How can a Technology centre more effectively teach technological products (including materials manipulation) and brief development?
Technology teacher Christine Elder revised and improved a unit focusing on technological products and brief development.
The teaching and learning within the revised unit resulted in:
- students showing more extensive understanding of a wider range of materials
- a higher proportion of students achieving level 2 on the relevant indicators
- students participating in two exhibitions of their work.
Christine Elder teaches at the South Otago High School Junior Technology Centre, which caters for year 7 and 8 students from ten client schools.
This year, Technology teachers at the school have engaged in faculty-wide planning to ensure that:
- the curriculum is taught at all levels across all the strands and components
- students develop understanding before progressing to the next level.
The teachers agreed that the focuses for term 1 would be brief development and technological products.
Last year, Christine used figurines as a context for teaching technological products and brief development. The unit also covered characteristics of technology, with the students exploring technological outcomes from past eras, including the materials used and how these had been manipulated. This year, she decided to review and improve this unit.
Reasons for change
The students had enjoyed the figurines but had experienced difficulty in manipulating materials to create such small objects. The smallness of the objects also limited the range of materials that they could use.
In addition, Christine wanted to give greater prominence to the indicators of progression so that both teachers and students could see whether they were being met, and what still needed to be taught and learnt.
We wanted to be able to discuss them with students, saying, for example: "Good, you have understood this, but now what about …?”Christine Elder
Another driver was that Christine wanted a project that would allow her Māori students to express their culture in appropriate ways.
The school’s biennial arts week provided a further reason for change because one of the planned activities was a wearable arts competition. If the students were to make masks instead of figurines, they would be able to enter them in the competition.
Christine’s initial research turned up these useful sources of information:
- Technology in the New Zealand Curriculum. Janet Burns (Ed). Dunmore Press, 1997. ISBN 0 86469 280 3. Chapter 2, “Technology and Māori”, Arohia Durie, pages 31–45.
- Maori Technology, Te Ao Kohatu, Education Kit, Tamaki Paenga Hira: Background Notes Years 1 to 10. Auckland Museum, 2005.
- Te Mahi Kai, Maori Food Gathering, Education Kit, Te Papa Whakahiku: Years 1–10. Auckland Museum, 2001.
- Kākahu Māori Cloaks, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
To supplement the materials in the Technology storeroom, Kathy, a volunteer classroom assistant, collected recycled materials from members of the school community: plastic Easter egg cradles, copper wire, silage wrap, and so on. Once the unit was underway, the students brought along additional materials, such as lace and peacock feathers, which they wanted to use in their masks.
To ensure that students were familiar with the definition of a technological outcome, Christine began by revisiting and discussing the characteristics of Technology.
Exploring materials and how they can be manipulated
After revisiting the characteristics, Christine had the students explore technological outcomes from the past, with a particular focus on Māori technological outcomes. They discussed what materials Māori had used, and how they had manipulated them to create the desired outcomes.
Christine created a data show presentation that included photographs of early Māori technological outcomes. To focus the students’ thinking, she asked:
- What materials have they used?
- What was each material made from?
- How did they manipulate it?
- How did they change it?
- Why did they choose this material?
- What were its properties?
Most of the students had some knowledge of materials and how they are manipulated, but the range of materials they were familiar with was small and consisted mainly of plastics.
Observing appropriate protocols, the students harvested harakeke (flax) and tried simple weaving techniques. They watched a video clip (Maori Textiles: The Piu Piu Project) that showed stripping and preparing harakeke, and they trialled the technique. The teacher in charge of Māori loaned a kapa haka costume and kete for display in the classroom. Māori students in the class shared their knowledge of how harekeke is manipulated to produce piupiu.
Some school families have the right to harvest tītī (muttonbirds), so their children were able to tell the rest of the class about how bull kelp is manipulated to create the pōhā (containers) in which the harvested tītī are traditionally stored. The students also watched the section on tītī storage in The PAC-IT Education Resource produced by the Packaging Council of New Zealand.
Christine then taught the students how to felt so that if they wished, they could use felt when making their masks.
Planning, designing, and creating the masks
With the groundwork laid in terms of basic research and skills development, the students specified the attributes for their mask, wrote their brief, and sketched five possible designs that would fulfil the brief. They then spent the next seven weeks creating their masks.
This extended practical time gave the students plenty of opportunity to trial and manipulate a variety of materials; for example, stapling and taping cardboard, felting, using flax, using supermarket apple containers and making clip on eyes (as shown at Cardboard Bug Eyes by The Cardboard Collective).
One student, Luke, used strips of paper to create the shape of his helmet mask, repeatedly trying it on until he obtained the right fit (functional modelling).
The allocated time proved just right.
There were only three masks left to complete (due to illness). There wasn’t that last-minute panic, and the students were not worrying about when they had to finish. I worked as facilitator and the students really persevered until they got their ideas to work. They covered the framework of their masks with papier-mâché, which they then painted. The finished masks don’t reveal the vast amount of work and thinking that went into them.Christine Elder
The students recorded their developing understandings in their booklets as the project progressed. For those who required extra support with literacy, Christine asked the questions and recorded their responses.
The students were tested on terminology to check their understanding of the language used in brief development and to describe technological products.
The terminology test gives me an idea of where they're at; I can then incorporate aspects of that into reports. I will deal with gaps in understanding the next term or pass this information on to the next teacher.Christine Elder
The time allocated and the size of the product (mask) meant that the students were able to develop a more extensive understanding of a wider range of materials and how to manipulate them than had been possible in the previous (figurine) unit.
It was good to get straight into the materials and their manipulation in the first three weeks. This gave the students a solid knowledge base from which they could proceed to create the outcome described in their brief.Christine Elder
As it happened, no students used harakeke in their masks.
In 2012, 64 of the 125 year 7 students (51%) who had made figurines achieved level 2 for brief development and technological products. In 2013, 84 out of the 106 students (79%) who made masks achieved level 2 on the same indicators.
I think that the higher proportion of students achieving level 2 reflects the fact that this time I knew exactly what I was looking for, understood the indicators, and had found more effective ways of teaching.Christine Elder
Christine cautions against “atomising” the indicators, as this changes the intent. For example, “Describe the attributes of the outcomes / Take into the account the need or opportunity / Record the resources available”, does not convey the same meaning as this level 2 indicator:
Describe the attributes for an outcome that take account of the need or opportunity being addressed and the resources available.Indicator of progression, Brief development, level 2
Atomisation effectively assumes that the various phrases or parts of an indicator have no relationship to each other. This is a false assumption.
The reports that the Junior Technology Centre sends home to parents each term now report specifically on the focus components.
The planned wearable art competition did not eventuate, so as an alternative Christine organised an exhibition of the masks in the design room and classroom. The judges included the heads of Technology and art, and prizes were donated by the community. The local paper reported on the exhibition, as did Technology Online news.
Six of the masks were chosen for exhibition as part of the school’s Arts Week.
When the same students come to the centre next term, it’s going to be interesting to see how well they transfer their understanding of technological products and brief development into a food context. I am going to try a mix-and-match activity that focuses on the manipulation of ingredients in food technology. I’ll ask the students to match definitions with descriptions. I’ll also ask them to record the method, an example of when this occurs in food technology, and the ingredients used.Christine Elder
Masks are on the programme again for next year, but probably with an ethnic angle. As well as Māori and Pākehā, the school has a growing number of Filipino students, and the masks offer potential for students of any culture to express something of their own tradition. With an eye on next year, Christine recently took part in an introduction to harakeke workshop.
Christine plans to tighten up the brief development next time, requiring the students to more fully define the attributes of their outcome before they begin to make it.