The Promise of Technology Education for Elementary Students

By Hill, Jane C. | Technology and Children, September 1999 | Go to article overview
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The Promise of Technology Education for Elementary Students

Hill, Jane C., Technology and Children

Standing at a distance that permitted observation, but not interference, I overheard fourth grade students' conversations during a December holiday project: "You should add more trusses to the superstructure! Look how the top is unstable!" "No, I think it's the foundation that needs repair. It's leaning so far over; the weight isn't evenly distributed around the base!" These comments were from young elementary students who were part of a team challenged to design and construct a Christmas tree that was at least nine feet tall yet was made only of recycled newspaper, leftover bulletin board paper, and masking tape. They were not only experiencing the design process in action, but also the "need, function, and form," so inherent in design technology and engineering, a vital component of technology education.

Their work is an example of the direction in teaching that, in my opinion, certainly offers a most promising opportunity for young elementary school students. That direction is: using technology education as a key focus for instruction within the elementary classroom. My young students are in desperate need of having a tool to help them solve the problems they confront daily as students and in the future as citizens Of our country. Through design technology instruction, I know I am giving them a set of tools to guide their decision making. Students learn that design technology, like life itself, is an endless process of solving problems. In solving any problems, people take the same steps as the ones students utilize in their design technology experiences:

Stating the problem clearly

Collecting information

Developing possible solutions

Selecting the best solutions

Implementing the solution

Evaluating the solution

Making needed changes and improving their solution

Communicating their findings

They are learning, through their technology education experiences, that it often takes a lot of tries before you get a solution to work effectively, and that most problems have more than one solution. When one of my students comes up to me and says, "Will you help me make my bridge supports?" I always say, "What have you tried so far? Let me see your plans. What different types of solutions did you propose ? What's your Plan A? Plan B? Do you have any other ideas for supporting this part of your bridge?" My students quickly learn that I am not a big answer machine, but rather a guide to help them find the answer they need! I want my students to experience genuine ownership of this design technology problem-solving process. It is exciting and rewarding to see them find new information, transfer previously known skills, create new approaches, and watch the whole problem-solving process start up again!

Through the design technology instruction, students learn that each technological problem they solve produces a product that is now a system, a group of parts that work together to achieve a goal. They experience input, process, output, and feedback. Whether they are designing a model bridge or hotel for our class, or trying to find an after-school job to raise money for college, these students will have a strong foundation for success if they can rely on well-developed plans based on (1) strong problemsolving skills and (2) an understanding of all the factors affecting the outcome of their solution's system. I have observed the ways that design technology has empowered my young students by giving them specific tools to shape their environment. Rich experiences have allowed them to integrate concepts and skills from diverse curriculum areas and to see applications of these into a unified and meaningful authentic whole. They see why technology, math, science, reading, writing, art , economics, social studies, and communication skills are all important, not only for our design technology work, but throughout life! Through design technology education, my students are learning to be self evaluators who can be persistent and determined even when problems are really difficult.

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