A Framework for Technology Education Curricula Which Emphasizes Intellectual
Scott D. Johnson
As the field of technology education evolves, its
unique mission to provide relevant and experiential
learning opportunities for students is becoming clear.
Through well developed curricula, technology education
programs are able to reinforce academic content, enhance
higher order thinking skills, and promote active involvement
with technology (Johnson, 1991). The development of cur-
ricula which addresses such goals is both difficult and
A variety of curriculum perspectives exist which
greatly influence the direction and results of curriculum
development efforts (Eisner & Vallance, 1974; Miller &
Seller, 1985; Zuga, 1989). These perspectives include
academic rationalist, technical/utilitarian, intellectual
processes, social reconstruction, and personal
relevance. While curricula developed through each curriculum
perspective vary in their contribution toward a well-rounded
education, this article is based on the assumption that the
development of intellectual processes should be the primary
goal of education. Therefore, the purpose of this article is
to establish a rationale for technology education
curricula which emphasizes the development of intellectual
processes and lay the foundation for an intellectual
processes curriculum framework.
The Importance of Intellectual Skills in the Future
There is little doubt that the development of
intellectual processes is critical in this age of advancing
technology. Tremendous changes have occurred and will
continue to occur in the workplace. Equipment and proc-
esses are becoming more sophisticated. This sophistication
has resulted in fundamental changes in the skills needed by
workers. Increased levels of skills are required to
maintain the complex equipment. There has been a switch from
concrete (hands-on) tasks to abstract (minds-on) tasks which
require mental skills such as symbolic and abstract thinking
(Grubb, 1984). Management strategies have also changed in
recent years. Just-in-time manufacturing, participative
management techniques, statistical process control, and an
increased emphasis on teamwork are just a few examples of
the changing nature of the workplace.
As a result of the advances in technology and the
organizational changes to the industrial infrastructure,
job expectations for workers have changed. Rather than
simply performing repetitive tasks, workers are now expected
to be skilled in many jobs. While technical skills are still
needed, they are not enough. Workers need to have a broader
understanding of their role in the organization, be able
to work in teams, and possess higher levels of
communication and computational skills. Consequently,
business and industry needs a workforce that possesses a
broad general education with heavy emphasis on math and
science. While these changes suggest the need for a greater
emphasis on academic skills, the most important job skills
may be the ability to think creatively, solve problems,
and make decisions. In actuality, the workforce must have
the ability to learn in order to keep pace with the
constantly changing world.
While technological and organizational changes are
impacting the workforce, similar challenges face the general
public. The impacts of technology on our society, culture,
environment, and political systems need to be analyzed and
evaluated by citizens. Without well developed intellectual
skills and an understanding of technology, it is doubtful
that the general public will be willing nor able to make
critical decisions regarding technological issues.
Given the fact that the skills needed by the workforce
are changing and the increased need for all citizens to have
high level thinking skills, are students being provided with
the opportunity to acquire those skills? The answer to that
question is a disappointing NO! These skills are not being
taught in the majority of the schools; students are left to
discover them on their own. School curricula has
traditionally been developed based on behavioral psychology
foundations and traditional task analysis methods which lead
to a focus on rote learning and physical and basic skill
Because contemporary curriculum needs to emphasize
understanding rather than rote memorization and heighten
higher level cognitive skills in addition to physical and
basic skills, curriculum development is more complex than
it has been in the past. Part of the difficulty in
developing curriculum that emphasizes intellectual processes
is the fact that these processes occur only in the mind
and are therefore not directly observable to the curriculum
developer. In addition, good thinkers and problem solvers do
not know how they think and solve problems because intel-
lectual processes become so automated that they occur
instinctively (Ericsson & Simon, 1984). Because the
intellectual processes are not directly observable, teachers
often neglect these processes in their instruction.
Zuga (1985) acknowledges that there have been few
attempts to design and operationalize an intellectual
processes curriculum; partly because of the lack of a co-
herent framework. However, recent research in cognitive
psychology has provided conceptions and techniques for
identifying intellectual processes. Findings from these
studies can provide an initial framework for the development
and implementation of an intellectual processes
The Content of an Intellectual Processes Curriculum
Before laying the groundwork for an intellectual
processes curriculum, conceptual and operational definitions
of intellectual processes are needed. Intellectual processes
are those mental operations which enable one to acquire new
knowledge, apply that knowledge in both familiar and
unique situations, and control the mental processing that is
required for knowledge acquisition and use.
