PublisherITEEA, Reston, VA
ReleasedJanuary 1, 2015

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Adapted from Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology – 3rd Edition: ITEEA)

Students who study technology and engineering through an integrative STEM education approach learn about the technological world that inventors, engineers, and other innovators have created. Among other things, they study how energy is generated from coal, natural gas, nuclear power, solar power, as well as when and how it is transmitted and distributed. They examine communication systems: telephone, radio and television, smart devices, satellite communications, fiber optics, and the Internet. They delve into manufacturing and materials— processing industries, from steel and petrochemicals to computer chips and household appliances. They investigate transportation, information processing, and medical technology. They look into new technologies, such as genetic engineering and emerging technologies, such as fusion power and soft robotics.

The goal is to produce students with a more conceptual understanding of technology and engineering and its place in society. These students are able to conceptualize and evaluate new technologies that they may have never before seen. By “doing and making,” children are able to become “makers” for the future.

The technological literacy standards emphasize comprehension of the basic elements that go into any technology through the engineering design process. The design process is the main approach that engineers, designers, and others in technology use to create solutions to real-world problems. Another element is development and production, whereby the design is transformed into a finished product and a system is created to produce. A third element is the use and maintenance of the product, which can determine the product’s success or failure. Each of the steps in the process demands its own set of skills, tools, and abilities, which are interwoven through the engineering habits of mind. We support NAE in stating that PreK- 12 engineering education must promote engineering “habits of mind” (NAE, 2014). Engineering habits of mind are aligned with what many believe are essential skills for citizens in the 21st century (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2011). These include systems thinking, creativity, optimism, collaboration, communication, and ethical considerations.

In addition to understanding how particular technologies are developed and used, students should be able to evaluate the technologies’ impacts on the environment, on other technologies, and on society itself. The benefits of technology and engineering are usually obvious—otherwise, specific inventions and innovations would probably never be developed—but the disadvantages and dangers are often hidden. One of the fundamental lessons in studying technology is that not only can technology be used to solve problems, but it may also create new ones. Many of these new problems can be solved or ameliorated by yet more technology, but this may in turn create other problems. Technologies inevitably involve trade-offs between benefits and costs and intelligent decisions made about technology need to be taken into account. Students come to see each technology as neither good nor bad in itself, but one whose costs and benefits should be carefully weighed before deciding if it is worth developing.

Engineers, architects, computer scientists, technicians, and others involved in technology use a variety of approaches to problem solving, including troubleshooting, research and development, invention, innovation, and experimentation. Students become familiar with these approaches and learn about the appropriate situations in which to use them. They learn that design, sometimes called “technological design,” is the primary problem-solving approach in technology and engineering. In learning to design, students master a set of abilities that will serve them well throughout their lives.

The engineering design process typically begins with defining the human need, want, challenge, or opportunity. After investigating and researching the human need, want, challenge, or opportunity, the designer generates a number of ideas for solutions. Because it is particularly helpful for several people to brainstorm ideas, students will generally work in groups at this stage of the design process. Then, considering the original criteria, along with various constraints, one design, or, in some cases more than one, is chosen as the most promising. The selected design is modeled and tested, and then reevaluated. If necessary, the original design is dropped and another tried. Eventually through a series of iterations that repeat the variable steps of the process as necessary, a final design is chosen.

Because it would be impossible to instruct students on every product they might encounter, they are given experience with some common tools and systems to gain familiarity with the basic principles of using and maintaining technological products. They are also taught how to learn about products on their own, by reading instructions, or searching for information on the Internet. The confidence and familiarity with technology that they acquire will prepare students to deal intelligently with current and future technological products.

Technological studies are ideal as an interdisciplinary integrator of all subject content. It especially excels in connecting the fields represented by the STEM acronym. When taught effectively, technology is not simply one more field of study seeking admission to an already crowded curriculum, pushing others out of the way. Instead, it reinforces and complements the material that students learn in other classes—Technology and Engineering Bring STEM to Life!

As identified in the technological literacy standards, the study of technology is a way to apply and integrate knowledge from many other subject areas. Technological literacy is the ability to use, manage, assess, and understand technology. A technologically literate person understands, in increasingly sophisticated ways that evolve over time, what technology is, how it is created, and how it shapes society, and in turn is shaped by society. A technologically literate person will be comfortable with learning about technology, without being afraid or intimidated by it.

Learning to understand and thrive within the framework of technology and engineering, technological literacy benefits students in a number of ways. For future engineers, aspiring architects, or students who will have jobs in one area of technology or another, it means they will leave high school with a head start on their careers. They will already understand the basics of such things as the design process and possess a big picture of the field they are entering. This will allow them to put the specialized knowledge they learn later into a broader context.

While technological literacy offers a unique advantage to those students considering a career related to technology and engineering, it is critically important for all students to achieve and build their own capacity for technology, innovation, design, and engineering. STEM is an important force in our economy; anyone and everyone benefits by being familiar with it. On the individual level, technological literacy allows consumers to better assess products and make more intelligent buying decisions, policy decisions, and those that affect our quality of life.

Decisions influenced by technology will be made by individual citizens. Individuals shape how technological issues are addressed through their legislators, through public hearings, and through court cases. Having a technologically literate citizenry may not guarantee that the best decisions are made on these key issues, but is certainly important in making sure we are all in the best position to meet the challenges! Technology and Engineering Education through Integrative STEM education effectively delivers technological literacy and paves the way for making a positive difference in the lives of humankind!

Katehi, L., Pearson, G. & Feder, M. (2009). K-12 engineering education. The Bridge: Linking Engineering and Society. Retrieved from Bridge/16145/16161.aspx.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2011). Framework for 21st century learning. Retrieved from