The Technology Thread

We defined “technology” as the study of the human-made world, specifically the knowledge, techniques, systems, and artifacts created by humans to satisfy their wants and needs. Our analysis suggests that technology in K–12 engineering curricula is a thick thread that often runs alongside the beads, rather than through them.

In most cases, the study of technology in K–12 curricula is used to build domain knowledge and develop a vocabulary for describing, discussing, and explaining a given technology. The emphasis on technical content is apparent in materials developed for “Project Lead the Way” and “The Infinity Project,” both of which feature detailed treatments of specific technologies, such as digital electronics, digital communication and information technologies, automation, computer-aided design, and computer-aided manufacturing.

In some curricula, technologies are presented as concrete examples of scientific principles, especially in curricular materials that use engineering ideas or contexts to enrich science and mathematics learning. For example, a unit on composite materials in “Material World Modules” features discussions on technologies ranging from ancient bricks and clay pots to modern tennis rackets and automobile tires.

Some curricular materials are designed, at least in part, to improve technological literacy. For example, the central focus of the books written for “City Technology” is to “engage elementary children with the core ideas and processes of technology (or engineering, if you prefer).” The goal of “Engineering is Elementary” is to “tap into children’s natural curiosity to promote [the] learning of engineering and technology concepts.” “Exploring Design and Engineering” “help[s] youngsters discover the ‘human-made world,’ its design and development.” “Engineering the Future” is intended to “help … high school students understand the ways in which they will engineer the world of the future—whether or not they pursue technical careers.” “Invention, Innovation, and Inquiry” was created to “provide professional support for teachers interested in technological literacy in education.”

The Design Thread

We defined “engineering design” as a purposeful, iterative process with an explicit goal governed by specifications and constraints. Our analysis suggests that design in K–12 engineering curricula is a strong, thick thread.

Virtually all of the curricula present a paradigm for designing solutions to problems that include a cyclical pattern of steps. Although the words and

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