There are many paradigms which attempt to describe
intellectual processes. In this article, the framework
provided by Marzano, Brandt, Hughes, Jones, Presseisen,
Rankin, and Suthor (1988) will be used to depict in-
tellectual processes. Through a synthesis of recent
research, Marzano et al. identified five, nondisparate
dimensions of thinking; (a) thinking processes, (b) core
thinking skills, (c) critical and creative thinking, (d)
metacognition, and (e) the relationship of content to
thinking. These five dimensions become the focus of an
intellectual processes curriculum.
Thinking processes are complex mental operations which
result from a combination of specific thinking skills.
Marzano et al. (1988) identify eight thinking processes
which are used during knowledge acquisition and use. The
first three processes (i.e., concept formation, principle
formation, and comprehension) are used primarily to acquire
new knowledge. The next four processes (i.e., problem
solving, decision making, inquiry, and composition) are
used primarily during the application of knowledge. The
final process, oral discourse, is used during both knowledge
acquisition and knowledge application.
Core Thinking Skills
Core thinking skills are the specific mental operations
that are used in combination to achieve a particular goal
(Marzano et al., 1988). It is the unique combination of
these core thinking skills which define the broader thinking
processes identified above. Marzano et al. have generated a
list of 21 core thinking skills which they have grouped into
eight broad categories. The following list of thinking
skills is not all inclusive, however, it does provide a way
of organizing the specific skills which students must learn
in order to become good thinkers (see Figure 1).
Focusing Skills Analyzing Skills
1. Defining problems 11. Identifying attributes and components
2. Setting goals 12. Identifying relationships and patterns
13. Identifying main ideas
Information Gathering Skills 14. Identifying errors
4. Formulating questions Generating Skills
Remembering Skills 16. Predicting
5. Encoding 17. Elaborating
Organizing Skills 18. Summarizing
7. Comparing 19. Restructuring
9. Ordering Evaluating Skills
10. Representing 20. Establishing criteria
Figure 1. Core Thinking Skills (Marzano et al., 1988, pg. 69).
Critical and Creative Thinking
While many people equate critical and creative thinking
with thinking processes, Marzano et al. (1988) suggest that
they are unique aspects of all thinking irrespective of the
type of process used. People can engage in varying degrees
of creative and critical thinking while solving problems,
making decisions, and conducting research. For example,
when attempting to design a more efficient alternative
energy collector, one student may develop a very creative
solution while another student contemplates a typical
design. Problem solvers may also differ greatly in the
degree of critical thought used to reflect on the process
needed to solve the problem.
Metacognition refers to one's awareness about their own
thinking processes while performing specific tasks. Often
called "strategic thinking," metacognition involves the
planning that takes place before engaging in a thinking
activity, regulation of one's thinking during the activity,
and evaluation of the appropriateness of one's thinking
performance upon the completion of the activity.
Relationship of Content Knowledge to Intellectual
A curriculum which focuses on the development of
intellectual processes cannot be developed in isolation.
Attempting to teach thinking skills without something to
think about is like teaching computer-aided design
principles without access to a computer; the theories and
procedures can be talked about, but the necessary skills can
never be fully developed.
Early attempts to create instructional programs to
develop intellectual processes were unsuccessful because
they focused solely on the thinking skills essential for
problem solving and neglected the importance of domain
knowledge (Newell & Simon, 1972). Recent cognitive
research clearly establishes the link between content
knowledge and intellectual processes. The classic study by
Chase and Simon (1973) found that the superior performance
of chess masters could be attributed more to their ability
to recognize board layout patterns from past experiences
than to their hypothesized superior mental capability. In
fact, Chase and Simon found that when the chess masters were
confronted with unconventional chess layouts, the experts
performed much like novices. A recent study by Chi,
Feltovich, and Glaser (1984) also provides support for the
importance of teaching intellectual processes within a con-
text of a domain of knowledge. In a study of the thought
processes of experts and novices in physics, Chi et al.
found that the two groups approached mechanics problems very
differently. The better performance by the experts was
attributed to their deeper understanding of physics
principles. Without this deep understanding of the domain,
the novices' intellectual processes proved to be in-
adequate for solving similar problems.
