Schwäbisch Gmünd - Business Economy

Introduction

The Landesgymnasium für Hochbegabte (LGH – State School for the Gifted) is situated in Schwäbisch Gmünd, a city about 60 km east of Stuttgart, the capital of the state of Baden-Württemberg (Southwestern Germany). The school is a public secondary school starting with the 7th grade (age 13 and over). About 40 teachers teach 240 students of this rather small school. The school was established in 2004 through an initiative of the state government as a model school. Three main parts constitute the school: First the school itself ranging from grades 7 to 12, second a competence centre for advice and promotion for gifted children and their parents and last a college dormitory. Nearly all of the students stay in the college during school time based on two-bedrooms with their roommate. The dormitory is following the Anglo-Saxon college and campus model. Concerning the budget, the school is financed mainly by the city of Schwäbisch Gmünd and the state province of the Eastern Swabian Alb (Ostalbkreis). The teachers are paid by the state of Baden-Württemberg.

Schwäbisch Gmünd is a city with a rich tradition in jewelry, education and mechanical engineering besides other fields on the edge of the agglomeration of Stuttgart. The urban economy includes a strong automotive cluster with the core company ZF Lenksysteme, a global player and developer of steering solutions for cars and trucks. Therefore, the school started a partnership with the association of manufacturers of mechanical and electrical engineering Südwestmetall. The school’s partner is the province group of Südwestmetall in Eastern Württemberg based in Aalen, the province capital some 20 km east of Schwäbisch Gmünd.

Because of the fact of being a young model school, there are many possibilities and initiatives at the school. Also, there is the possibility to develop, promote and evaluate new methods and areas of learning at the school. One of the core areas of expertise of the school is the support for students in the natural sciences and mathematics. While mathematical activities have developed into the most important component in this area, engineering is beginning to develop fast.

Another interesting feature of promoting individual learning is the fact, that the language courses are scheduled in the same time slots. This offers the unique possibility for the students, to choose from different language levels, especially in English and French. They can attend a regular course suited to their grade. But they can also choose a more advanced course (upgrade) or a less advanced one (downgrade). This is important for students, because one prerequisite for being accepted to the school is a minimum IQ of 130. So, you have to offer very individual courses.

An important specificity of the school is the system of school mentors (Gymnasialmentoren). Students can choose from among the teachers a mentor, who guides and facilitates his or her development and future career sometimes also long after school in cooperation with his colleagues and the parents of the student. Several meetings with the student and/or the parents are a main part of this system of mentoring. Some basic characteristics of this system were implemented also in the project “Unternehmen Wirtschaft” (enterprise economy) of entrepreneurial education described in detail on the following pages.

Let’s turn to the field of entrepreneurial education. The main legal framework condition of entrepreneurial education is the state curriculum for education (Bildungsplan 2004). It is the starting point of the project “Unternehmen Wirtschaft”. Key components of this legal framework for the 11th and 12th grades are practice firms. This framework allows for the teacher to be flexible in designing and implementing education. On the theoretical level of business administration as well in the field of economics, the legal framework offers big opportunities through the sector model of economy (the sectors households, enterprises, state and foreign trade). One of the main obstacles for promoting entrepreneurial education is the fact that economic and entrepreneurial education really starts late – only in the 11th grade. And it isn’t a compulsory subject.

Rationale

A look on the circumstances will begin this chapter. One of the main reasons to start the project “Unternehmen Wirtschaft” was the fact that students get in touch with economy rather late. Some incipient facts are offered in geography starting in the 5th grade (beginning of secondary education). A more detailed insight is given in the social science classes starting in the 8th grade. An independent subject economy is only offered in the 11th and 12th grade as mentioned above. This course is not compulsory and it is offered only in the two last school years. The school’s management concluded that students can leave the school without having a good basic economic and entrepreneurial education. Therefore, the project was started to fill this gap. This gap is rather big, because many students are interested in economy, but lack deeper insights in earlier school years.

