This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner Home Page About ANKN Publications Academic Programs Curriculum Resources Calendar of Events Announcements Site Index This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
This is part of the ANKN Logo This is part of the ANKN Banner This is part of the ANKN Banner
Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

Principles of Technology


by Brian Marsh
Fairbanks North Star Borough School District


I teach Earth Science and Physics in the FNSBSD and have been in education for 27 years and I had never seen anything like what I saw when I first watched students present projects generated from the Principles of Technology program. It sold me on the PT program. I had been used to the usual litany of student complaints about science, such as: "It's boring," "I don't see why I should have to take science, I'm not going to become a scientist," "Do we have to do this?" etc. I've been frustrated at not being able to get more interest and participation in the classroom. Trying to get the average student to use math in science had been all but impossible for me. Getting students to reason things out and to be able to understand a problem and to communicate it to others is also equally difficult. PT seems to be the answer to these and other related problems. 

The message that seems to be coming through loud and clear is that in order to address the national concerns about the plight of science and math in the U.S., we must change our curricula to incorporate a "Science and Technology" approach. At present we are turning out science illiterates who are unable to reason, solve problems, apply knowledge, or communicate what they do know. We are finding fewer and fewer students going into science, math or engineering at the college level. Already we get most of our top scientists from foreign countries. This cannot continue if we as a country expect to be a world leader in science and technology.

One of the problems in changing a curriculum is that it is not an easy task to write a new curriculum that will accomplish what it is you want to do. Most teachers, including myself, do not have the expertise or time to come up with a new curriculum that has all the details necessary to insure the desired outcome. Then on top of this how does one go about setting it up? The thousand-and-one things that will enable the curriculum to work take a long time to work out. I was grateful for this PT workshop as it gave me a head start in solving these problems. Here is a project-centered program that not only has most of the "bugs" worked out of it but has proven itself in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and some parts of Europe. Many of these thousand-and-one details have been taken care of, but some still remain. The determination of what equipment and materials to get, as well as what quantity of materials and other budget factors are still a headache but unavoidable and manageable. 

PT is set up as an interdisciplinary approach to science and technology. Students can take PT as either a science or vocational education credit. The course itself consists of 14 modules or units (seven the first year and seven the second year). Work, force, rate, resistance, energy, power, and force transformers are the topics for the first year. Each unit in turn is to be investigated from the perspective of four systems: mechanics, fluids, electric and thermal properties. Each unit has a 10 to 12 minute introductory film which is to be followed by student discussions and questions. Each student has a workbook/text that gives background material for each system. The students are to research their own topic and hold class discussions; demonstrations clarify the troublesome areas. This is followed by a math review which covers the math needed for each system. There are plenty of practice problems for them. After this students work in groups of four on the experiment. Students must read and follow directions rather closely and must use reasoning and problem solving skills in the experiment. After running the experiment, students have data to record and use in solving the problems at hand. From all this the student must finally draw a conclusion.

Each system requires the student use verbal and written communication, diagnosis, problem definition, problem solving, influencing and organizing, and verbalizing attitudes, perceptions and tentative learnings from the experience. They use math as a means toward solving actual problems. The problems are examples of actual problems a technician might face, so there is a definite relevance for the student. This is a student-oriented program where the teacher takes on a support role. Students do the preparation, planning, gathering of information, and formulating hypotheses. The teachers' role is to direct the activities, provide materials and equipment, and to help students when they are really up against a problem they cannot solve.

The reason I think PT is a good idea is because it works! I've heard enough testimonials, read enough about it, and seen results of this process-oriented curriculum to be convinced that this is the way to reverse the failings of the current approach to science and math.


A Sample PT Module

From the PT modules I have selected Module II (Work and the Mechanical System) to illustrate an integrated unit. Because PT is a process-oriented program it is able to integrate content, process and experience. What this module/system sets out to do is allow students to determine the work done by pulleys and winches and the efficiency of each. After progressing through this exercise, they will have had to obtain information about work, efficiency, pulleys and winches from their environment (communication); formulate and test hypotheses about pulleys and winches and their ability to perform work (diagnosis); select and describe some part of the experiment which is to be altered (problem definition); plan action to solve the problem (commitment, risk taking); carry out the action, enlisting the help and cooperation of others (influencing and organizing); and verbalize attitudes, perceptions and tentative learnings from experience (cognition and generalization). With each module/system these are repeated so students get better at doing each. Also students learn content because each module/system is based upon a particular area. Each succeeding module builds upon previous ones, so content is repeatedly reviewed and used. There is a lot of reinforcement in the PT program.

Work done by pulleys and winches and their respective efficiencies is part of a typical physical science program. This PT approach may differ but the content is much the same. The neat thing about a process-oriented approach is that it presents the material in the context of the real world where real problems exist and real people solve them. Students learn that all skills and knowledge cannot be thought of in isolation, but rather they are all related. To solve a science and technology problem requires reading, writing, verbal, math, reasoning, library, and organizational skills. We're talking about integrating English, Math, and Science/Technology. PT should not only give science and technology a boost in school, but other subjects as well. Students should see that the basic skills they learn in other classes have a direct application in PT. I see PT as a sorely needed addition to any secondary school's program of studies. It can enhance the basic skills classes while addressing the myriad problems we face in producing science-literate citizens.

