In This Issue
K-12 Engineering Education
September 1, 2009 Volume 39 Issue 3
Fall 2009 Issue of The Bridge on K-12 Engineering Education

The Incorporation of Technology/Engineering Concepts into Academic Standards in Massachusetts

Monday, September 28, 2009

Author: Jacob Foster

 Experience with engineering in K–12 classrooms in Massachusetts has become a reference point for other states.

Efforts by Massachusetts over the past decade to develop academic technology/engineering standards and implement related programs has become a reference point for a number of other states and countries looking to support K–12 engineering education. This paper outlines the process Massachusetts has undertaken and describes some successes and challenges related to the development and implementation of engineering programs in K–12 schools.1

The development of state technology/engineering standards was made possible by the enactment of the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Law, but it was begun in earnest as a result of the advocacy of teachers of technology education and engineers interested in education. In Massachusetts, technology/engineering is now considered a science discipline equivalent to physical science, life science, and earth and space science, and a number of state policies, such as policies related to licensing and assessment, support the implementation of school technology/engineering programs. However, a number of challenges must still be overcome before technology/engineering will have developed to a point equivalent to traditional science disciplines.

Legislative and Policy Origins of Technology/Engineering in Massachusetts

The development of technology/engineering standards was made possible by specific language in the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Law:

The board shall . . . develop academic standards for the core subjects of mathematics, science and technology, history and social science, English, foreign languages and the arts. . . . The board may also include in the standards a fundamental knowledge of technology education and computer science and keyboarding skills . . . (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 69, Section 1D, italics added)

The inclusion of “science and technology” in the legislation was the impetus for the development of the first Massachusetts Science and Technology Curriculum Framework (MA ESE, 1996). The word “technology” in the title sparked a statewide discussion of what that term should include. For the science education community, the word connoted a science-technology-and-society (STS) perspective as described in Science for All Americans (AAAS, 1989) and National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996). For the technology education community, it referred to technological literacy, as described in Technology for All Americans (ITEA, 1996). There was even some discussion about whether “technology” meant computers—instructional technology—but it was decided that the inclusion of “technology education” in the legislation quoted above referred to computers.

The result of the statewide discussion was an initial framework in 1996 defining “science and technology” as an academic subject that included both the STS and technology education perspectives. Later, in the 2001 framework revision (MA ESE, 2001), the STS perspective was replaced with more specific engineering principles, leading to the modified title of “science and technology/engineering.”

Emergence of Academic Technology/Engineering in Massachusetts

The introduction of technology/engineering standards into the core academic framework, initially led by the state technology education organization, was the first step in incorporating engineering concepts into the educational system. In the early to mid-1990s, industrial arts courses became technology education courses. Unlike the traditional industrial arts programs, technology education programs (many of which still exist in the state) can be characterized as elective, supplementary programs that focus primarily on the development of student skills and products and secondarily on trade skills and tool use.

The discussion about making technology education a core academic discipline raised the possibility of another shift, this time away from being a supplemental, technically oriented program toward an academic, knowledge-oriented technology/engineering program. This second shift was even farther from the long and productive history of skills development and tool use taught in industrial arts programs. Although some teachers were able to make this transition, creating the initial technology/engineering courses in the process, many have struggled to adapt to the second shift.

The implications of the second shift continue to pose significant challenges to the systematic implementation of technology/engineering standards in Massachusetts. Many technology education teachers were resistant to the change, causing a split in the state’s technology education organization. One side was aligned more with the industrial arts-technology education perspective; the other with the technology/engineering-academic perspective. Those who were watching this process, including school science staff, curriculum coordinators, and administrators, saw the unresolved conflict as a reason to delay the incorporation of technology/engineering concepts into school programs.

Until the mid-2000s, most science staff and organizations did not take ownership of technology/engineering standards, which they considered the responsibility of technology education teachers. In addition, science staff, administrators, and parents were slow to change their conceptions and embrace the possibility of an academic technology/engineering program. Only recently have more schools begun to transition technology education programs into their science departments, often merging the two into a “science and technology/engineering department.”