Another reason was to create an economy and business track at the school. In this field, the school already had the cooperation with the manufacturers association Südwestmetall and the JUNIOR-Project – a project of entrepreneurial education offered by the Institute of the German Economy Cologne (Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln). The JUNIOR-Project is compulsory for the business class in the 11th grade. It offers the opportunity to run a practice firm with a good support by the staff of the institute. Two problems occurred in this area. First, the initiatives were not consistent enough and to loose. There was no big picture and vision for entrepreneurial education. Second, sustainability was not developed well through these small and uncoordinated initiatives. Sustainable learning should be made possible and promoted by developing a system or model that enables it. A progression of learning should be achieved – so that students don’t have to make the same common mistakes like their predecessors. The big goal was to introduce a framework that allows offering valuable information for the future entrepreneurs in the practice firms by the former junior entrepreneurs. Before the project, many valuable information about founding, running and being successful in a practice firm was lost with the students leaving the school after their graduation in the 12th grade (Abitur). Tips and tricks are very useful for the new generation of entrepreneurs.

It’s very important to learn of mistakes you make yourself. But many common mistakes are made too often and can be minimized or even prevented. These mistakes are mostly of process nature. The idea was to implement a design like a stair. Students should take a step and get advice by the students on the next step. The possibility of giving and getting advice should be made easier by some kind of documentation and meetings.

One of the further major reasons was also the idea to offer the possibility of getting the “feeling” of economy and entrepreneurial education already in the 8th to the 10th grades. The students should realize, whether economy and entrepreneurial education suits their interests or not. So, they could deepen their interests or realize, that business is not their primary goal and interest.

It was of great importance for the school, that it had the opportunity to take part in the Würth Price of Education (Würth Bildungspreis). The school applied for this price and was chosen from among schools in Baden-Württemberg. Six schools were chosen for the school year 2012/2013 for this competition that lasts one school year. The school got a strong support by the competence centre for economic education (Kompetenzzentrum Ökonomische Bildung Baden-Württemberg) founded by the Würth Foundation. They helped the school to reach its goals and to develop its ideas. The Würth Group is the world market leader in the trade with connecting materials based in Künzelsau in northern Baden-Württemberg. They provide solutions for attachments for every kind of purpose. The Würth Price of Education is also strongly supported by the state ministry of education, youth and sports of Baden-Württemberg. One of the highlight events of this price is the award ceremony in Stuttgart after one project year.

Description of the activity/project

The project with the initial project name „Unternehmen Wirtschaft – Wirtschafft Nachhaltigkeit“ (Entreprise Economy – Economy creates Sustainability) was designed by the project leader and author of this case study Robert Bauer. The support by colleagues, the school management and the Würth Foundation made this project possible. The initial project name was abbreviated in 2013 only into the project name „Unternehmen Wirtschaft“, to be even more flexible. But sustainability remains the integrating core element of the project. In this context, sustainability is understood in two ways – first through sustainable learning (will be explained later in this chapter) and second through developing a sustainable business in the practice firms and especially in the LGH-Shop. This means, that the school seek to produce in cooperation with local manufacturers in Southern Germany to be aware of ecological sustainability. Social and economic sustainability are further key components. The school tries to build on a respectful relationship while working in the practice firms. A solid financial structure is very important for the economic sustainability. Future entrepreneurs working for the LGH-Shop should have enough financial resources to develop new products and execute some efficient marketing campaigns for their products.

As described above, the whole project was developed to start a sustainable economic and business track at the school and to enhance, integrate and focus the economic activities at the school. This objective should cause a higher attraction for this track among the students as a direct consequence. Evaluation of the processes and the design of the project are as important as the responsibility of the students to work seriously in a reliable framework. There were four support lines in the design of the project to achieve these goals. In the following paragraphs:

