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Ministry of Education.
Kaua e rangiruatia te hāpai o te hoe; e kore tō tātou waka e ū ki uta

Technological modelling

The purpose of Technological modelling is to support students to test their design ideas, make decisions to make them more successful, and begin to understand the wider impact of their outcome.

There are two types of technological modelling:

  • Functional modelling is the ongoing testing of design concepts (ideas) to see if they work/function as intended
  • Prototyping (literally, “creating the first of a kind”) is the realisation of a fully functioning model using the actual materials

Taken together, the two types of modelling provide evidence of factors that may impact on, and consequences that may result from, the student developing a technological outcome.

When students undertake Technological modelling you should see two kinds of reasoning or critical thinking:

  • Functional reasoning – how to make it happen, how it is happening
  • Practical reasoning – should we make it happen? should it be happening?


Facilitator Cheryl Pym discusses the importance of learning about technological modelling.

Duration: 03.41


I see a lot of students doing modelling. They undertake testing and trialling, and they develop prototypes and test the prototype in situ, and both of those are really important parts of technological modelling. But if students don’t learn about modelling and develop the knowledge base around modelling techniques and the evidence that’s gained, then they’re not able to choose the right technique at the right time. So that really means that teachers must teach about modelling, the different types of modelling that we use, what the different types of evidence are, how we would use that, how that supports management of risk, and supports the development of tech outcomes that are fit for purpose.

I think one of the best ways that students can be exposed looking at a range of modelling is to invite people to present to your students or take students out into the community.

So one example recently was a digital technologies teacher who invited a computational modeller to come in, and they were talking about fish breeding and how they could predict the size of tanks and the implications of different feeding and tank size on the breeding patterns of the fish. So, that helped students understand how they managed risk and the development of the environment for those breeding programmes.

Another really good example – an inspirational one that I’ve just seen recently – is an architectural firm in Dunedin where they are inspired by bio mimicry. They don’t, once they’ve met with their client, they don’t go straight to architectural drawing, they actually model first. So they create pictures, 3D models, they laser cut, 3D print. They create the most amazing models and then they start drawing from there.

Technological modelling for me is all about decision making and managing risk. So it’s a key component of not only understanding about those things but how to do that in practice. So, every time a student is making decisions, what are they basing their decisions on? Are they testing and trialling things that are important? Or are they testing for the sake of just testing, a raft of testing, to no end really?

So, in functional modelling, which takes place all the way through their development looking at different components and different pieces, imagine if that was missing. So, I think about a car, as a designer, what would happen if they just made the component and then put them all together and then tested the car?

Things would fail quite considerably I would imagine or not function as it was intended to its best capacity.

So all the way along the line, people in real life contexts are testing the important pieces of things, what’s important to test, to find out what works, and communicate that to their stakeholders or to the other parts of the team who are developing things.

So for a student who is creating an outcome, surely it makes good sense that they know how to do that and why they are doing that. So they look at if this testing tells me this or that testing tells me that, which one will I use to find out the appropriate piece of information? So it’s not a randomness; it’s a planned approach.

So that really means that teachers must teach about modelling, about what different types of modelling there are, and what evidence is gained from that, so that we use that to its best advantage to manage risk and avoid product failure. Because one of the things we don’t want is product failure and malfunction, partly because it’s costly and partly because of the safety factor.

Technological modelling: Key ideas (Word 2007, 60 KB)

Acknowledgment: This paper is derived from an earlier version by Dr Vicki Compton and Cliff Harwood.

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