Acceptance of the change can be attributed, at least in part, to several factors. First, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (hereafter called the Department) has worked over the years to align state policies so that technology/engineering is treated the same way other science disciplines are treated. This has provided support for schools and school districts that were prepared to develop academic technology/engineering programs. Second, relations between the two technology education organizations are improving. Finally, the Boston Museum of Science (MOS), with its associated National Center for Technological Literacy, has become a leader in promoting technology/engineering.

All of these factors helped to distance the discipline from organizational tensions and associations with past technical programs. The museum’s development of technology/engineering curricula (Engineering is Elementary [EiE]2 and Engineering the Future [EtF], for high school students) not only provided administrators, science staff, and parents with an image of what a technology/engineering curriculum could look like, but also showed how technology/engineering concepts could be integrated with traditional science concepts. The EiE and EtF curricula have also had a significant impact on the attitudes of administrators and guidance staff and on the establishment of technology/engineering programs across the state.

The National Center for Technological Literacy (NCTL) associated with MOS has trained more than 750 teachers in Massachusetts in the EiE curriculum, which is now used by approximately 115 elementary schools. In addition, about 60 high schools have purchased the EtF curriculum, and many high school teachers have participated in training workshops. NCTL also supports leadership teams (involving more than 250 teachers and administrators) in approximately 55 Massachusetts school districts; these teams are actively working to design and implement technology/engineering programs.

The Academic Framework over Time

Technology Topics and Sample Standards in the 1996 Framework

The 1996 Massachusetts Science and Technology Curriculum Framework drew upon seminal standards documents for science education (AAAS, 1993; DOEd, 1996; NRC, 1996). With input and advocacy from both the science and technology education communities, the topics in the 1996 framework reflect the combined STS and technology education perspectives (Box 1). The combined perspectives are also reflected in the specific standards (Box 2).

Box 1

Box 2

Technology/Engineering Topics and Sample Standards in the 2001 Framework

With the advocacy of engineers interested in education, a number of changes were made to the technology topics and standards in the 2001 Framework. For example, technological design was changed to the engineering design process, topics for energy and power systems were added, and the social implications of technology were removed. The technology/engineering topics in the 2001 Framework (Box 3), as well as the specific standards (Box 4), reflect the combined technology education and engineering perspectives. The 2001 Framework drew on additional seminal documents (DOEd, 2000; ITEA, 2000) and the strong emphasis on content and standardized assessments being developed in the 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

Box 3

Box 4

Development of Department Policies

Successes

After years of effort, significant progress has been made in aligning policies to ensure that technology/engineering is treated as an academic discipline. This would not have been possible without the 1993 Education Reform Law, which provided both a foundation for developing the standards and a rationale for the corresponding policies. The Department has argued that the structures of technology/engineering and traditional sciences are similar—each articulates a core body of knowledge and each has a closely aligned articulated process to guide practice and generate new knowledge. Based on these parallels, technology/engineering can be counted as a science from a policy perspective.

Once the first 1996 Framework had been developed with technology/engineering as a discipline equivalent to other science disciplines, technology/engineering items were incorporated into the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests. Technology/engineering currently counts for 15 percent of the 5th grade test, 25 percent of the 8th grade test, and is one of four options for the high school end-of-course test.

Changing the licensing requirements for teachers of technology/engineering was much more difficult. The Department currently offers an academic license in “technology/engineering,” which has expectations equivalent to those of other science licenses in terms of required content knowledge (including passing a content test), completion of a practicum, license for grades 5–12, and a requirement for being rated “highly qualified” in keeping with NCLB requirements.

However, because technology/engineering developed through a progression from industrial arts to technology education to technology/engineering, the license also went through the same transition. Thus all industrial arts and technology-education certified teachers were grandfathered into the system and are licensed to teach a core academic technology/engineering course. In this way, a pool of teachers licensed to teach the new subject was made available, but administrators raised reasonable questions about whether all of them were truly qualified.

