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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?


These illustrative examples demonstrate how skills and understandings related to the technological modelling component could be developed at different school levels.

 The following learning experiences support teachers as they develop their understanding of the technological modelling component of the technological knowledge strand.

There is no expectation that these would form the basis of any specific unit of work in technology. The learning experiences have been summarised from classrooms across New Zealand and provide examples of student achievement across a range of levels.

Junior primary

Students could explore imaginative play, toys, television, or computer games to help them distinguish between simulated situations and reality. Teacher guided class discussion could focus on developing an understanding of how reality is different to simulations and the implications of this.

For example, when playing with a doll, children simulate the care of a baby – however, the implications of dropping the doll are quite different to dropping a baby.

Students could be introduced to the term model and encouraged to discuss what they think modelling is and how it might be useful in developing outcomes. After that, give students opportunities to play with different modelling materials such as LEGO, plasticine, Meccano, Connex, cardboard, concept maps, and computer modelling packages.

Students explore how different materials may allow greater testing of how something might work. For example, standard LEGO could be compared with LEGO Technic, and computer simulations could be compared with 3-D models.

To finish off, students could discuss their ideal playground and undertake functional modelling, to decide as a group what ideas could be feasible and acceptable for a playground for their school.

Students achieving at level 1 could be expected to:

  • explain that models are not the same as the real thing, and describe some examples of modelling
  • identify functional models and describe that they can help you to test design ideas.

Students achieving at level 2 could be expected to describe:

  • how models can be useful to help you think about things before they happen, but can also make you think something is possible that isn't – or vice-versa 
  • the functional modelling used and identify the design ideas being tested during the class activity to make decisions.

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Senior primary

Present to students information about a range of models, including both functional models and prototypes, which have been used in the past development of specific technological outcomes.

Examples could be chosen from areas of interest to the students and might include such things as musical instruments, sporting equipment, cars, bikes, food products, and clothing.

In groups, the students could identify what the purpose of each model might be and what particular characteristics of each model allowed it to fulfil its purpose.

As a class, the students could discuss what things they would have to know if they were developing these models. Students identify the limitations of the model in terms of what it cannot provide information about.

After that students reflect on their practice and undertake technological modelling of some form, to guide them in the next stage of their development.

As part of this, they need to clearly identify the purpose of the modelling. Are they testing their design idea (functional modelling)? Or testing the outcome itself (prototyping)?

They also could be asked to explain why they chose the materials used, and how and from whom they would get feedback to inform their decision making. Students use their model and evaluate its fitness for purpose against its intended purpose.

Students achieving at level 2 could be expected to:

  • describe different functional models and prototypes provided and identify the reason they were used
  • identify the design ideas being tested in particular functional models
  • identify the specifications being used to test different prototypes.

Students achieving at level 3 could be expected to:

  • identify different forms of functional models and explain why they were selected
  • identify different examples of prototyping and describe how the evidence gained allowed people to decide if the prototype needed further work or not
  • describe the choice of modelling they undertook and how this helped and/or hindered their decision making.

Students achieving at level 4 could be expected to:

  • explain a range of examples of technological modelling, and discuss how each allowed them to determine both what could and what should be done
  • discuss examples of functional modelling and describe the specific information they generated to help make design decisions
  • identify the information gained from their own technological modelling (either functional modelling or prototyping) and describe how it helped them decide what to do.

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Junior secondary

Students could select examples of successful technological outcomes to explore.

For example, Post It notes, Gibbs Aquada, telephones, antibiotics, Hamilton jet boats, vaccines, or a past successful student outcome. 

Alternately, they could select unsuccessful technological outcomes to explore.

For example, Thalidomide, Chenobyl or Three Mile Island nuclear power plants, Cave Creek, Hindenburg airship, Titanic, Columbia, Silver Bridge, early generation hybrid cars, unsafe toy or food products, or a past failed student outcome.

They could explore the extent to which functional modelling was used during development phases and what factors (economic, social, political, and technological knowledge) influenced the developments. Particular attention should be paid to understanding key decision points and the basis upon which these decisions were made.

Examples from the students' past and current practice could also be brought into discussions, to encourage them to identify appropriate times where functional modelling may have increased its success. Students select a particular example of an unsuccessful technological outcome and debate, based on a retrospective analysis and their developing understandings, how things might have been done differently.

