The integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which is called STEM education, is a meta-discipline that is based on the integration of knowledge to make something into a new total. Moreover, Morrison states (2006), such interdisciplinary of is treated as an entity. STEM education is one of the best opportunities for students to make the sense of surrounding world more holistically compared to ordinary methods of studying that are oriented on bits and pieces.
In the case of STEM education, all of the traditional barriers between those four disciplines are removed, and each theme is being integrated into one cohesive teaching, and, thus, has a special learning paradigm. Such interdisciplinary approach helps to explore rigorous academic concepts adjusted to real world lessons, which gives the students an opportunity to apply them in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. That possibility helps to make connections within not only the school and these four subjects; it gives an opportunity to cooperate between school and community on the global level. Such new approach enables the development of general STEM literacy and makes the students to be able to compete in completely new world of economy (Tsupros, 2009).
This paper deals mainly with Technology Education of the high school level, as it plays an important role in the support of more traditional subjects. As Technology Education is being integrated with Mathematics and Science, it creates both complementary and supportive bond, which usually separated those distinct disciplines. Many US schools concluded that curriculum coordination and staff development should play a key role in order to make transition to a standards based education system successfully (CurrTech, 2012).
Why Technology Education?
All of the courses in Technology Education require and promote systemic students thinking. Various technology education programs aim to determine and establish the extent, to which they can challenge students to be able to analyze, synthesize and evaluate the problems that they study. Such promotion of systematic thinking should be used for the development a plan to make a transition to the standards based performance program.
Every school level differs with its standards and expectation from the students. For example, at the elementary level, they are expected to demonstrate the knowledge through the usage of activities appropriate to their age. It allows the students to develop opinions on various technology subjects that surround students in their everyday lives. The middle school program is about defining aspects of technology: students need to be able make decisions about technology that affect their lives; students should also learn how to solve the problems related to technology. This level is considered a bridge for further technology studies.
Technology class in 7th and 8th grades aims to guide students through a progression of various modules in order to help them both define technology in their lives and develop problem-solving abilities. They are also required to connect with other fields of studies to gain support of their acquisition of knowledge (Jones & Suhr, 2012).
The tasks at the high school level become more complicated and require much critical thinking. Although Technology Education is currently not a graduation requirement, school districts are coerced to provide the opportunities for those who wish to pursue it at the high school level. The districts are given flexibility to design such technology education programs that meet the needs of both its students and community.
Since the nature of technology itself is very diverse, schools are allowed to choose to develop the courses within specific area of concentration, such as Electronics, Pre-engineering and Communications. These team-taught courses are usually integrated with Math and Science.
Jones & Suhr (2012) provide the example on the course of Principles of Engineering, which was developed around the same time when the frameworks and standards were formulated. It highly emphasizes on the concepts of math and science helping to build the knowledge in those subjects by using a case study approach. The other course, developed by the New York State Technology Education Association , which is called The World of Technology has a high potential for reaching the previously academic track . That can be achieved by using existing students learning experience by relating it to various technological areas.
Every year teachers are expected to update their courses in order to stay in line with the development of advanced technologies. However, specific content that is usually taught may not be the central, although it is very important in getting students to achieve set standards in an appropriate way. For that reason, there are certain obstacles and barriers in STEM education and in Technology study, in particular.
Obstacles to Technology Education
As it was mentioned above, all content is very important as long as it helps the students to perform at a higher level. Many methodologists ask the question: how and why do we need to change it by adjusting to everyday life? Despite they realize that changes are inevitable, they know that they are never easy. At the same time, they are convinced that status quo also promotes certain irrelevance and would never lead to progress (CurrTech, 2012).
There are many obstacles including both personal and societal making it hard to do things differently. All the subject teachers including the technology ones need professional development in order to be updated on what new inventions are taken place in their fields. They should seek out new opportunities in order to take an advantage of their possible staff development.
There are various confusions over the meaning of the term “technology.” Those complications do not help the situation progress. It is obvious that all the changes in methods of teaching perceptions with all the advances in the field will influence future generations of students and it will be the indicator of how they will be impacted by a global economy as well.
