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Technology Icon Test a Production System

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In this lesson aimed for grades 9-12, students will:

  • Examine the history of the Families of Technology.
  • Contrast early technological developments with modern technological developments.


Production, communication, transportation, biotechnology


A Brief History of Technology

Technology began long before recorded history. When the earliest humans first made tools out of stones, technology was invented. That's what technology is all about: people creating ways to satisfy their needs. Technology does not have to be complex. A stone ax is technology just as much as a computer is.

All people have basic needs and wants. Technology helps people satisfy these by creating products and services. Our essential needs -- for food, water, shelter, communication, transportation, protection, health care, and recreation -- have not changed throughout history. How we satisfy them, on the other hand, has changed dramatically.

The Families of Technology

To understand how different technologies satisfy needs, it is helpful to categorize them into families. The four families of technology are production systems (manufacturing and construction), communication systems, transportation systems, and biotechnology systems.

Simple technologies can lead to more complex technologies. Today's computers are related to earlier mechanical adding devices, like the abacus. Technological families also share common processes.

Throughout much of the world, technological development has occurred in three major eras: the Agricultural Era, the Industrial Era, and the Information Era. Advances in the Agricultural Era include pottery, writing, plowing, and sailing. The discussion that follows looks at advances that have taken place during the Industrial and Information Eras. The end of World War II is a good place to begin an overview of technological development and change. This is because that war fueled many of the technological advancements that would later become part of everyday life.

Since this lesson plan deals with the technology family of production, what exactly does production mean? Production systems provide us with energy, products created through manufacturing, and the structures that comprise the human-made environment. During the twentieth century, natural gas and petroleum became the main sources of power, because they were cheap and easy to transport. The use of petroleum also sparked a growth in the chemical industry, as synthetic materials made from oil displaced traditional materials such as cotton and wood. The 1950s, '60s, and '70s saw the growth of computer technology. Computers changed the face of manufacturing by controlling machine processes. In the 1970s, the use of computer-controlled robots became popular in some factories. The 1980s and '90s are characterized by the use of new super-strength composite materials and Computed Integrated Manufacturing (CIM).

Presenting the Lesson

Ask your students the following question: If you were stranded on an uninhabited tropical island with only the clothing on your backs, what basic needs and wants would you need to satisfy? Follow up the questions with the following:

  • List some products you would create to satisfy those needs.
  • How would you make the products, and what materials would you use?
Relate their imagined experience of being on the island to that of prehistoric humans. Would your students be creating technology on the island? Have the students categorize the products they would like to create into the Families of Technology. If possible, read some portions from Defoe's ROBINSON CRUSOE on meeting needs and wants.

Introducing the Activity:
1. Present the activity in the "For Students" section as an opportunity to see how technologies were developed to satisfy people's wants and needs, just as the students would use technology to satisfy their needs on the island. Stress the fact that simpler technologies were combined to create new and more complex technologies as people's wants and needs became more complex.
2. Read through the activity with the students.
3. Review the Design Process (define the problem, develop solutions, etc.) in the "For Students" section.
4. Ask probing questions to be sure the students understand what they must do.
5. During the activity, act as a facilitator and encourage team effort.

Lesson Wrapup

Have each team respond to the following questions:
1. How did the technologies they investigated impact upon people in the past and today?
2. Simple technologies develop into more complex technologies. What were some of the simpler technologies that led to the development of the technology they investigated? The technology they investigated might lead to what more complex technologies?
3. Describe another activity they could do that would build upon the information they learned through this activity.

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