Horses' Rears, Railroads, and Space Shuttles or the Integration of Technology, Engineering, and Social Studies

Article excerpt

STEM, or the combination of integrating science, technology, engineering, and math, is currently the hot topic in elementary school curriculum. Science and math are seen as THE means to introduce technology and engineering into the elementary curriculum. However, many feel that technology and engineering can be more easily taught in a social studies context in many situations. Let's look at how technology and engineering have interacted with history, culture, and citizenship over time, and how that still holds true today.

Technology, engineering, and social studies have been interwoven since someone first built a fire, used a weapon, or rolled a wheel to meet his wants and needs. The Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Bronze Age (not Old Age, as in my case!) are named for the primary material that was used to create new tools and artifacts used during that time period.

Cultures with the most advanced technological artifacts and engineering skills were (and are) able to dominate other contemporary groups or control the current economy. Examples include the Hittites and their iron weapons and the Phoenicians' ocean-going trade vessels. The success of the Roman Empire was largely built around cutting-edge technology and engineering feats of the time, such as paved roads, aqueducts, use of the arch, and war chariots.

A great program known as Connections was produced by James Burke for the BBC in the late '70s. It looked at how various scientific discoveries and historical world events were interconnected to bring about particular aspects of modern technology. One episode discussed how the width of a two-horse Roman chariot determined the width of a Roman road. The ruts caused by the chariots determined the width of later-day wagons using the same roads. In England, the first railroad tracks were made with the same wagon jigs. Those dimensions (4 feet, 8. …