How to Deploy a Truly Transformational Technology Studies Program for Primary and Secondary Education.
By John David Flores
As a highly trained technologist and technology educator for the primary and secondary grades, I have long felt that the current model for technology education in public and private school is grossly inadequate with regards to fulfilling its primary mandate, which is to provide students with the skills, practical and intellectual, they will need to be successful in the 21st century workforce.
The reasons for why technology education fails to meet the needs of its student body are multivarious but can be summarized around its lack of rigor and consistency. By this I mean the typical curriculum for technology is not sufficiently challenging to create transformational learning, so-called “deep learning” that embeds itself in the subconscious. Nor is it consistent, in that the students do not spend enough time practicing and failing, overcoming and advancing.
Ever since technology studies were conflated with Math and Science in the poorly realized STEM acronym, it has become lost within an equally convoluted attempt to educate students across too many subjects without the necessary focus on any one in particular. In other words, STEM education has become a methodology for producing a Jack of All Trades, Master of None.
While it may be an acceptable outcome for our students to be average mathematicians and scientists, it is nothing less than institutional negligence if they complete their formal education without reaching a significant level of expertise in one of the many sub-disciplines which comprise the technological landscape. I know some will object to my claims of negligence and argue that the school system and its students have neither the time nor desire to pursue an intensive program of technological study. Moreover, State standards do not require it.
But this argument willfully ignores the fact that technology in society differentiates and separates itself from all other school programs of study via the level of technological saturation experienced by our youth. Go to any restaurant or public gathering and you will see parent and grandparent alike handing children as young as toddlers a smartphone or tablet computer as if it were a highly complex, digital “See ‘n Say”. These devices are given to children with little or no training on their use. Parents simply open an app that they believe will sufficiently occupy the child and then ignore them until either the dinner or event is completed, or the child becomes bored and begins to complain.
Some would call such behavior “negligent” but it’s this very reliance on technology, and its early introduction into human life, which has produced the most technologically sophisticated generations in history. In essence, such practices force children to develop a level of technological sophistication that outpaces even their ability to speak in coherent sentences. They know how to use a keyboard and mouse before they even know how to spell the words “keyboard” and “mouse”. The only other human practice with ties to future academic study that children are exposed to at the same age and with the same regularity is PLAY. Children learn to be highly skilled in the phenomenon and practice of PLAY before they learn to read, write, add or subtract. Thus, by the time they reach their adolescence, children can rightfully be referred to as, “experts in PLAY”.
Herein lies the tragedy that is technology education in public and private school, its refusal, or inability, to appropriately anticipate and leverage the student’s pre-existing expertise and home support that has become so ubiquitous throughout our society. The fact that standards for teaching technology do not recognize this extraordinary reality only codifies our failure in preparing our young to be the technological experts they can and should become.
What, then, is the answer? How can schools and technology educators provide the level of rigor and consistency that not only appreciates existing proficiencies but challenges them to grow?
A little less than a year ago, I was tasked with restarting what had become a defunct technology studies program for a private elementary and middle school. The previous teacher had followed the traditional model of teaching everything an inch deep and mile wide. He taught a little bit of programming using an online coding site. He taught a little bit of robotics using the well-known DASH and DOT robot models. He taught aeronautics with a soda bottle and water hose and myriad of other Science/Math/Technology integrated projects that like cotton candy, provided students with a quick sugar rush but had no lasting benefits.
The problem: his lesson plan. There was no unifying end goal underlying the choice or delivery of content. It was simply to “expose” the students to a variety of so-called “STEM-focused” activities. Without a verifiable goal to guide and direct his efforts, (other than the fulfillment of various standards), the impact of his pedagogical methods on his students was short-lived. By the time I came on board, the students had only faint memories of what they had done, and no memory of the scientific, mathematical, technological principles that had been the focus of the lessons.
The second goal was to train them in the art and science of computer hardware and software support so that by 8th grade they could take and pass the CompTIA A+ exam, and even get a job as a first level support engineer.
Accomplishing both goals meant that I would have to expose my students as early as Kindergarten to the fundamentals of algorithmic design and thinking as well as hardware and software technologies. At first, my principal was highly skeptical, “they’re too young” she thought. I pleaded with her to “give me a year to prove my concept.” To her credit, she did, and the results have been nothing short of spectacular.
In my first month, I was experiencing 90%+ engagement across the board, even amongst my K-2nd. That number only increased over time as the lessons became more demanding and rigorous. By the second trimester, I had implemented an elective for my middle schoolers, training them to one day takeover the IT support for the entire school. By the end of the year, I had accumulated sufficient data to demonstrate that not only were the students capable of accomplishing great things, technologically speaking, but they had a natural inclination to it. It wasn’t like math or science; it was something they were already familiar with and enjoyed doing.
Even more significant, the data became the basis for a theory that I now promote as the ethos of my pedagogic methodology, I call it the Generational Technological Ascendance theory, GENTAT for short. Essentially it proposes that each successive generation will outpace their predecessor technologically. From a practical standpoint, this means that my Kindergartners should excel in their technological studies faster than my first, second grades and beyond. I am now nearly through the first trimester of the new school year and the data confirm what I had predicted. My Kindergartners have on average, completed their programming lessons faster than any other grade. Moreover, they have required less direct instruction with regards to complex ideas like programmatic loops and code debugging. In addition, I have more first graders that have completed all of their lessons for the entire trimester than any other grade.
This is not to say that the other grades are not engaged or not producing the same level and quality of work, they are, just over a longer period of time.
I am now convinced that I can and will realize my goal of the 5th grade software programmer and 8th grade IT support engineer. More importantly, I am confident that when my students leave my charge, they will have experienced the kind of deep learning that is the basis for long-term retention. In other words, I will have empowered them with the skills to enter the 21st century workforce with confidence and a verifiable body of achievement as proof of their expertise.
 The two primary standards for technology education in California are from the International Standards for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the California Science Teachers Association (CSTA). The ISTE standards are more generalized and less rigorous than the CSTA and can be easily applied to technology use in other disciplines like math and science. CSTA are far more detailed and technology education specific and if deployed with consistency, across the grade range, have the potential to provide the level and kind of learning proposed by this essay. Unfortunately, many school systems, public and private, are not adequately prepared to satisfy the majority of the CSTA requirements.