The first support line was to establish a practice firm for the grades 7 to 10. Thanks to the school management, a new subject was established. This new subject which is called club of entrepreneurs (Unternehmerclub) can be chosen as a compulsory elective by the students of this age group. Another specificity of the school is its ease to create new subjects due to the fact, that the students are highly gifted. Therefore, the instruction in the regular subjects (fundamentum) is shortened in some school years and some subjects (for example with physics in the 8th grade: only one hour of instruction instead of two hours in the regular curriculum). The school time which is set free following this reduction, can be used for these new subjects called additum. It’s comparable with working groups at other German schools like choir, orchestra and so on (Arbeitsgemeinschaft). The time, which was generated for the „Unternehmerclub“, is one school hour per week. It is financed by the teacher budget of the state for the school and the author of this case study is the main teacher and organizer for teaching in this subject. In this club, the students developed a shop for the school named „LGH-Shop“. A website is under development at www.lgh-shop.de launched in the school year 2014 - 2015. First sales have already been organized and managed by the students in the last two school years – often during school events. In the first months of every school year, the guidance of the teachers is stronger but will fade continuously. This additum is designed as a subject, which offers the most important competences in economy and business, but also in entrepreneurial methods. It supports the development of a continuously active LGH-Shop, because the practice firms of the 11th grade are limited to one school year. The teaching was mainly carried out by the author. But he coordinated a series of instruction delivered by colleagues. This happened in practical training such as in the area of public relations (writing of press articles, publishing material for the local press and so on). This training was led by the teacher and team member Thomas Schäfer (subjects: German and French). Another colleague and team member Maximilian Röhricht (subjects: English, Ethics and Theatre) offered an introduction into business ethics. The business model of the LGH-Shop is the development, design and sale of merchandising products containing amongst other the logo of the school. Further activities are the improvement of the corporate identity of the school. The theoretical underpinnings of economic sciences are laid in the additum club of entrepreneurs. Then, the students can apply their theoretical knowledge mainly from the field of business administration immediately in their own shop „LGH-Shop“. This was another big goal of the project: The school seeks to stimulate entrepreneurship (Unternehmergeist) among the students both on a theoretical and on a practical way.

The second support line gave helping advice for the second practice firm of the school – a practice firm established through the JUNIOR-Project in the 11th grade. It is important to mention, that the students in this practice firm are very free. They establish a firm for the period of a year and develop their own business idea. As a part of a learning progression, they are forced to think about a new business model. Business ideas of the last years were the design of decorating foils for trash bins, activities and products against hooliganism in football stadiums and the sale of a flower in a box. They did not get any financial resources, because they had to sell their own company shares to shareholders to get their capital. Only some trainings (for instance business model generation) and advice was offered by the Würth Foundation. Further advice came from the Institute of the German Economy, which supports this program of practice firms since 1994.

The third support line is of bigger importance for the whole project by developing an integrated mentoring programme. Its objective was, that experienced students of the 12th grade (some students in this program came also from the 11th grade) teach future entrepreneurs from the grades 7 to 10 the way of economic thinking and acting. These 12th-graders have worked in their own practice firm during their 11th grade in the JUNIOR-Project. The 12th-graders are responsible for a reliable teaching of the junior entrepreneurs. There are three main areas of mentoring and coaching: The first area is the teaching in the Unternehmerclub. The coordination of the several sequences of the teaching of the students was managed by the author and teacher of the Unternehmerclub. Teaching topics included accounting, website development, good marketing ideas, how to write reports or how to lead a business meeting. These teaching sequences were very helpful for the preparation of the teaching students for their own exams, because they were forced to repeat and present their knowledge. A second area concerning the cooperation between the active and the former JUNIOR-practice firms of the 11th and 12th grades were the so called task forces. Older students helped their successors during the preparation of a business report in a JUNIOR-competition. The third area was that every 12th-grader was a mentor for a student in the 11th grade working in the same position like the 12th-grader (marketing to marketing, finance to finance, …).

The mentoring programme was enhanced by publishing a handbook of quality management. Students of 12th grade write a handbook for future entrepreneurs. The handbook is designed like a business plan with chapters about business model generation, financing, public relations with valuable tips and resources like networking contacts and so on. The overall goal was an integration of the three practice firms of the school (LGH-Shop, JUNIOR-Project and former JUNIOR-Project) through the mentoring programme. Therefore a steering group was set up later during the project. Every CEO of the three practice firms and the three teachers are members of this group. It’s planned to cooperate even closer, for example during school events. A good idea of the reviewer of this article is to include a member of the school management in this group, what has not yet been realized, but will be tried.

The fourth support line was designed to coach the teachers and team members themselves and provide resources for this part of school development. There were three core project members in the team (mentioned above). Temporarily, the team was enhanced with two additional teachers. The support included resources to create an integrating organization of economic and entrepreneurial education as well as the development of a curriculum of entrepreneurial teaching. The financial resources went mainly into the teacher training to cover travel costs and training fees.