The Structure of an Intellectual Processes Curriculum
Given the importance of intellectual processes in this
world of constant change, what kind of curriculum design can
ensure that the processes are developed in students? The
following discussion provides an initial framework for
curricula which emphasize the development of intellectual
processes. Goals of an Intellectual Processes Curriculum
Curricula which emphasize intellectual processes seek to
develop the capacity for general and complex thinking
skills. While not exhaustive, the following list identifies
several key goals for a technology education curriculum
which is designed to emphasize intellectual processes:
1. Students should acquire a repertoire of cognitive and
metacognitive skills and strategies that can be used when
engaged in technological activity such as problem
solving, decision making, and inquiry.
2. Through explicit emphasis on intellectual processes,
students should gain an awareness of the nature of
thinking and their mental capability to control
attitudes, dispositions, and development.
3. Through the numerous experiential activities found in
technology education curricula, students should be able
to use thinking skills and strategies with increasing
independence and responsibility.
4. Because technology itself is interdisciplinary,
students should attain high levels of knowledge in a
variety of subject areas including technology,
mathematics, science, social studies, and composition.
5. Because learning occurs best when related to experience
and transfers to situations similar to the conditions of
learning, students should be provided with activities
that closely represent real world situations and
An Instructional Model for an Intellectual Processes
A variety of existing instructional models are
appropriate for an intellectual processes curriculum.
Possibly the most promising model of instruction for
enhancing student intellectual processes is called cog-
nitive apprenticeship (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989).
Cognitive apprenticeship uses many of the instructional
strategies of traditional apprenticeship but emphasizes
cognitive skills rather than physical skills. Traditional
apprenticeship contains three primary components; (a)
modeling, (b) coaching, and (c) fading. In traditional
apprenticeship programs, the master craftsman models
expert behavior by demonstrating to the apprentice how to do
a task while explaining what is being done and why it is
done that way. By observing the master perform, the
apprentice learns the correct actions and procedures and
then attempts to copy them on a similar task. The master
then coaches the apprentice through the task by providing
hints and corrective feedback if needed. As the apprentice
becomes more skilled, the master gives the apprentice more
and more control over the task by "fading" into the
background. Another important aspect of apprenticeship
includes the emphasis on "real world" activities which are
appropriately sequenced by the master to fit the
apprentice's current level of ability.
Cognitive apprenticeship uses the same modeling,
coaching, fading paradigm to enhance students' cognitive
abilities. During the modeling phase of cognitive
apprenticeship, the instructor shows students how to
complete a task or solve a problem while verbalizing the
activity. However, in contrast to typical school
instruction, the activity is modeled within the context of
real world situations. For example, if a lesson deals with
the concept of recycling, an activity for students should be
designed around a real problem such as the development of a
community recycling program. As an introduction to this
lesson, the instructor should work through a similar problem
with the class to model the thinking processes to be used.
By modeling the desired intellectual processes, students
will discover that there are many ways to solve problems,
that experts make mistakes, and that seemingly simple
problems are very complex in the real world.
Following the modeling of the desired processes,
instructors need to become coaches. This involves observing
students while they carry out a task, analyzing their
performance, and providing hints and assistance if needed.
Finally, as the students' cognitive skills become more
accomplished they will be able to perform with less and less
instructor intervention. This fading aspect of cognitive
apprenticeship results in the gradual transfer of
responsibility for learning from teacher to student.
In addition to the three primary components, the
cognitive apprenticeship model includes several other
defining characteristics. These characteristics include
increasing complexity and diversity in lesson sequences and
providing a learning environment which promotes intrinsic
motivation, cooperation, and competition (Collins et al.,
1989). For example, the student space simulation activity at
McCullough High School in The Woodlands, Texas began as an
activity in one class and quickly expanded into a project
which involved virtually every program in the school. This
project also generated considerable interest and cooper-
ation among students and teachers due to its real world
relevance (McHaney & Bernhardt, 1989).
