Journal of Technology Education


JTE Editor: Mark Sanders

Volume 4, Number 1
Fall 1992


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A Comparison of Principles of Technology and High School Physics Student
Student Achievement Using a Principles of Technology Achievement Test
 
          John Dugger and David Johnson
 
 
               Society has traditionally taken the position that
          education is a primary means of achieving national goals.
          Unfortunately, we have never collectively agreed upon "what
          kind" of education is needed--general or vocational.  The
          present K-12 public educational system in the United States
          is comprised of general and vocational education tracts.
               Historically, one of the goals of vocational education
          has been to provide entry-level job skills.  In contrast,
          general education, as the title implies, has attempted to
          equip students for living or for further education.  In
          preparing students to enter the workforce, vocational
          education can provide an opportunity to obtain hands-on
          experiences with many of the theoretical concepts presented
          within the general education classes.  Many secondary
          education students, however, never take vocational courses
          because they do not view them as relevant to college
          preparation (Meier, 1991).  Conversely, many vocational
          education students are not taught the theoretical
          mathematics and science concepts that are needed to cope
          with a rapidly changing society.
               Vocational education has been considered a separate
          discipline within the broad context of education and has
          been in continuous competition with general education for
          students and resources.  Vocational education has been
          concerned with providing people with gainful employment
          after graduation.  A "Blue Collar" affiliation is
          considered undesirable by those students wanting to attend
          college or obtain further education.  The unfortunate
          outcome is that the average high school graduate is
          "nonfunctional" in our modern society (Cummins, 1989).
               If education is designed to help the individual attain
          self-fulfillment in a technologically complex,
          work-oriented society, then education must be a synthesis
          of both general and vocational education.  Anything less
          jeopardizes the individual's opportunity for
          self-fulfillment.
               A knowledge of how to integrate mathematics and
          science into technology is a necessity in today's society
          and those individuals who cannot function at that level
          will effectively be disenfranchised from participating
          fully in our national life.  In fact, those citizens not
          educated in science will be unable to make informed
          decisions regarding such issues as nuclear energy,
          radiation, and pollution (The National Commission on
          Excellence in Education, 1983).
               Many Iowa high school vocational education programs
          provide minimal exposure to anything beyond basic
          principles of mathematics and science.  Consequently,
          students choosing the vocational rather than general
          education track run the risk of not obtaining an adequate
          mathematics and science background. They will be incapable
          of comprehending the technologically complex society of the
          1990s and beyond.  This common occurrence might be avoided
          by establishing a stronger relationship between general and
          vocational education programs at the high school level.
               Newly approved federal legislation has been designed
          to improve existing vocational programs by strengthening
          the linkage with general education in the areas of
          mathematics and science.  The Carl D. Perkins Acts of 1984
          provided considerable emphasis on the importance of
          mathematics and science principles within vocational
          education programs, and was seen as a positive step toward
          better academic relationships between vocational and
          general education programs.  The newly approved Carl D.
          Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act of
          1990 became law on September 25, 1990.  In signing this
          law, President George Bush authorized $1.6 billion in
          federal funds to improve:
 
               ...educational programs leading to academic and
          occupational skills competencies needed to work in a
          technologically advanced society (Section 2).
 
               The Perkins Act of 1990 holds considerable opportunity
          for both vocational and general education in building and
          reinforcing what Erekson and Herschbach (1991) refer to as
          "strategic partnerships."  These collaborative efforts can
          be instrumental in providing educational programs which
          integrate vocational and general education concepts, making
          them relevant in today's technological society.
               One promising development designed to infuse general
          education mathematics and science concepts into the high
          school vocational education curriculum is entitled
          Principles of Technology (PT).  This program was developed
          by the Center for Occupational Research and Development
          (CORD) in Waco, Texas in the mid 1980s to supplement
          vocational offerings in secondary programs.
 
          PRINCIPLES OF TECHNOLOGY--PURPOSES AND DESCRIPTION
               The PT program is a two-year, high school course in
          applied physics, made up of fourteen units, each
          investigating an important principle.  The content for each
          module is specified in Figure 1.  Each of the individual
          fourteen concept modules is studied within the context of
          electrical, mechanical, fluid and thermal energy systems.
 