Students achieving at level 4 could be expected to:

  • identify decisions that focussed on what could happen and those that focussed on what should happen and explain how these impacted on the resulting technological outcome
  • identify information that has been gathered from functional models about the suitability of design concepts and describe how this information was used
  • explain how prototyping has played a role in supporting the implementation of an outcome with both successful and unsuccessful results.

Students achieving at level 5 could be expected to:

  • explain how evidence was gathered and used to the support of the development of a successful outcome and compare this with an example where the resulting outcome was unsuccessful
  • discuss examples of how prototyping allowed maintenance requirements to be determined
  • outline a case for how technological modelling could lesson the chance of market failure or resulting disaster, in the case of a particular technological outcome.

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Senior secondary

Students could identify a local community issue and work alongside key stakeholders/end-users to identify their priorities and perspectives, and how they impact on their perceptions about what type of solution would be fit for purpose. 

Examples of issues could include establishment of a marina, restoration or creation of a mining site, reclamation of a wetlands area, site of a new building sub-division, need for flood protection, need to stop sand dune erosion, or redesign of an accident prone intersection.

From this basis students work to identify arguments for possible scenarios that employ both functional (what can be done) and practical (what ought to be done) reasoning. Students use these to develop a series of functional models to test a range of design ideas and explore any real and/or perceived risks associated with them.

Models developed could be justified in terms of purpose, medium, and the validity of the evidence they will provide in order to make decisions of where to next? Students could employ a range of models and gather evidence, to support their decision for a recommendation of a feasible conceptual design. The design would address some or all of the needs/opportunities provided by the issue and mitigate identified risks.

Students achieving at level 4 could be expected to:

  • explain how functional modelling can be employed to gather specific information about how a potential outcome might be perceived by key stakeholders/end-users
  • explain how technological modelling could be undertaken to test design ideas for stakeholder/end-user acceptability and technical feasibility
  • present a design concept of a possible outcome, that is explained in terms of both stakeholder/end-user acceptability and technical feasibility.

Students achieving at level 5 could be expected to:

  • explain how different forms of functional modelling can be used to identify conflicts between key stakeholder/end-user priorities
  • explain the reasoning that lead them to decide on a particular conceptual design as both acceptable and feasible
  • present and justify a design concept for a technological outcome that would address the needs/desires of key stakeholders/end-users.

Students achieving at level 6 could be expected to:

  • explain the difference between functional and practical reasoning and discuss how both types of reasoning informed their decision making
  • explain how the functional models used enhanced and/or limited their ability to explore and identify the risks
  • present and justify a design concept for a technological outcome that would address the needs/desires of key stakeholders/end-users, and take account of informed predictions from the wider social and physical environment.

Students achieving at level 7 could be expected to:

  • justify the need to gather a range of evidence through different types of functional modelling, in order to make decisions about both what could and should be done in relationship to a particular issue
  • employ functional modelling to identify and assess possible risks in relation to a range of design ideas developed to address a selected issue, and present an argument for how these risks could be mitigated
  • using a range of evidence, present and justify a design concept for a technological outcome that would most effectively address the needs/desires of key stakeholders/end-users and take account of predictions from the wider social and physical environment.

Students achieving at level 8 could be expected to:

  • explain the role of function modelling 
  • justify the use of various media and procedures in functional modelling
  • present and justify a design concept for a technological outcome.

Explain the role of function modelling 

Using illustrative examples from the issue explored, explain the critical role of functional modelling in making informed predictions and defensible decisions. It should address a variety of competing and contestable factors inherent in the issue.

Justify the use of various media and procedures in functional modelling

Explain why different media and functinal modelling procedures were used to assess risks of potential outcomes. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the issues, historical development practices, and past outcomes.

Present awareness of perspectives of individual stakeholder, end-users, and the community as a whole. Identify requirements of the social and physical environment in both the short and long terms.

Present and justify a design concept for a technological outcome

Using a range of evidence suitable for different audiences, present and justify a design concept for a technological outcome that would most effectively address the needs/desires of key stakeholders or end-users.

In addition, take into account predictions from the wider social and physical environment. Also, outline feasible and acceptable safeguards that could be developed to mitigate identified risks.

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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