banner Technology and Engineering Literacy Framework for the 2014 NAEP
D. Ethics, Equity, and Responsibility
A. Nature of Technology

A. Nature of Technology

Two of every three people in the United States think "technology" as means computers and the Internet (Rose & Dugger, 2002; Rose, Gallup, Dugger, & Starkweather, 2004). Some people conceptualize technology somewhat more broadly to include cellphones and other electronics. However, technology includes every way in which people manipulate the natural environment to satisfy their needs and wants. Frozen foods, paper cups, and clothing are examples of technology, as are dams, motorcycles, windmills, water-treatment plants, flu shots, and grandfather clocks. Technology includes all of the various devices and systems that people make to fulfill some function.

In addition to understanding the scope of technology, students are expected to understand how technology evolved and why the pace of technological change is so much faster today than in the past. For much of human history technological knowledge was held by small groups of individuals who did not share it but rather passed it guardedly from one generation to the next, sometimes from parent to child or master to apprentice. Today, by contrast, know-how is disseminated much more freely through a wide variety of educational institutions, both physically and online. Engineers and designers improve existing technologies, invent new devices and systems, and make technological breakthroughs that can be widely communicated in a short period of time, resulting in changes that can revolutionize entire industries. This is part of the reason that the rate of technological development is increasing at an unprecedented speed.

Another part of the reason can be found in today's rapid advances in science. In many cutting-edge fields, such as bioengineering and nanotechnology, scientists and engineers work hand-in-hand, and sometimes the roles of scientist and engineer are taken on by a single person. An example of science pushing technology can be found in the breakthroughs in genetics that have made possible new crops with higher yields and greater resistance to disease. Examples of technology pushing science can be found in the way that engineers provide more precise instruments, better collaboration tools, and evermore powerful computers.

Tools and materials have also improved over time. From hand tools and power tools to computer probes and simulations, tools extend human capabilities, allowing people to see further and in greater detail, accomplish tasks more efficiently, and accomplish things that might otherwise be impossible. At the same time, new ways are constantly being developed to process raw materials to create products with properties unlike any in nature—self-cleaning clothing and paint, nano-fiber clothing that sheds water and never wrinkles, and composite materials for airplanes that are lighter and stronger than metal alloys, to name only a few.

Key principles in the area of Nature of Technology that all students can be expected to understand at increasing levels of sophistication are:

  • Technology is constrained by laws of nature, such as gravity.
  • Scientists are concerned with what exists in nature; engineers modify natural materials to meet human needs and wants.
  • Technological development involves creative thinking.
  • Technologies developed for one purpose are sometimes adapted to serve other purposes.
  • Science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and other disciplines are mutually supportive.
  • The pace of technological change has been increasing.
  • Tools help people do things efficiently, accurately, and safely.

Fourth grade students are expected to distinguish natural and human-made materials, be familiar with simple tools, and recognize the vast array of technologies around them.

Eighth-graders should know how technologies are created through invention and innovation, should recognize that sometimes a technology developed for one purpose is later adapted to other purposes, and should understand that technologies are constrained by natural laws. They should also know that other resources besides tools and materials—energy, people, capital, and time—are generally needed to solve problems and meet design challenges.

Twelfth-graders should have an in-depth understanding of the ways in which technology coevolves with science, mathematics, and other fields; should be able to apply the concept of trade-offs to resolve competing values; and should be able to identify the most important resources needed to carry out a task.

A. Nature of Technology Goals

Fourth-graders should know that technology involves tools, materials, and creative thinking used to meet human needs and wants. Eighth-graders should know that technology advances through invention and innovation and requires a variety of resources. Twelfth-graders should know how technology coevolves with science and other fields to allow people to accomplish challenging tasks.

Table 2.6 Nature of Technology assessment targets for grades 4, 8, and 12
Grade 4 Grade 8 Grade 12

Students know that:

D.4.1: Scientists ask questions about the world; engineers create and modify technologies to meet people's needs and desires.

Students know that:

D.8.1: Science is the systematic investigation of the natural world. Technology is any modification of the environment to satisfy people's needs and wants. Engineering is the process of creating or modifying technologies and is constrained by physical laws and cultural norms and economic resources.

Students know that:

D.12.1: Advances in science have been applied by engineers to design new products, processes, and systems, while improvements in technology have enabled breakthroughs in scientific knowledge.

D.4.2: The improvement of existing technologies and the development of new technologies involve creative thinking.

D.8.2: Technology advances through the processes of innovation and invention. Sometimes a technology developed for one purpose is adapted to serve other purposes.

D.12.2: Engineers use science, mathematics, and other disciplines to improve technology, while scientists use tools devised by engineers to advance knowledge in their disciplines. This interaction has deepened over the past century.

D.4.3: Tools are simple objects that help people do things better or more easily, such as the cutting, shaping, and combining of materials that occur when making clothing.

D.8.3: Tools have been improved over time to do more difficult tasks and to do simple tasks more efficiently, accurately, or safely. Tools further the reach of hands, voices, memory, and the five human senses.

D.12.3: The evolution of tools, materials, and processes has played an essential role in the development and advancement of civilization, from the establishment of cities and industrial societies to today's global trade and commerce networks.

Students are able to:

D.4.4: Inspect materials with different properties and determine which is most suitable for a given application.

Students are able to:

D.8.4: Simulate tests of various materials to determine which would be best to use for a given application.

Students are able to:

D.12.4: Take into account trade-offs among several factors when selecting a material for a given application.

D.4.5: Choose an appropriate tool for accomplishing a task.

D.8.5: Redesign an existing tool to make it easier to accomplish a task.

D.12.5: Design a new tool to accomplish a task more efficiently.