Expanding Student Ideas About Technology

Classroom Activity for Expanding Student Ideas About Technology

(Contact Brian Hartman for more information)


To broaden student thinking about the meaning of the word “technology.”



We are not yet in a technological age. Students use technologies in its many forms without a thought of where they came from or how they differ from each other. For example, is a lump of clay an example of technology? Most students would probably answer an emphatic “No” to this question. However, a lump of clay is a design tool that is used to solve human problems. The picture shows a pen design suggesting a designer who used clay. Students will find this link to creative automotive design with clay eye opening.


The process of designing technologies to solve practical problems has been a hallmark of human civilization since the dawn of time. Our current use of the term “technology” has lost track of this deeper meaning. We tend to reserve the term for electronic devices such as computers or cell phones that we use every day.

Classroom Exercise

Ask students to determine which of the technologies listed in the activity handout (download above) most-represent the meaning of the term “technology”.   To prepare students for this activity and discussion they can spend time on this site (Science & Engineering in the Lives of Students http://TheSELSProject.org) watching a video or examining one or more of the activities. On the worksheet (download) students individually compare items of technology two at a time until they have compared every item with every other item. They then sum to determine the final rank order of technology items. After students have completed the technology assessment, the teacher can use a think-pair-share activity to initiate the discussion. First, ask the students to look at the items they have rated most like technology and compare them to the ones they have rated least like technology. Ask, “What is similar between the items they have rated highest and lowest?” Second, discuss their thoughts with a partner. Ask, “What concept of technology were you using to make this ranking?” After collating a list of the three highest-ranking items and three lowest-ranking items for the class, teachers can determine what words the students have prioritized as most like technology and least like technology. This summary can be used as a springboard to initiate discussions about what really represents technology.