Instructional Principles for Developing Intellectual
Five broad, general principles emanate from the
cognitive research literature which emphasize the
development of intellectual processes (Thomas, Johnson,
Cooke, DiCola, Jehng, & Kvistad, 1988). Those principles
include making thinking and learning easier, building on
what students already know, facilitating information
processing, facilitating "deep thinking," and making
thinking processes explicit. The following list identifies
the instructional principles which are used to enhance
intellectual processes. See Thomas et al. (1988) for more
detailed descriptions of these principles.
Principle 1: Help Students Organize Their Knowledge.
Research shows that experts are able to process large
amounts of information when solving problems while novices
often get "mentally bogged down" when confronted with lots
of information. Instruction to improve intellectual
processes must reduce the overload on student's working
memory in order to enhance their ability to learn and solve
problems. One way to reduce the "load" on working memory is
through the use of an external memory. Use of an external
memory enables problem solvers to keep track of where they
are in the process of solving a problem, thereby easing the
load on working memory (Larkin, 1988). External memories
can be as simple as a bill of materials for a project or as
complicated as a diagram of an electronic device or complex
social system. Concept mapping is another form of external
memory that helps students organize new information (Novak,
Gowin, & Johansen, 1983).
Principle 2: Build on What Students Already Know.
Learning theories state that the ability to gain and use new
knowledge is greatly affected by the knowledge students
bring to a learning situation. Students use their existing
knowledge to interpret and understand what is presented
each day. If a student does not come to class with the ap-
propriate prerequisite knowledge, the student will have
difficulty understanding and remembering the new content.
In essence, prerequisite knowledge serves as an "anchor"
to hold new information in memory. Without an appropriate
anchor in the student's memory, the new information will
simply "float away." As a result, in order for learning to
take place, teachers must be sure that students have the
prerequisite knowledge needed to learn. Two instructional
techniques which address this principle are advanced
organizers and analogies.
Principle 3: Facilitate Information Processing.
Cognitive science research has consistently indicated that
the way something is learned influences later use of that
knowledge. New knowledge is "indexed" in the mind when it
is learned so that it can be easily found and retrieved when
needed (Phye & Andre, 1986; Reiser, 1986). Indexing of
information in memory is analogous to using a card catalogue
to "index" books in a library. With such an indexing system,
specific books can be identified and located easily. Conse-
quently, instruction must ensure that new information is
indexed in ways that make it accessible at a later time.
Strategies which facilitate information processing include
supporting instruction through written, verbal, and graphic
materials, providing outlines and organizing schemas for
new content, and using real world scenarios for examples and
activities which match student interests and experiences.
Principle 4: Facilitate "Deep Thinking." Any
instructional method that causes students to consciously
work harder at learning will help them achieve the
instructional outcomes. Thinking hard increases the clarity
of new information and aids understanding and recall. One
of the best ways to get students to think is to have them
elaborate on the material. In general, elaboration means
that students think about the meaning of the material,
identify relationships to other information, connect new
information to what is already familiar, and generate
expectations, predictions, and questions about the mate-
rial. Techniques such as cooperative learning, peer
tutoring, and paired problem solving can be used to get
students to think.
Principle 5: Make Thinking Processes Explicit. There
appears to be a growing consensus among researchers and
teachers that it is beneficial to explicitly and directly
teach students both the concept of metacognition and the use
of metacognitive processes. When using direct instruction,
teachers should explicitly teach strategies and skills by
explaining not only what the strategy is, but also how,
when, where, and why the strategy should be employed.
Problem solving, decision making, planning, evaluating,
and reflecting are all skills that can be reinforced in
technology education classrooms. The direct teaching of
these skills will improve student's overall performance by
teaching them how to learn better rather than teaching them
to perform isolated skills. In essence, the approach can be
described by the old adage "Give people fish and they are
fed for a day, but teach them to fish and they are fed for a
The Role of the Teacher
For an intellectual processes curriculum to be
effective, the instructor must view teaching as a
cooperative learning venture between student and instructor.
The instructor's role is not to transmit information to
the student, rather, the instructor should serve as a
facilitator for learning. This involves creating and
managing meaningful learning experiences and stimulating
student thinking through questions and probes. Above all
else, the instructor must be knowledge able about and pay
close attention to student reasoning and thinking processes.
