In the past, many thought that teaching technology was about cooking, sewing, metalwork, or other traditional “tech” subjects, all with a focus on making and doing.
The current technology curriculum is much broader and deeper than this. It provides an elegant framework for creating learning opportunities at every curriculum level — learning that challenges students to observe and critique the impacts that human making has had on the natural and social worlds, and that engages them directly in researching and developing possible solutions.
As a technology teacher, I loved seeing my students developing and using increasingly sophisticated skills in my specialist areas. But, what excited me more was seeing them develop skills and understandings that would serve them well if they moved between specialist areas or even outside of technology. For example, how to pin down what a client wants and develop a brief; how to model ideas and possible solutions; the importance of stakeholders; the meaning of fitness for purpose; the contextual nature of technological development; the ways technological developments have both positive and negative impacts; and much more.
Technology is about broad understandings – Why? How? What?
Like technologists, a technologically literate student makes for a purpose. While doing this, they critically review all aspects of their project in the light of their own prior experience and the work of other technologists, asking, for example:
- How was this made?
- What modelling was carried out and why?
- What risks did this modelling mitigate?
- Why were particular materials used?
- What was the intended purpose of this product or system?
- Did it meet the needs of the people impacted by the design?
- What are its continuing social and environmental impacts?
We owe it to our students to provide learning opportunities that encompass all three strands of the curriculum: nature of technology (knowing why); technological practice (knowing how); and technological knowledge (knowing what). Only some will go on to become food technologists, programmers, or whatever, but all will be users of (and impacted by) products and systems that have been developed by technological practice.
When young innovators Henry and Jack developed cafeX, they needed to know how to make coffee, how to make a robot, and how to programme and build an app. If they didn’t have the required knowledge, they had to find it in someone else. Hopefully, they also asked themselves the kinds of critical questions that we expect our students to ask, for example:
- In what ways is getting a coffee from a robot the same as/different from getting a coffee from a human?
- Do people who buy their coffees from a cart or cafe like and value the experience, the social interaction?
- Who benefits if robots take over from baristas?
- Will people buy their coffees from robots if they are cheaper?
- How will using robots for such tasks as dispensing coffee change the nature of society?
Technology is about values
Technology is not values-neutral: every technological development raises questions that are fundamentally values questions. The New Zealand Curriculum describes values as “…deeply held beliefs about what is important or desirable. They are expressed in the ways that people think and act.” We need to encourage our students to think about what values are celebrated by a particular innovation, and how the innovation may influence people’s values in the future. For any innovation there are winners and losers. We want our future technologists to know that with making, comes responsibility.
Technology is about the made world
We are privileged to live in Aotearoa New Zealand. Technology has played a huge part in enabling our geographically isolated country to develop and participate in the world. We are surrounded by products and systems of the made world, and it is the made world that technology education is about. It is much more than sewing, cooking, woodwork, electronics, or programming. As technology teachers, we need to get this message out there.
A peek at what is happening in technology in New Zealand schools
These are just a few of the great examples from Technology Online of student technologists around Aotearoa. What’s happening in your school, and what do these examples inspire you to try next?
Holly Hanson, Year 13 student from Columba College created a website for the No. 42 Air Training Corps (ATC) squadron, where her brother was a member and her parents were involved as volunteer organisers.
Briar Patel from Aquinas College in Tauranga communicated extensively with the Kaka Street Special School students to produce a water play activity that was exciting to use, encouraged social interaction, as well as being educational and safe.
Year 2 students at Green Bay Primary School explored hats as a technological outcome by finding out about their purpose and the materials that were used to make them.
The students at Wellington Girls College designed lights and then arranged for them to be produced at the Fab Lab.
Lighting with a digital and design focus
The outcomes that students at Nayland College produced for “Kiwi break” included a bush shirt for a boyfriend; a beekeeper’s suit; an outfit for a mother to wear to a summer wedding; and a shirt for a father to wear when working on cars at a stock-car meeting.
Food technology can successfully encompass food science and the culinary arts. Ritu Sehji at Diocesan School for Girls discusses her approach to food technology and the resulting student’s products.