Finally, because the state recognizes technology/engineering as a core academic science option, schools and school districts can give science credit for these courses and apply those credits to high school graduation requirements. The alignment of all of these policies means that schools and school districts now have the necessary support to develop academic technology/engineering programs.

A Remaining Challenge

One significant policy challenge remains—the alignment of high school graduation expectations and state college admission requirements.  This issue only arose recently when enough technology/engineering programs were in place to produce a significant number of students with these credits. Addressing this challenge will require aligning policies of the Department, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, and, interestingly, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Although the Department allows schools to accept technology/engineering courses as fulfilling science graduation requirements, the Department of Higher Education has not yet recognized those courses as “natural/physical science” courses for admission purposes. Most institutions of higher education have separate science and engineering departments and thus do not necessarily consider these disciplines equivalent. In addition, state colleges and universities have not been made aware of the nature and rigor of high school technology/engineering courses. Thus when they review a transcript for the purposes of student admission, technology/engineering is not counted as fulfilling science requirements. This issue is currently being addressed and may be resolved soon.

The alignment with NCAA requirements is a bit more abstract but just as important. NCAA reviews the transcripts of students who want to participate in sports or receive sports scholarships at NCAA-affiliated institutions. NCAA pre-approves all high school academic courses based on reviews of syllabi submitted by high school guidance departments. When Massachusetts high schools submitted technology/engineering courses for review as science courses, NCAA rejected them as “vocational” rather than academic courses, no matter what evidence the school provided.

Once the rejection letter was received, the guidance department notified the science and/or technology education department that the course could not be added to the school’s program of studies for science credit. To address this problem, the Department wrote to NCAA explaining how the state incorporates technology/engineering into science as an academic subject and asked that future requests be reviewed in light of that information. NCAA has agreed to do so and is beginning to approve these courses.

Implementation by Schools, School Districts, and Institutions of Higher Education

Successes

Schools and school districts have implemented a variety of K–12 curricula aligned with the Department’s technology/engineering standards. Although the Department has not collected unit lessons or course syllabi, evidence of the successful implementation of these curricula is apparent in inquiries from other schools about these programs, newspaper articles about technology/engineering offerings, and the number of students taking the high school technology/engineering MCAS test. The Department has also noticed that more district administrators are taking an interest in technology/engineering, particularly those who follow discussions of state economic policy, in which biotechnology and high-tech have had a high profile for the past several years. Finally, published curricula and textbooks aligned with state standards have made it easier to start new programs.

Local successes are also reflected in the recruitment of “career changers” to the teaching force. Many school districts have hired former engineers who have decided to become teachers and to help in the development and teaching of technology/engineering programs. Career changers bring real-world experience to their instruction and a perspective that assumes the value of integrating traditional science topics with technology/engineering topics.

Changes have also been made on the organizational level. A number of high schools have merged their science and technology education departments, and the state technology education professional organizations now explicitly include engineering in their names and mission statements. The state science fair organization changed its name in 2006 to the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair and expanded the types of projects that can be submitted and judged.

Challenges

Although state policies now provide schools and school districts with clear support for implementing technology/engineering programs, a number of implementation challenges must still be navigated. First, school administrators must distinguish between technical and academic offerings, which can be difficult given the history and experiences of particular schools and school districts. As they look around the state for examples and models, they are confronted with a wide range of programs and courses that vary in quality, many of them initially designed by individuals. Until the science and technology education staff and organizations begin to collaborate in more specific ways, teachers and schools may not know where to turn for support in developing programs.

Another challenge confronting schools is the limited number of certified teachers and teacher-preparation programs. Currently, there is only one active teacher-preparation program in the state, which graduates on average fewer than five new technology/engineering teachers per year. The Department is actively working to increase the number of preparation programs offering support for technology/engineering licenses. Unfortunately, preparation programs have been hesitant to invest in program development until there is a demand for teachers, but the demand has been held down, in part, because not enough teachers are available to design and implement K–12 programs.

