City Technology: Stuff That Works, funded in part by NSF, is an effort to research and develop a professional development model that supports the wide-scale integration of technology education into the elementary grades. A collaboration between the City College of New York's Schools of Education and Engineering, CCT, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the City Technology model combines an in-person, hands-on workshop with Internet-based discussion forums for five technology education topics including: Mechanisms and Other Systems; Mapping Designed Environments: Places, Practices, & Plans; Packaging and Other Structures; and Signs, Symbols, and Codes. A major feature of this model is the involvement of engineers.
The Stuff That Works curriculum, captured in a series of field-tested curriculum guides produced by City College's Schools of Engineering and Education and K-8 teachers through a prior NSF professional development materials grant, is central to the professional development experience and engages teachers in analysis and design activities arising from everyday problems and artifacts. Teachers participating in the Stuff That Works professional development project first attend a half-day, in-person, hands-on workshop that introduces them to one of the five curricular guide topics, all of which involve analysis and design - or redesign - of everyday artifacts and/or environments: for example, simple mechanisms such as nail clippers and umbrellas; circuits such as flashlights; signs, symbols, and maps such as those contained on cartons, boxes, and shopping bags; and physical environments such as classrooms and cafeterias. As they begin to implement a unit in their own classrooms, teachers participate in structured online discussions, facilitated by professional developers and/or master teachers already experienced with the curriculum and supported by Stuff That Works print materials and Internet-based resources. Selected engineers, serving as volunteers, assist in the online discussion forums by relating how classroom experiences with 'everyday stuff' intersect with the work of engineers in problem-solving, design, and manufacturing. Through the combined resources of forum facilitators, teachers, and engineers, students develop an awareness of what technology is, how it has been designed to meet human needs, and how they themselves can solve problems of real importance in their lives. The study of everyday technology also provides rich contexts for the development of literacy as well as the learning of math and science concepts.
In the context of education, rarely does the 'professional development' of teachers include professionals from disciplines outside of the field of education. City Technology: Stuff That Works supports what teachers have to learn from each other, while acknowledging the importance of teachers seeing themselves as part of a larger professional community. Through an expanded professional development community, engineers are able to offer their insights into how technical professionals think about issues related to what teachers and students are trying out in their classrooms. By providing glimpses into their own work, engineers stimulate interest in technical careers, relate the engineering aspects of 'everyday stuff,' and encourage connections between the world of school and the world of work. In addition to participating in the discussion forums, engineers contribute to a collection of web-based resources drawing parallels between classroom experiences and their own.
In the first year of the project, we conducted research to inform the design and development of online professional development forum models that support vigorous discussions and prepare project staff for their roles as facilitators.