 
          FIRST YEAR CONCEPTS
                     Force
                     Work
                     Rate
                     Resistance
                     Energy
                     Power
                     Force Transformation
 
 
          SECOND YEAR CONCEPTS
                     Momentum
                     Waves and vibration
                     Energy conversions
                     Transducers
                     Radiation
                     Optical systems
                     Time constraints
 
 
          FIGURE 1.  Principles of Technology Concepts
 
               The physics concepts are taught within a laboratory
          setting, which allows students to obtain both theory and
          hands-on application of each principle.  The students
          enrolled in the PT program are from the vocational
          education track and not typically enrolled in physics
          courses.  For the most part, PT courses in Iowa are taught
          by industrial technology teachers.  In Iowa, industrial
          technology education is included under the vocational
          umbrella.  The primary benefit of the PT curriculum is the
          emphasis on application skills using mathematics and
          science concepts.
 
          PURPOSE OF THE STUDY
               Since the State of Iowa had invested heavily in the
          Principles of Technology program through vocational
          education, it was important to complete a summative
          evaluation of this program.  The amount of achievement
          gained by students based on exposure to the first year
          Principles of Technology program was of interest to the
          State of Iowa and program developers.  Since the program
          was designed to cover basic physics concepts, it was also
          important to compare the gain with any gain that was due to
          exposure to a basic high school physics class.
          Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to compare
          student achievement regarding certain basic physics
          concepts between students who had completed first year
          Principles of Technology and students who had completed
          high school Physics.
 
          METHOD OF STUDY
               The methodology employed in this study included
          population and sampling procedures, instrument development
          procedures, data collection, and data analysis.  A pre-test
          post-test control design was utilized with two treatment
          groups.  The following figure depicts this design.
 
 
          Principles of Technology       T1  X1   T2
          Physics                        T1  X2   T2
          Control                        T1       T2
 
          T1 = Pre-
          T2 = Post-
          X1 = PT Treatment
          X2 = Physics Treatment
 
          FIGURE 2. Research Design Model
 
          POPULATION AND SAMPLE
               The population for this study was all secondary
          vocational programs in Iowa where Principles of Technology
          was offered.  With more than 50 sites of implementation,
          Iowa was a good location for the study.  The sites were at
          various stages of implementation. Sixteen sites had offered
          the program for two years or more.  In order to obtain a
          better estimate of the effectiveness of the program, only
          sites that had offered the program for at least two years
          were utilized.  Therefore, the sample included these 16
          Iowa sites.
               Of these sites, 14 programs were being taught by
          industrial technology education teachers who had
          participated in one two-week workshop to prepare for
          teaching the Principles of Technology.  The remaining two
          sites were taught by certified Iowa high school physics
          teachers.  During the data collection for the first year
          programs, one program taught by an industrial technology
          education teacher failed to complete the study.  Therefore,
          the sample for this study consisted of 15 Iowa high schools
          where Principles of Technology and physics were taught as a
          part of the regular curriculum.
 
          INSTRUMENT DEVELOPMENT
               The procedure involved the generation of a test item
          bank covering all objectives for the first seven units or
          the first year of Principles of Technology.  Conversations
          with many people involved with the course suggested that
          during the first year only six units could be covered
          rather than seven. Therefore, the questions on the
          instrument were limited to only those first six units. The
          item bank was generated by participants and project staff
          at Iowa State University during the summer Principles of
          Technology workshops.  Multiple items for each objective
          were generated.  These items were then examined by the
          project staff and modified to improve clarity and assure
          good testing procedure.  Five secondary physics teachers
          and one community college physics instructor were hired to
          revise items as necessary to standardize terminology that
          may differ in Principles of Technology materials and Iowa
          high school physics materials.  It was determined that a
          number of terms differed and where differences existed,
          both the Principles of Technology term and the term found
          in typical physics textbooks or materials were used.
               These items were then formed into 40 question unit
          tests and administered at the 15 sites.  An analysis of the
          six unit test yielded degree of difficulty scores for each
          item and the degree to which each item correlated with the
          total unit score.  This information was utilized in the
          selection of items to be included in the overall first year
          Principles of Technology instrument.  This instrument
          consisted of 120 questions and covered each of the six
          units.
 
          DATA COLLECTION
               The data collection phase involved two steps.  The
          first step was the administration of the pre-test, a form
          of the 120 question instrument developed in the previous
          phase. The second step was the administration of a
          post-test at the end of the academic year at each of the 15
          sites.
               The two treatment groups included students enrolled in
          a Principles of Technology first year class and students
          enrolled in a high school physics class at each of the 15
          sites.  The control group consisted of students who were
          enrolled in neither the Principles of Technology nor
          physics, but had a similar male-female ratio and similar
          achievement on the Iowa Test of Educational Development
          (I.T.E.D.) as the students enrolled in the Principles of
          Technology class.
               The pre-test data were collected during the first two
          weeks of September.  The post-test data were collected
          during the first two weeks of May.  The relatively early
          post-test data collection was necessary since many seniors
          complete their coursework during this time.
 
