Journal manuscripts and national reports published during the last 20 years (Bensen, 1993; DeVries, 1996; AAAS, 1989; National Academy of Engineering, 2002; ITEA, 1996; Zuga, 1989) presented a defensible rationale for the technology education profession and focused on the delivery of technological literacy for the nation's youth. This call for action was affirmed when the International Technology Education Association published Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) (ITEA, 2000/2002). The new standards provide professional members with a structure and framework for future curriculum development efforts. One such effort is Project Probase. This project, funded by the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education program, is creating a standards-based technology education curriculum targeted for 11th and 12th grade students. The curriculum is designed to prepare the students for post-secondary education in engineering or other technical fields through a series of complex, context-based technological problems.
Project Probase was conceived to address the shortage of standards-based technology education curricula at the upper high school level as well as to provide the more specialized knowledge base mandatory for postsecondary engineering or technical education.
Although a number of technology education curriculum projects have been completed during the past decade (e.g. Integrated Mathematics, Science, and Technology--IMaST; the Center to Advance the Teaching of Technology and Science--CATTS), most of the curriculum projects have been focused at the basic levels of technological literacy. Additionally, most of these curriculum projects were initiated to develop curriculum materials for use in the middle school or early high school levels. Technology education programs designed to impact students at the 11-12th Grade levels, however, are struggling for a focus and direction (Wicklein, 2003). There is a serious gap between the general technological literacy curricular emphasis (appropriate K-10) and the curriculum developed for the postsecondary professional and technician-oriented programs (Custer & Daugherty, under review).
The Probase curriculum has been designed to address several needs. Specifically, Probase will promote technological literacy, facilitate the delivery of Standards for Technological Literacy, deliver technical content in a censtructivist/problem-centered fashion, and meet the need for a focused, upper-level technology education curriculum.
The Probase curriculum is being developed by four groups, all of which have specific roles in the curriculum development process. The first group is the project leadership team that manages the daily operations of the project, edits the curriculum, and prepares it for the various stages of testing. The steering panel, comprised of representatives from community colleges, secondary level technology education teachers, and content matter experts, provides oversight and guidance to the project. A third group, the community college consortium, consists of leaders from six Illinois-based community colleges who have been instrumental in developing a set of bridge competencies--skills and knowledge that will allow students to enter community college technical programs more successfully--and to ensure that they are infused throughout the curriculum. Finally, the national curriculum writing team gathers for a two-week-long summer writer's symposium. The writer's symposium consists of intense brainstorming, conceptualizing, writing, and rewriting, and at the conclusion of the symposium, solid draft materials of the learning units are submitted to the Probase leadership team for refinement, revision, and layout.
The primary goal of Project Probase is to develop technological-problem-based curriculum materials for 11th and 12th Grade technology education students. The materials are designed to serve as a foundation for a range of post-secondary programs, including engineering education at the four-year level and technical education at the two-year level. The materials are being developed based on two foundations: (a) a set of enduring understandings derived from STL, and (b) bridge competencies, specifically designed to fill the void between high school and postsecondary technical education.
A key resource for the project consisted of the Understanding by Design model (Wiggins and McTighe, 1998), which emphasizes the importance of beginning the curriculum development process by identifying enduring conceptual knowledge and ways of assessing that knowledge. This is done prior to selecting lessons or activities, which opposes the commonly-practiced focus of activity-based curriculum.
Consistent with the Understanding by Design model, Project Probase began by distilling nine enduring understandings and related essential questions from STL. The term "enduring understandings" refers to "the big ideas, the important understandings that we want students to 'get inside of' and retain after they've forgotten many of the details" (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998, p.10). Before becoming an enduring understanding, each concept had to filter through four questions:
1. Is the concept something important to know as an adult?
2. Does it reside at the heart of the discipline?
3. Does it require the uncovering of abstract and often misunderstood ideas?
4. Does it offer potential for engaging students? (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998)
Upon passing through the filter, each enduring understanding was then further "unpacked" to be meaningful for learning and instruction. All enduring understandings were therefore further clarified through the use of essential questions that a successful student would be able to answer upon completing the unit of study.
The second conceptual foundation for the project consists of a set of bridge competencies, designed to "bridge" the gaps between secondary and post-secondary education. The Project first identified the base-level competencies required in engineering or technician-level post secondary education. Through a series of focus group sessions with members of the Probase leadership team and members of the community college consortium, the process generated a set of six main Bridge Competency categories that were compiled from several hundred uncategorized characteristics. These categories are: academic, communicative, computer, logic, social, and technical competencies.
Once the conceptual foundations were established, the primary curriculum development work began. The Probase curriculum consists of eight learning units, seven of which come directly from the contexts identified in STL. The titles for the learning units in the Probase curriculum include: Transportation Technologies, Information and Communication Technologies, Energy and Power Technologies, Manufacturing Technologies, Construction Technologies, Medical Technologies, and Agriculture and Related Biotechnologies. At the encouragement of the steering panel, one final unit, Entertainment and Recreation Technologies, was added. Each of these learning units is based on the conceptual foundation and is delivered through a set of technological problem-solving activities. The type of problem-solving approach used depends on the unique content of the learning unit as well as the expertise and judgment of the curriculum writing teams.