Lessons Learned

The development of technology/engineering programs in Massachusetts can provide insights for others who may want to engage in similar efforts. In the author’s opinion, the five lessons listed below have been learned from the particular experiences and circumstances in Massachusetts:

  • Determine how the subject will be classified early on, because all subsequent policy decisions will be based on that determination. For example, will engineering concepts be incorporated into a core academic subject, such as science? Will engineering be treated as an elective subject? Will it be defined as a vocational discipline? Or will there be some combination of these options?
     
  • If engineering concepts will be incorporated into core academic science, determine if they will constitute a distinct subject (as they do in Massachusetts) or a topic in other subjects (some states have a “technological design” topic as part of each science subject). This decision will have implications for policies related to licensing and assessment.
     
  • Determine the focus of the standards early. Will they focus on engineering concepts, technology education concepts (ITEA, 2000), or a combination?
     
  • Provide examples of what courses/curricula should look like and then monitor them for quality and alignment. A number of resources are now available for schools to review.
     
  • Focus on relationships. Mediate tensions between maintaining a “technology/engineering” identity and folding technology/engineering into “science.” Mediate tensions between “technologists” (technology educators) and “engineers.” Encourage inter-actions between technology/engineering and science organizations early on, so all of them take ownership of the program/curriculum.

Summary

Articulating technology/engineering standards, implementing policies to support them, and developing programs to implement them have been major endeavors in Massachusetts. Students now have the opportunity to participate in relevant, engaging, and necessary programs of study that we believe will help meet the need for technologically literate citizens and a technical and engineering workforce. Elements throughout the educational system have been changed to support the implementation of technology/engineering standards, although change continues to be somewhat sporadic.

The articulation of technology/engineering standards as part of science was the first crucial step in making this possible. The efforts of professional organizations were crucial to making these changes, although if closer attention had been paid to organizational relationships over the past 10 years, change might have been easier.

As the first state to include engineering concepts in state academic standards, Massachusetts has worked diligently since 1993 to overcome a number of policy and implementation challenges. Our hope is that this case study will be of help to other states making similar efforts. The development of technology/engineering resources and programs is much more likely to succeed when many states are working toward similar goals.

References

AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). 1989. Science for All Americans, by F. James Rutherford and Andrew Ahlgren. New York: Oxford University Press.

AAAS. 1993. Benchmarks for Science Literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

DOEd (U.S. Department of Education). 1996. Science Framework for the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP Science Consensus Project. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

DOEd. 2000. Science Framework for the 1996 and 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress. NAEP Science Consensus Project. Available online at http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_ storage_01/0000019b/80/17/9e/9c.pdf.

DOEd. 2008. Science Framework for the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress. Available online at http://www.nagb.org/publications/frameworks/science-09. pdf.

ITEA (International Technology Education Association). 1996. Technology for All Americans: A Rationale and Structure for the Study of Technology. Reston, Va.: ITEA.

ITEA. 2000. Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology. Reston, Va.: ITEA.

MA ESE (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education). 1996. Massachusetts Science and Technology Curriculum Framework. Available online at http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/archive.html.

MA ESE. 2001. Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework. Available online at http://www.doe.mass.edu/frameworks/archive.html.

Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 69, Section 1D. Powers and Duties of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Available online at www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/69-1d.htm.

NRC (National Research Council). 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

FOOTNOTES

1 This paper focuses on academic standards and programs. The state also has career/vocational technical education (CVTE) frameworks with engineering foci, including engineering technology, biotechnology, robotics, and automation technology. CVTE frameworks can be found at http://www.doe.mass.edu/cte/frameworks/.

 2 See the article by Christine Cunningham in this issue.

About the Author:Jacob Foster is director of science and technology/engineering, Massachusetts Department of Ele-mentary and Secondary Education.