          DATA ANALYSIS
               The data analysis procedures included both an item
          analysis of the pre-test and post-test results along with a
          one-way analysis of variance of the treatments and control
          groups.  The results of these analyses are reported in the
          next section.
 
          RESULTS
               The focus of this section is on the achievement
          measures for both the pre-tests and post-tests for all
          three groups.  Pretest and post-test scores are listed for
          all groups in Tables 1 and 2.
 
 
          TABLE 1
          DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PRE- AND POST-TEST SCORES FOR TREATMENT
          AND CONTROL GROUPS
          ---------------------------------------------
                     Pretest     Post-test      T
                     Mean   N    Mean    N
                     (SD)        (SD)
          --------------------------------------------
 
          PT        47.80 257   80.14  139    20.0*
                    (11.30)     (17.16)
 
          Physics   55.07 275   65.77  136     9.3*
                    (12.07)     (16.33)
 
          Control   37.78 135   36.45   83     0.942
                    (8.62)      (10.94)
          --------------------------------------------
          *P<.01
 
               The higher mean pre-test by the physics students
          suggests that science achievement may be initially higher
          in this group.
               The number of subjects taking the post-test was
          reduced significantly when compared to the pre-test
          numbers.  Follow-up calls to the sites indicated that many
          seniors were not available during post-test administration.
          It was discovered that many Iowa schools release their
          seniors up to three weeks prior to the end of the semester.
          Normal class attrition was also a factor.
               The Principles of Technology students scored
          significantly higher than the other two groups on the first
          year post-test.  Although the physics group displayed a
          gain, it was not nearly as great as the gain for the PT
          students.  Pre-test, post-test, and levels of significance
          for each of the three groups are listed.  A significant
          increase in student achievement was one outcome of exposure
          to the first six Principles of Technology units.
 
          IMPLICATIONS
               Based on Principles of Technology pre- and post-test
          results, it appears that exposure to the first six units of
          the Principles of Technology results in significant student
          achievement gains regarding basic physics principles.  It
          appears reasonable to conclude that the methodologies
          employed by this very structured program are appropriate
          for the content covered.  If one assumes that the content
          is necessary and useful for the majority of the students,
          then most school districts should seriously consider the
          Principles of Technology as an offering for a wide range of
          students.  This is consistent with the claim that PT was
          designed for students that fall between the 25th and 75th
          percentiles.
               Although never intended to replace Physics, the
          Principles of Technology first year course does a
          significantly better job in increasing student achievement
          regarding basic physics concepts as defined by the
          Principles of Technology program.  One must exercise
          caution in drawing inferences regarding the two programs
          since physics also is responsible for covering higher level
          concepts that are not considered basic and may be
          considered non-intuitive.
               One may conclude that the Principles of Technology
          does an excellent job in addressing the objectives as
          listed at the beginning of each unit.  The test questions
          used for the pre- and post-test were drawn from these
          objectives.
               Several questions remain however:
 
          1.  How will students who have completed Principles of
              Technology perform on standardized physics achievement
              tests?
          2.  If Principles of Technology is taught entirely by
              certified physics teachers, will the student
              achievement scores increase or decrease?
          3.  Can the repetition of subsystems (mechanical, fluid,
              electrical, and thermal) be useful when organizing high
              school physics content?
 
          References
 
          Meier, R. L.  (1991).  Participation in secondary
              vocational education and its relationship to college
              enrollment and major. Journal of Industrial Teacher
              Education, 28(2), 47-60.
          Cummins, A. J.  (1989).  Let the revolution begin.
              Industrial Education, 78(9), 4.
          The National Commission on Excellence in Education.
              (1983).  A nation at risk: The imperative for
              educational reform. Washington, DC: U.S. Government
              Printing Office.
          Erekson, T. L., & Herschbach, D.  (1991).  Perkins act of
              1990 has key provisions for technology education.
              School Shop, 50(8), 16-18.
 
 
          ________________
          John Dugger is Associate Professor and Chair and David
          Johnson is Assistant Professor in the Department of
          Industrial Education and Technology at Iowa State
          University, Ames, IA.
 
 
        Permission is given to copy any
          article or graphic provided credit is given and
          the copies are not intended for sale.
 
Journal of Technology Education   Volume 4, Number 1       Fall 1992

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