Each of the eight learning units consists of 40 hours of instructional time (approximately nine weeks) and may be offered on a nine-week, one-semester, or one-year basis. While completing each of the eight learning units, student teams are challenged to solve primary and secondary engineering design problems by conducting research, gathering information, asking technical questions, and studying core technological concepts.
At the beginning of each learning unit, students are engaged in a "hook" activity, called the Preliminary Challenge. These hands-on activities are designed to pique students' interest and establish a focus for the unit. They are then introduced to the unit's Primary Challenge, which is a complex problem designed to initially exceed the competence levels of most high school students and to engage students with the unit's enduring concepts and essential questions.
Following this introduction, students work in cooperative teams to examine core concepts, conduct research, solve secondary-level design problems, and implement technological assessment techniques in the effort to solve the Primary Challenge. This conceptual and skill development is constructed using the learning-cycle strategy. Each learning cycle focuses on one or sometimes two main concepts and builds student knowledge of them through four phases of learning called Exploration, Reflection, Engagement, and Expansion.
In the Exploration phase, students explore concepts, interact with materials, collect and record data, and make predictions. For example, in one learning cycle of the Transportation Technologies learning unit, students explore the concept of propulsion through torque and gear ratios. Students begin the learning cycle by investigating what torque is and how it is measured. They construct an apparatus that allows them to test and measure the amount of torque needed to hold a weight of 1000 grams at various centimeter increments along a PVC pipe.
The Reflection phase requires students to look back on what they explored and answer questions related to a particular concept or concepts. This stage often includes a concept-focused class discussion. Building on the same example from above, students might answer and discuss questions such as "Why did the torque pipe become too hard to hold up as the weight moved farther from the person holding it?" or "What would the torque be at the 90 cm point of the torque pipe?" Students also reflect back on their experiences of exploring gear ratios.
The curriculum then moves on to the Engagement phase. Here, students apply knowledge gained in the Exploration to solve a problem (usually unrelated to the Primary Challenge). The example learning cycle challenges the students to apply their knowledge about torque and gear ratios by asking them to design and construct a vehicle that pulls with the greatest possible force.
Finally, students enter the Expansion phase, where the concepts are expanded and generalized to broader situations. This section often requires students to conduct reading and research to draw conclusions about the concepts. Returning to the example, students have the option of setting up an experiment to test the torque produced by a bicycle, preparing a presentation on torque and gear ratios suitable for a hypothetical middle school technology education class, or finding a discarded device with gears and, through reverse engineering, determining why gears may have been used and what gear ratios were used.
The end of the Expansion phase takes students back to the Primary Challenge and allows them to apply the knowledge directly to the robust challenge, and answer the question, "What have we learned in this learning cycle that can help us solve the Primary Challenge?" In this case, students have learned about propulsion, torque, and gear ratios, and can use this knowledge to help them solve the Primary Challenge, which in general terms consists of designing and constructing a method for transporting precious cargo across a terrain to several specified destinations.
Pilot and Field-Testing
After initial development and substantial refinement, each learning unit is being subjected to a rigorous pilot and field-testing process at schools around the nation. Based on feedback from these test sites and recommendations from the project's steering panel and external evaluator, revisions are made. Once these revisions have been made, the materials are field-tested in two different schools. After field-testing has been completed and feedback has been obtained, the curriculum will be revised one additional time before being submitted for publication to the Center for the Advancement of Teaching Technology and Science.
In summary, the content of the Probase curriculum is grounded on two primary sources: STL and the bridge competencies. As a constructivist-based curriculum, students build on prior knowledge as they solve complex problems. The core competencies for the curriculum are delivered through the implementation of engineering design problems that engage students in technological design, invention, innovation, troubleshooting techniques, experimentation, and research and development.
Eight learning units are currently being developed, grounded in standards-based content and delivered through technological problem-solving activities. The concept-rich curriculum provides a comprehensive foundation of technological knowledge and skills, not only needed to "bridge" students to community college technician education programs and university level engineering programs but also for an advanced level of technological literacy. For more information, visit the project's Web site at www.probase.ilstu.edu.
The manuscript is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0202375. The Government has certain rights in this material. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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Dustin J. Wyse-Fisher is a technology teacher at Morton High School in Morton, IL.
Michael K. Daugherty is Coordinator, Technology Teacher Education at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, AR.
Richard E. Satchwell is Program Director, Adventure of the American Mind at Illinois State University in Normal, IL.
Rodney L. Custer is Technology Department Chairperson at Illinois State University, Normal, IL.
The authors can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
This is a refereed article.…