Extending the Impact of the Leipzig Zoo School
Leipzig, Germany, is a city steeped in the history of human sciences, and is poised to continue shaping the future of interdisciplinary inquiry on our species. While Leipzig functions as a globally important hub of the science of human evolution, it remains an open question regarding what the school students of Leipzig understand of this research, or for that matter, what school students around the world understand of it.
Our project is working to leverage the past and current human science capacities of Leipzig’s research institutions to drive pedagogical content creation for the teaching of cultural evolution and ESD.
In this regard the Leipzig Zoo Schule (Zoo School), coordinated by Dr. Axel Kästner, a state-funded public school teacher, operates two small classrooms located at the Leipzig Zoo that serve approximately 10,000 K-12 students coming from regional schools across the school year. Kästner’s programs integrate evolution science implicitly into most lessons, and explicitly in grades 8-12. In these upper grades his program engages students in their own everyday ethology of life experience, and then brings them to Pongoland, where they are “1 of 5 great apes” that can be observed in everyday life. Students conduct ethograms of the primates and compare similarities and differences between species. Because the Max Planck / Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center is onsite and publicly visible, Kästner frequently engages students in understanding the nature and nuances of comparative primate research there, and by researchers studying primates in the field. Kästner’s pedagogical aim for his programs is to help all students (including special education and adult education students) cultivate a self-understanding (Selbstverständnis) of what it means to be human, from an evolutionary and comparative perspective.
Kästner’s program is recognized by teachers and researchers in Leipzig as an innovative and highly valued component of the local education ecosystem, however Kästner himself is the first to recognize the need to extend the impact of the Zoo visits beyond the initial visit, and to leverage the lessons he has developed beyond only those students fortunate enough to physically visit the Leipzig Zoo. Teachers who bring their students to the Zoo School express the strong student interest in these topics, but that they feel limited to extend these lessons either because of a lack of personal professional knowledge, or the constraints of the state curriculum. To address this complex practical challenge, we work to translate past and current human science research, including from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, into a set of flexible pedagogical content resources, potentially usable by a wide range of classrooms globally.