Anchoring of the activity/project in the school

The project is now embedded in the school, because students are very interested in the club of entrepreneurs and also in the economy and business track. The interest is rising continuously. This led to the first anchoring. Students can now attend the club of entrepreneurs in the third year. Financial support is given to the LGH-Shop due to the fact, that the school is one of the main customers of the merchandising products. The school management ordered the development of a college scarf. This scarf was created in last winter and marketing campaigns will start soon this winter. This means another way of support. Ideas for future orders of the school management include the further development and sale of the school clothes.

As mentioned earlier, one teacher hour per week is dedicated for the club of entrepreneurs out of the teacher budget of the school sponsored by the state of Baden-Württemberg. Further resources are planned in the future. A room shall be reserved for the needs of the LGH-Shop, because the provided storage room in a teacher room is getting slowly smaller. With some support of the school, plans are made to buy a laptop for the club and showcases for the merchandising products next to the campus museum – an initiative also introduced by an additum to display the history of the school campus. There are also plans, that the LGH-Shop shall design some basic merchandising products for the campus museum, which should be on display in the room next to the campus museum.

Links of the activity/project with the external world

The external world was and remains a key factor of the project. A first example is a strong cooperation with the association of manufacturers Südwestmetall. The integration of the partnership with Südwestmetall was improved a lot by the project. In the last years, Südwestmetall offered several interesting teaching sequences for the students by experts of various fields (such as work with unions, labour law, statistics, and social insurance). These sequences were not completely integrated in the curricular framework of the school. Through an evaluation, the design of the sequences was realigned. As a good result for a sustainable partnership, the teaching sequence “What is a company?”, originally embedded in Geography in the 8th grade, will be transferred as a sequence to the club of entrepreneurs. It will be taught by an expert for labour security of Südwestmetall. It’s interesting for the students as well for the teachers to get to know about the methods and topics of a company outside a school – and also about the world outside the school. It is win-win-situation for all, because students can learn about future jobs and careers, teachers can get an updated training and the manufacturers get insights in their future employees. Schools are together with the universities an important incubator for innovation. Südwestmetall gave an important financial contribution.

Another important partner is the Würth Foundation via its competence centre of economic education. They gave the school financial support and services for networking and advice. For the school, it was important to report about its activities during the Würth Price of Education in the local press and on its homepage. So, it was important to ensure good work in the public relations. The consultants of MTO, a company specialized on process and organization consulting, gave the some good ideas to implement and enhance the design of the mentoring programme (the steering group and the handbook of quality management). They were paid by the Würth Foundation. MTO and Würth are very special partners, because they are very interested in the development of the school system. Würth emphasizes the economic education while MTO is a strong player in professional school development in Baden-Württemberg. The reporting of the meetings was a major area of concern for these two partners.

The school in the community

Because of being a young model school, it is outward-looking into the implementation of an education for highly gifted students. As mentioned earlier, the students must have a minimum IQ of 130 in order to be accepted to the school. The application process consists of an IQ test, an essay and an assessment center during project days at the school. The school and its competence centre for the promotion of gifted students are responsible for the whole state of Baden-Württemberg. The school is one of only four public grammar schools for gifted students (allgemein bildendes Gymnasium) in Germany with a college dormitory. Therefore, students come from all over the state of Baden-Württemberg and even from federal states beyond Baden-Württemberg. Only a few students hail from the community of Schwäbisch Gmünd or nearby villages and cities. This is also a bit of a problem, because the school isn’t very rooted in the community. But the city of Schwäbisch Gmünd and its local representatives are very keen of the school. The support of the school is outstanding. Schwäbisch Gmünd applied deliberately for the school in 2004, filling a former university campus of the German branch of the University of Maryland with new life.

Because of the lack of integration, many efforts were started. One of the main efforts is the social internship. Students of the 10th grade have to assist in the work of a social institution in Schwäbisch Gmünd in order to get involved better in the community. Another one is the effort with the partnership with Südwestmetall, which is deeply rooted in the region. Thus, external experts of local companies especially in the automotive cluster around ZF Lenksysteme are invited to exchange opinions and work together not only in the field of economy and business but also in the natural sciences. Nevertheless, the statewide impact is of greater importance.

