Teaching for Understanding
If you ask students what technology is, most will point to an iPod or cellphone but would probably not consider the role technology plays in clothing manufacturing or house-building. Ask your colleagues what technology education is and some will mention computer classes. But technology education encompasses much more, giving students the skills they need to succeed in life.
While society moved from an agrarian to a manufacturing economy to one that is knowledge-based today, curriculum has changed little. Our students need a 21st-century curriculum that focuses on the technological world. They need to understand what technology is, how it is created, and how it influences our lives. If we want graduates who can think critically, solve problems and make informed decisions, we must address what they are learning, why and if they know how to apply this knowledge.
Introducing technology and engineering as a new discipline into K-12 curricula can help make this transition. Engineering involves tools all students need — how to identify a problem, how to create a solution, and how to test it and improve the design. Engineering builds key thinking and problem-solving skills that will help our students in today’s competitive global economy.
Massachusetts was the first state to develop a K-12 curriculum framework and assessments for technology/ engineering in 2001 and now more than 30 states have begun to address this need. The power of engineering as a discipline is that it is the connector — the application of math and science that provides relevance to students. Engineering design skills and concepts motivate students to use their math and science knowledge to solve real problems, from building a dam to designing a robot.
Engineering projects often involve other disciplines, too. To design a bridge, you need math to calculate the bridge’s load but you also need science to determine the strength of materials, history to learn from past bridges, drafting skills to design the structure and language arts to communicate building plans.
Technology and engineering can also spark the imagination of children who do not necessarily learn in the traditional way — logically or sequentially — but learn through kinesthetic, sensory experiences.
I once taught a student in my high school engineering drawing class who was bright and full of questions. I was shocked to learn he was struggling in other classes. I think he did well in my course because it offered him a chance to apply his knowledge to something tangible — constructing models based on his own designs. Engineering became the vehicle for him to learn other content.
In addition, engineering lessons are a compelling way to inspire children of color and different ethnic or cultural backgrounds, who may not have the opportunity to pursue science and engineering. If we don’t want our students merely to consume technology but to create it, we must teach more for understanding. If we align the educational system with the realities of our engineered world and give our students the tools they need, they will rise to the challenge.
Want to add technology and engineering to your curriculum?
In the last half-century, the size of the science and engineering labor force has grown dramatically — with employment in S&E occupations growing 2,510 percent between 1950 and 2000 (albeit from a small base of 182,000 jobs). Although the highest growth rates occurred in the 1950s, employment in S&E occupations in the 1990s continued to grow by three to four times the growth of other jobs.
Source: National Science Board 2006
The National Center for Technology Literacy’s goal is to integrate engineering as a discipline in schools nationwide and to inspire the next generation of engineers and innovators. The NCTL fosters learning about how technologies are created and used and encourages people to explore problem-solving and design processes in both schools and science museums. It offers educational materials and programs for pre-K through 12th-grade students and teachers, supports states in developing standards and assessments, and engages in partnerships and outreach with other institutions.