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Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects
sity, instituted shop training for his engineering students after he found that they were unable to produce satisfactory wooden models to demonstrate mechanical principles. John D. Runkle, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, introduced a similar program after seeing demonstrations of Russian manual arts training at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Both men believed that shop skills were essential for engineers (Sanders, 2008).
In the 1880s, under the leadership of Woodward and Runkle, Washington University and MIT established schools for intermediate and secondary students that provided a combined program of liberal arts and manual training. Other schools, however, emphasized training in specific trades to provide skilled workers for specific industries. Both types of schools grew quickly.
By the early twentieth century, there had been a conceptual shift from “manual training” to “industrial arts.” Contrary to what many people assume, industrial arts represented a shift away from vocational training toward general education for all (Herschbach, 2009). Students studied how industry created value from raw materials in the context of the developing industrial society in America. The curriculum required the ability to use industrial tools, equipment, and materials in a laboratory setting, but the “shop experience” was a means to an end, not an end in itself.
By the mid-twentieth century, industrial arts had become a standard component in the public school curriculum. However, it continued to be confused with vocational education, which was also on the rise during this period. By the end of the century, the teaching of industrial arts had expanded to include an understanding of technology in general. In 1985 the Industrial Arts Association of America changed its name to the International Technology Education Association (ITEA).
Since the name change and, especially, since publication of Standards forTechnological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (2000), technology education teachers have increasingly sought to teach engineering concepts and skills to students2 (Lewis, 2004). But this shift has not been universal, and technology education is still best thought of as a continuum of practice spanning traditional industrial arts (“shop”) classes, career-focused indus-
The shift is evident in a 2009 ballot measure to change the name of the International Technology Education Association (ITEA) to include the word engineering. A full 65 percent of voting members favored the name change (K. Starkweather, ITEA, personal communication, June 16, 2009). However, the association’s bylaws require a 66 percent majority, so the measure did not pass.