Achievements and impact

The most important achievement is the implementation of permanent opportunities of sustainable learning in the field of entrepreneurship. The steering group shall stabilize this effort and think about new and even better ways to consolidate sustainable learning. The handbook of quality management is now of ample importance in the everyday life of the practice firms. It is used readily and every generation of entrepreneurs has to prepare a new handbook. En passant, the students learn to write a business plan. All the handbooks are archived and made at one’s disposal. One goal in the next time is to publish the handbooks online on a wiki-like platform.

It can be regarded as an essential innovation, that students can now attend a subject dealing with economy, business and entrepreneurship already in the 7th grade. Meanwhile, much work is being done on the new state curriculum of Baden-Württemberg (Bildungsplan). One of the new features will be the introduction of a new compulsory subject for all the students dealing with economy and career planning after school. This new subject shall start in the 8th grade and will be equipped with one hour of teaching per week. This is the same amount used for the club of entrepreneurs.

Owing to this pioneering work, evaluation is extremely important. Therefore, the school evaluated the project in several meetings with the students. Many ideas of the students were used to improve the project. Further comments and evaluations came from the school’s partners, especially the Würth Foundation and MTO. In these days, an anonymous survey made during the last weeks will be analyzed.

Competitions are also of importance for the project, because it’s a major motivation for the students to compete with other schools. On October 16th 2013, the school was awarded with the second place of the Würth Price of Education in Stuttgart. In the year before, the practice firm of the 11th-grader of the school participating in the JUNIOR-project won the price for the best practice firm in Baden-Württemberg. This enabled the students to compete with the best practice firms in the federal JUNIOR-competition in Hamburg. They didn’t make it to be the best practice firm of Germany, but earned the innovation price of Nordmetall for the most innovative business idea.

Success factors

There are several most important factors for the success of the project, but the most important of all success factors is the work in a team. It is primarily the team of teachers involved in the project. Without the help of colleagues, one can hardly manage such a project. Team work is also very important in the practice firms.

Obstacles and ways to overcome them

The main obstacle is the scarce factor of time. Let’s start with the state curriculum. Until now, there are no teaching hours reserved solely for economic education until the 11th grade. The time is very short particularly for practical economic training. Thanks to the possibility created by the acceleration in the fundamentum, it is possible compensate this a bit by providing one teaching hour per week for the club of entrepreneurs as an option for students interested in economy. This is not possible at all other schools. But this teaching hour is not enough to fulfil all expectations. Neither students nor teachers can manage everything in this time. The students realised this problem, too. In order to work more efficiently, they meet at least for another hour per week in their leisure time. For the teacher team, an appreciation would be to grant them another paid teaching hour to compensate for the long time of preparation in their leisure time.

Yet another obstacle, although a minor obstacle compared to the scarce time, are the low financial resources for investments in further fast growth of the practice firms. School management realized that much of the money for the competitions has to be used to cover the travel expenses. So, the money for the development of products was less than first estimated. This is a kind of risk entrepreneurs have to face. Indeed, this obstacle can be also a chance for learning and entrepreneurship. Some financial resources could be retrieved by the cooperation with external partners such as Südwestmetall. In the future, there should be more cooperation in the marketing field of promotion. Through logos printed on flyers of the practice firms, another financial resource could be made available.

A still persistent obstacle is the moderate anchoring of entrepreneurship in other classes than in economy or geography or social science. Some of the first steps have been taken through the idea of cooperation with history respectively with the campus museum. There are plans at the school to change this and open entrepreneurship for other fields of study and attract even more students in order to anchor the LGH-Shop deeply in the structures of the school. Since the product development needs creative people, stronger cooperation with the arts teacher will be carried out. A music teacher had another idea. He asked the school about the idea of promotion of a CD of the school’s music ensembles.

You can call it an obstacle or a success factor, that the students aren’t yet examined in a structured way with written exams. The control of the gained economic knowledge of the students should be improved. This is of importance, because an assessment of the school’s approach could be easier, provided it is possible to get structured results like in exams. There is still a lot of work in progress. In the next weeks and months, there will be a focus on this topic.