Technology Education taught by STEM intends to give the students that knowledge, which would prepare them to deal efficiently with technology in the closer future. For example, the usage of computers is now very common for ordinary person; thus, it is obvious that everyone in prospective should be computer literate. As the term “technology” was used generally to describe all applications of computers, such generalization has caused further confusions on what Technology Education is.
Because of the existence of various misinterpretations, the following question arose: is it a study about using computers in general, or just about using the computer as a tool? (CurrTech, 2012). The answer is that for Technology Education it is both as this field of study t sees the value of using the computer in order to increase general productivity. Those stereotypes in comprehension exist because Technology Education was associated as a study of the computer as a tool that incorporated instructional technology into its programs.
Barriers to STEM Education
Although STEM education is considered progressive from the methodological perspective based on its integrating part, there have been also many of barriers to implement it in public schools in the US. Those barriers include the following ideas:
1) STEM education is considered to be another “whim” in education and will soon disappear;
2) Concerns that colleges might not accept high school credits for STEM courses;
3) The stereotypical perception of meaning of “technology” that it is just additional computers and hardware for schools and students; but it also means the ability to apply various computer programs;
4) Limitations that STEM excludes any laboratory work.
5) Stereotypes that STEM students have to choose technology study because they do not have foundation in liberal arts.
6) Science education does not contain Mathematics; both Technology and Engineering are viewed as troublesome as such teachers cannot teach science and mathematics.
7) These courses are additional to be taught (Jones & Suhr, 2012).
There are many ideas that until these perceptions are corrected and well argumented, the function of STEM education in the United States will stay amorphous. Another part of the problem is the lack of definite understanding of how STEM should be implemented and what it should accomplish. In spite of that, there were certain attempts to define its function. National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Engineering were trying to give the recommendations on TP education functions, but the full consensus has not reached yet.
Technology Education Activity
The activity presented below covers the topic of the interrelations between society and technology particularly hot it affects people and the environment. It utilizes contemporary pedagogical practices and is focused on practical aspects to maximize learning.
The goal of the activity is to understand the positive and negative impacts of technology people must take into the consideration while adapting them to humans’ needs and the surrounding environment in general. The main objectives are as follows: 1) to demonstrate various expected and unexpected outputs; 2) to identify instances of the lack of ‘cooperation’ between technological inventions, human users and environment; 3) to identify and demonstrate alternatives and techniques for improving those relations by given examples (facts, numbers, specific events).
The students are divided into six groups of four-five people and are given blank posters, markers and computers with internet access. They have to accomplish this task within 30 minutes not only presenting their achievement, but they have to choose the role of the stakeholder (a representative of a system who affects or can be affected by someone's actions), they would like to represent: Federal government, business sector, leader of environmental local NGO, national Mass Media representative, or public sector person. Unknown terms are explained before they start activity. For their presentation, they have to choose the main presenter-moderator of their project, but each member of the team should be involved in the presentation process as well. The presentations should last for 7-8 minutes each.
This activity reinforces:
I. Technological Design Process on open-ended problems with specifications, the students will be able to design, draw and present their optimizing solutions for problem solving.
II. Team Building Skills mainly the development of small group dynamics, and during the preparation process, leadership skills and the abilities to both delegate and accept the responsibility.
III. Technical Writing means a context for written communication, mainly producing technology reports and documenting learning in a portfolio
IV. Public Speaking: By preparing for an oral presentation, they will not only develop self-confidence but will improve their oral communications and drama skills.
This exercise is a real life situation, which forms the main context of the activity. The students both define the problem and develop possible solutions to solve it. Transformation into party representatives allows them to think critically as a certain group in the society adjusting various technological solutions, so that others shall not suffer.
There are many ideas whether STEM education is needed as such, although most of the scholars agree that keeping status quo will never bring the progress on itself. Despite there are many obstacles and barriers to Technology Education, it still should be implemented into full curriculum and not taught as an additional course.
As all of the Technology Education courses, this activity is a good representation of the promotion and development of critical thinking of the each student. Every involved individual tries to organize and adjust his or her own idea to the thoughts of the entire group. It helps to act as the ‘whole’ organized society in order to develop new technologies for the good of the people without any harm to the environment. This activity is a good example of why STEM Education and Technology courses in particular shall be further developed and implemented in all public schools in the US.