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Buck Institute for Education | Technology and Engineering Education is Ripe for PBL

Updated: Jan 18, 2021

See the original blog post here.

Today Technology and Engineering Education (TEE) is a discipline under the umbrella of Career and Technical Education. TEE or Tech Ed has really evolved over the past two centuries and due to enhancements in both curriculum and the use of technologies, so has our name and also core practices. I supervise TEE for Richmond Public Schools (RPS) and we are working hard to create PBL projects that move TEE students beyond following teacher guided sets of instructions and more towards solving open ended problems in real-world scenarios. Model making is a popular student performance in the TEE standards and at RPS, we’ve begun to incorporate these activities in PBL units that connect our students to our community and other authentic entities throughout the City of Richmond. 

The Past and Present of Technology and Engineering Education TEE has a rich history and I believe that knowing history is very important; as Carl Sagan says,  “You have to know the past to understand the present.”Manual Training (1876-1904) – Industrial Arts (1904-1985). In the 1870’s schools began to include “manual training” courses in the use of tools, which was designed to be a core subject and was not only for the vocational training of some students. In 1904 the term industrial arts (also known as “shop class”) replaced manual training at the suggestion of Charles R. Richards of the Teachers College, at Columbia University. This educational program taught students fabrication of objects in wood or metal using a variety of hand, power, or machine tools. Industrial arts also tied into other industrial areas that covered technical drawing.

ITEEA and The Technology for All Americans Project. Evolving tremendously from the industrial arts content of the mid 1980’s, Technology Education focused heavily on the physical world (also knows as the designed world). The discipline is inclusive of technological systems, processes, and physical objects (artifacts). Many states and organizations now refer to Tech Ed as Technology and Engineering Education. The Technology for All Americans Project by the ITEEA was funded by the National Science Foundation and NASA and has been critical in articulating technological literacy standards and learning targets for teachers to unpack into curriculum & lesson plans. The ITEEA has been a key pioneer in helping educators understand this transition.

Our PBL School and Authentic STEM The nationwide thrust of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education has alerted most education stakeholders to the fact that engineering design and other forms of interdisciplinary experiential learning is a way to better engage students and will help to create a more viable workforce. PBL is rapidly becoming the go-to instructional approach for school redesign throughout the country. The TEE discipline is ripe for the PBL strategy, if the context of projects is authentic.

We started a PBL small last school year at RPS by taking models (or systems) that our TEE students do well and reframed the context for authenticity. For example, we do a unit with several projects (or lessons) on transportation modes and we allow students voice and choice by differentiating land transportation models that they design.

We created partnerships within our community for authenticity and created an entry event field trip for our classroom project by partnering with the Center for Sport Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, the MathScience Innovation Center.  Each of the partners represented entities in the Virginia STEM Model (graphic below) and connected our students with PK-12, business and community, higher education and workforce development.

The purpose of the entry event was to connect our classroom content to who’s using it in the real world and also in what context.  So we connected STEM education to STEM careers.  At the event we made students aware of how scientific principles and mathematics are unified in order to make real racecars aerodynamic (fast but also safe) by authentically demonstrating how friction is created, track banking, and fluid dynamics in workstations created by our partners.

Being led by college students, our students learned how to further their studies by going to college and also the careers associated with mo

tor sports by interacting with real technicians and drivers. In the classroom our students also learned various other ways of creating thrust or powering their modes of transportation. Their designed models ranged from robots that they programmed, CO2 and solar powered cars, and electric cars. This created a continuum of learning and led our students to learn about electronics by making their own circuits and programming microcontrollers (like the Arduino). We also ensured that our students publicly presented their work. Some were even invited to showcase it for Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe at a Chamber of Commerce Event in Richmond, and for the state’s Secretary of Education Anne Holton and policy makers at the General Assembly.

By adding these and other relevant skills to our student’s toolbox, we have created an awareness in them of how the world works and also what key skills they will need to develop for the world of college and work. So it’s pretty safe to say that authentic PBL projects will really help TEE programs connect student learning with workforce, higher education and the community. Currently our TEE team at RPS has our sights set on creating more authentic experiences for our students. This coming school year, our plan is to also highlight equity and global citizenship for our design thinkers.

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