The PT program comes with some of the resources that are needed for implementation. The rest are specified, but the teacher must either rely on what is on hand and make-do, or purchase the needed equipment and supplies from vendors who have developed the supplies especially for PT. With the program comes a teachers' guide to all aspects of the program. I've seen it and it appears to be very complete. A set of videos that introduces the course and each module/system comes with the program. Workbooks/texts need to be purchased, though I believe the teacher gets a copy of each. The program is very process-oriented and a lot of equipment and materials are needed. Teachers at North Pole High School now have a list of the kinds of equipment and materials needed, as well as information on how to determine how much is needed, how to reduce costs and where to order materials. For the work module involving pulleys and winches, you need a variety of pulleys, a support stand, strong string, hooked weights, rulers, calipers, and a winch. The introductory video to work/mechanical systems is shown to start the unit. The video depicts a large crane, lifting and positioning large cargo containers on/off ships at the Seattle docks. Questions are raised as to how this is accomplished, what work is, how it is figured, etc.The operator of the crane is interviewed. He describes what his job is and some of the problems he must contend regarding what the crane can/ can't do. The video is also motivational in thatreal jobs and people are shown in an interesting way. It ends with a comic situation revolving around work. The video is 10 to 12 minutes long.

A class discussion about the video's content then follows. Questions are answered, new questions are raised, and new samples of work are given. This is a time for getting the students interested in and oriented toward mechanical work. This activity takes the rest of the class period. 

Students are assigned two to four pages of introductory reading material in their workbook/text. Students are selected at random in the next two days to orally answer questions on the reading. These two days are used to make sure students understand how work is defined, why we need to be concerned with work, how we calculate work, what work units are, and other related topics. To help the process, demonstrations/ experiments are performed. Except for demonstrations and teachers acting as moderators and prompters for class discussions, it is strictly a student-driven activity.

The next two days are to be devoted to the mathematics involved in determining work and efficiency. Practice problems are given, and students help each other in solving them. Since the U.S. is divided over the use of the metric or English systems of measurement, we use both in PT. Students need to be comfortable with each. By this time the students have already studied "force" and are familiar with what it is and how it is measured and calculated. Students will again work with force for reinforcement and add new dimensions such as the distance the force has moved. Students learn that a new unit emerges when we figure work (force times distance). This is the newton meter or joule, or the foot pound in the English system. Examples of how to determine the work done in a pulley system and a winch system are also introduced. The concept of efficiency in a mechanical system is introduced, along with instructions for finding it. To ease the math burden, calculators are encouraged.

Two to three days are then devoted to setting up and performing the experiment. The student workbook has detailed instructions similar to an instruction manual's. It is the students' responsibility to be able to read and follow these instructions. Students work in groups of four. They are bound to make mistakes. When they do, they analyze the situation to determine what went wrong and correct the error. The only help the instructor gives are cautions, making students aware of any modifications to the basic experiment that would make it easier or better, or getting students started in the right direction if they come to a dead end and can't seem to see their way out. Generally, though, it is the students helping each other.

Before attempting an experiment, each student must have a briefly written description of the experiment, including its materials and methods. This assures that the student has at least a cursory exposure and isn't completely in the dark on the day of the experiment. Experience has shown that this is a must. No summary - No experiment! This means that the students without a summary will have to come in on their own time to make it up.

As the experiment progresses, measurements remain important. Collecting data in a reliable way and recording it in a useful format are emphasized in the workbook. So is obtaining several readings for each measurement and averaging these measurements to minimize errors.

Students then perform the calculations and make group presentations to the class, fielding questions from the class. Conclusions are drawn, papers are tidied up and submitted for teacher evaluation. Actually the evaluation of the students' progress starts when they are performing their experiment; their paper is only the culmination of the evaluation. A traditional A, B, C, D or F grading system is used with the students' performance and their paper comprising half of their grade on this unit and half from a test at the end of the module.

This example of a PT unit illustrates the many ingredients that go into all the modules. In the end, students are proficient not only in principles of science and technology but in many other academic and social skills as well.


Ray Barnhardt

Part I * Rural School Ideals

"My Goodness, People Come and Go So Quickly Around Here"
Lance C. Blackwood

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Monte Boston

Teachers and Administrators for Rural Alaska
Claudia Caffee

The Mentor Teacher Program
Judy Charles

Building Networks
Helen Eckelman

Ideal Curriculum and Teaching Approaches for a School in Rural Alaska
Teresa McConnell

Some Observations Concerning Excellent Rural Alaskan Schools
Bob Moore

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School
Samuel Moses

From Then To Now: The Value of Experiential Learning
Clara Carol Potterville

The Ideal School
Jane Seaton

Toward an Integrated, Nonlinear, Community-Oriented Curriculum Unit
Mary Short

A Letter from Idealogak, Alaska
Timothy Stathis

Preparing Rural Students for the Future
Michael Stockburger

The Ideal Rural School
Dawn Weyiouanna

Alternative Approaches to the High School Curriculum
Mark J. Zintek

Part II * Rural Curriculum Ideas

"Masking" the Curriculum
Irene Bowie

On Punks and Culture
Louise J. Britton

Literature to Meet the Needs of Rural Students
Debra Buchanan

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom
Patricia S. Caldwell

Early Childhood Special Education in Rural Alaska
Colleen Chinn

Technically Speaking
Wayne Day

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper 
Marilyn Harmon

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education
David Jaynes

Principals of Technology
Brian Marsh

Here's Looking at You and Whole Language
Susan Nugent

Inside, Outside and all-Around: Learning to Read and Write
Mary L. Olsen

Science Across the Curriculum
Alice Porter

Here's Looking at You 2000 Workshop
Cheryl Severns

School-Based Enterprises
Gerald Sheehan

King Island Christmas: A Language Arts Unit
Christine Pearsall Villano

Using Student-Produced Dialogues
Michael A. Wilson

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community
Sally Young

Artist's Credits



Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution and is a part of the University of Alaska system.


Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
Questions or comments?
Last modified August 14, 2006