An excellent example of the role of the teacher in an
intellectual processes curriculum has been developed for
teaching mathematical problem solving (Schoenfeld, 1983).
In this approach, Schoenfeld teaches a set of problem
solving strategies for solving mathematical problems to
his students. His teaching involves showing students how he,
as a mathematician, solves problems. However, unlike most
teachers, he does not work the problems out in advance in
order to show the students a smooth and successful solution.
He even encourages his students to bring problems to class
for him to solve. By being confronted with unfamiliar
problems, Schoenfeld is forced to solve them as a math-
ematician would; by using a variety of strategies and by
making errors. Through this technique, the students have the
opportunity to see that there are many ways to solve
mathematics problems and that even expert mathematicians
Schoenfeld does not stop his problem solving activity
when an answer has been found because mathematicians in the
"real world" continue looking for alternative solutions,
easier methods to solve the problem, and then attempt to
generalize the solution to other problems.
Because technology education content is often taught
through a problem solving method, Schoenfeld's instructional
approach can be easily adapted to the technology education
classroom. Technology teachers need to act like
technologists in their classrooms. They need to solve
unfamiliar technological problems for students and not be
afraid to make errors or have difficulties finding
solutions. By serving as a role model, technology teachers
can show students how to collect and use information to
solve technological problems and help them realize that not
all problems have straight forward and simple solutions.
Evaluation of an Intellectual Processes Curriculum
Evaluating student attainment of the desired
intellectual processes is the weakest component of this
curricular approach. Evaluation for this type of
curriculum must focus on the acquisition of complex
intellectual skills. However, because students' intellec-
tual processes are not directly observable, it is difficult
to determine when students have reached the desired level of
performance. Current approaches to evaluation through
written examinations are not adequate for testing the
attainment of intellectual processes. Instructors are left
with evaluation methods which rely on their intuitive
skills to subjectively assess student intellectual
abilities. Clearly, considerable research in this area is
needed. Constraints to an Intellectual Processes Cur-
riculum While there are many reasons for developing an
intellectual processes curriculum there are also several
obstacles which must be faced by curriculum designers
(Miller & Seller, 1985). First, the intellectual processes
curriculum can be criticized for its narrowness. An
intellectual processes curriculum focuses primarily on
left-brain oriented logical thinking and problem solving
while ignoring the more intuitive, rightbrain thinking.
However, a well planned curriculum which incorporates
learning experiences with ill-structured, designoriented
problems may help avoid this constraint.
A second constraint faced by an intellectual
processes curriculum involves a perception that many of
the learning experiences can be characterized as "playing
school, scientist, or engineer." To counteract this po-
tential constraint, students need to see the relevance of
the activities and be allowed to act on the issues so
problem solving is integrated at a deeper, more holistic
Third, intellectual processes curricula can be
criticized for its apparent neglect of content knowledge. On
the surface an intellectual processes curriculum can
appear to focus solely on thinking. However, as indicated
earlier, an intellectual processes curriculum cannot be
effective unless it includes a substantial amount of
emphasis on content knowledge. As a result, this con-
straint can be resolved by developing high quality
Building on the assumption that the most important
skill for the future is the ability to think, an initial
framework for an intellectual processes curriculum theory
has been described. While it is acknowledged that the
curricular framework is incomplete, it is hoped that a
critical examination and elaboration of the framework will
be undertaken by technology educators. Many of the exemplary
programs described in recent issues of The Technology
Teacher (McHaney & Bernhardt, 1988; Thode, 1989a; Thode,
1989b) and TIES magazine (Craig, 1990; Neuman, 1991; Todd &
Hutchinson, 1991) contain aspects of the proposed
intellectual processes curriculum and should serve as a
testing ground for further refinements of this initial
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Scott D. Johnson is Assistant Professor and Chair, Technology
Education Division, Department of Vocational and Technical
Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign,
IL. The preparation of this article was supported in part by the
National Center for Research in Vocational Education, under a grant
from the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U. S. Department
of Education. This article has not been reviewed by the National
Center and is not an official publication of the Center.
Journal of Technology Education Volume 3, Number 2 Spring 1992