Mark R. Kinsler beklagt den Rückgang an Technology-Literacy in den USA (interessante Argumentation) und schlägt spezielle Werkkurse für Primar-Lehrer vor. (TECHNOLOGY IN PRIMARY SCIENCE EDUCATION)

Mark R. Kinsler

114 Columbia Avenue

Athens, OH 45701-1307



Also known as: how things work. Which nobody seems to know these days.


My scholarly work is in high voltage, lightning, and the history

of technology. I have a PhD in electrical engineering from Mississippi

State University, home of one of the world's largest high voltage laboratories.

My dissertation research explored how lightning can interact with overhead

electric power lines to blow holes in buried pipes and cables.

Right now, my interest is in the improvement of science and technology

education. This does not mean computers. I'm at the early stages of establishing

a program to teach the way the world works to elementary school teachers,

who will then be in a position to teach it to their students. It's too

late to introduce electrical engineering students in college to topics

like how electricity gets to your house and what makes a telephone work.

I'm not exaggerating: they don't know.

The program is initially aimed at science teachers in primary grades,

but will be offered to anybody who is interested.

Objectives of the program:

1) To assist in the teaching of primary school physical science by linking

it to the technology that students see every day.

2) To encourage students and teachers to explore technology independently,

thus promoting greater understanding on both sides of the technical/non-technical


3) Ultimately, to form the foundations for the establishment of a technology

curriculum for _all_ students from primary to post- secondary levels.

The program will accomplish these objectives by

1) teaching technology to teachers through demonstration-oriented seminars,

2) encouraging the teaching of technology in the primary classroom by

sharing ideas by means of an electronic discussion group and publications,

3) continuing a research program to develop better ways of demonstrating

how things work.



Why I think this is important:

In 15 years of teaching post-secondary engineering, engineering technology,

and technical trade school courses, I've found that students, through no

fault of their own, are far more poorly prepared for a technical education

than I was thirty years ago. I think that similar observations could be

made by any engineering professor. The difficulty is that most students

have had very little contact with the machinery that they use every day.

Automobiles, especially since the advent of electronic vehicle computers,

now seem untouchable to erstwhile "Saturday mechanics." Electronic devices

have shrunk to monolithic integrated circuits connected to LCD displays;

both are the very essence of inaccessibility. Moreover, an increasing proportion

of formerly accessible household mechanical devices like typewriters, thermostats,

clocks and watches, and cameras have themselves been turned into inaccessible

electronic devices. These devices themselves are much improved, but what

is there for the children to discover inside?

Contributing to the loss of technical curiosity is the fact that there

don't seem to be as many fathers taking apart toasters and carburetors

on Saturday mornings as there used to be. Social scientists tell us that

there aren't as many fathers as there were, and it seems to me that fathers

who spend "quality time" with a joint-custody child probably won't spend

it fixing the toaster, which is easily replaced. Moreover, the car no longer

has a carburetor. And the father likely doesn't know how to fix either


Science education has changed as well. It has been argued that the increased

emphasis on biology is a reflection of an anti- industrial bias amongst

science educators. It can also be argued that the sheer volume of advances

in medicine and biological science are simply displacing the older industrially-oriented

topics. Despite the cause, children no longer learn how things work in

school, and I believe that this has caused a great dis- empowerment of

recent generations of kids.


This leads to a bit of political discussion:

Water, sewer, power, transportation systems and structures are life-support

systems. Thus nuclear power, flood control, EMF's, air travel and automobile

safety issues have become political issues. If citizens do not know why

an aircraft flies or where their water comes from, there is ample room

for opportunists to step in. Technical illiteracy is a major failure of

our educational system and has been neglected in favor of the far narrower

pursuit of proficiency in computer software.

So even if your kid will never have a job title that includes the words

"engineer" or "technician," she is a user of complex machinery and systems

and depends upon them for her very life. This is not an exaggeration. Suppose

electric power, water and sewer service were to cease. What would happen

to the rates of disease? Then we'll dump telephone and other communications

services as well, and remove our air and road transportation so each little

community will be isolated in its squalor. We _are_ engineers, all of us.

Technical literacy is a women's issue as well. In most of the engineering

courses I've taught there has been a small percentage of female students.

(University engineering schools have been largely unsuccessful in recruiting

more women into the "fraternity" of engineers, but that is not our concern

here.) My observation is that these women have, with only a few exceptions,

had even less familiarity with machines than their male counterparts. They

also seem to have an extra layer of reluctance to become involved with

real devices sitting upon a workbench. There is a kind of look I've seen

on the faces of my female students in the laboratory, and it can really

only be described as fear. These women have been scared away from machines,

and at an early age.


What I'd like to do:

Children must be taught about their world at an early age, for that is

when they are most curious and receptive. The people best equipped to do

this are parents and primary school teachers. I cannot reach parents, but

primary school teachers can teach technology if they are given the tools

to do so. So my goal is to teach a course in how the world works to primary

school teachers. They, in turn, can pass their awareness and knowledge

onto their students.

I think that the typical primary school teacher is intelligent, motivated,

and an activist, but has very little technical education and possibly a

good deal of the fear of machines that I've observed in my engineering

students. She really doesn't know what makes her automobile run, or what

the wires on a utility pole are.

Primary school teachers might well be receptive to a seminar along the

following lines:

I. Materials and structures.

A. Materials and how they are joined into structures--concrete through


B. Designs and alternatives for houses, roads and vehicles, water and

sewer systems.

II. Mechanisms and motive power:

A. Pumps, gears, seals, hydraulics, pneumatics, heat engines, refrigeration.


B. Trains, automobiles, ships and aircraft.

III. Energy and communications:

A. The basic electric circuit for transmission of power and information.

B. Generators, lamps, motors, telegraphs, telephones, amplifiers, fax,


IV. The Public Utilities Nature Walk.


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