National Science Foundation
When I first came to the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 1989 from the Physics Department at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I began to learn about the issues in science education K-12. I became intrigued with technology education because many of the pedagogical strategies used in technology education mirrored the needed reforms in science education. When students are developing designs under constraints, teachers must serve as guides and not as transmitters of knowledge. I hoped that asking good design questions freed the teacher from being the expert in all branches of science. It also became evident that although the emphasis in schools is on mathematics and science literacy, technological literacy is at least as important to a functioning citizenry and is being neglected. Technology education also provides the opportunity to have students make and build-a skill needed by all. For the past twelve years, the NSF has been funding projects that provide guidance for achieving technological literacy and demonstrations of particular implementation strategies.
Recently, the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) released its report, Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More about Technology (2002). In 2000, the International Technology Education Association (ITEA) released the Standards for Technological Literacy: Content Standards for the Study of Technology. These two documents describe the need for technological literacy and a guideline for achieving it. The Standards had input and support from the engineering community through the NAE and from science educators. ITEA is now developing standards for professional development, assessment, and programs. Instructional materials and teacher preparation models are needed to implement the vision outlined in these documents.
This issue of the JITE describes accomplishments of some of my mentors in technology education and provided guidance for efforts to increase technological literacy both through instructional materials development and teacher education. The first projects funded by the NSF emphasized the integration of science and technology-activities to be used by technology educators and science teachers. Then Franzie Loepp was funded to develop a middle school curriculum in which the learning of mathematics, science, and technology education was coordinated. Janet Kolodner carefully thought about how students learn design concepts and then used them to address both the technology and the science standards for the middle grades. Materials developed at the College of New Jersey provided instructional activities that integrated mathematics, science, and technology for elementary schools, and Pat Hutchinson has built upon this to develop elementary school materials for engineering in real world situations. Several other projects at all grade levels have addressed both science and technology standards. Some specifically emphasize pre-engineering; others, co-funded by the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program at NSF, address issues of educating technicians at the two-year colleges and their preparation in secondary schools.
To use these materials effectively, teachers need additional professional development. Many technology teachers need to gain a better understanding of science and mathematics. Science teachers need to understand the important concepts in technology education. Michael Hacker and David Burghardt have found that the approaches used in technology education can lower the barriers experienced by elementary school teachers when teaching mathematics and science. Leon Copeland describes a statewide professional development program to help teachers make the transition to technology education. Gary Benenson describes materials created to address the professional development needs of elementary school teachers. Teachers are made comfortable with technological issues by working with objects and processes commonly found in their surroundings.
What else must be done? Technically Speaking lays out an agenda for achieving technological literacy. Research on how students learn technological concepts and processes is lacking. Many people agree that students learn better when the learning is developed in concrete contexts of interest to them. However, there is much research needed to demonstrate this idea. Although science and mathematics education researchers are developing a more robust understanding of how students learn those subjects, very little work has been done on how students learn engineering concepts and processes. Janet Kolodner outlines a few first steps toward achieving this goal.
There is a great concern that too few students in the United States are interested in careers in engineering. The traditional route through science and mathematics does not appear to be working. There is great interest in extending technology education to interest students in engineering and make them aware of the range of careers available to them.
The intellectual needs of the workplace are very similar to those of higher education. Industry needs employees who can reason, calculate, communicate, and understand technological issues, as does higher education. It is not enough to know abstract theory. Understanding how the technological world operates is as important as understanding the constraints imposed by natural law. Technology education needs to fill this gap in the education of students.
Some promising efforts have been made and are described in this special issue. I thank the editors of JITE for highlighting some of the projects funded by the National Science Foundation.
International Technology Education Association. (2000). Standards for technological literacy: Content for the study of technology. Reston, VA: Author.
Pearson, G., & Young, T. (Eds.). (2002). Technically speaking: Why all Americans need to know more about technology. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.
Gerhard Salinger is a Program Officer in the Division of Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia. The views expressed here are his, and not necessarily those of the Foundation.