Visit for more recent material

Teaching Technology With Hands-on and Minds in.

By Howard Rheingold

The Shrimp Club at Brookside School in San Anselmo, California, went beyond raising money to preserve endangered species. They went out and saved one. The fresh-water shrimp only exist in a dozen streams in northern California. The kids studied the problem and decided they could do something about creekside erosion. They talked with landowners, raised $90,000, planted willows and constructed fences. Ruth Hicks, Laurette Rogers, and Jenni Beck direct this project that started in a fourth grade classroom discussion and might end up having global impact .

Terry Thode knows how to get kids excited about projects that matter. At Thode's Wood River Middle School, in Hailey, Idaho, the students study what makes highway fail by mixing a concrete test-bed, embedding fiber optic cables in it, and using lasers to measure strain. "Technology is a three-way process," Thode stresses: "technical, social and ethical." Thode and her husband, Brad Thode, use activities teenagers like to do, such as desktop audio and video postproduction, to draw them into group problem-solving and discussions of the ethical dimensions of technology.

Catherine R. Ney is a teacher in Blacksburg, Virginia, a prototype info-wired town, where most of the population has access to a high-speed multimedia network. "Structures," her curriculum of problem-solving activities for elementary school children, is now available on the Internet. Telnet to, login as "visitor," and go to the Science section.

Tom Keck wears an old-fashioned labcoat, and flashes a sunny smile. Like the others, Keck emphasizes that technology education isn't just practical skills - "shop" with computer chips - but includes critical thinking about "why" as well as "how." During the workshop I attended, he challenged other teachers to take the materials he provided - tubes, containers, wood, hinges, syringes - to create a hydraulic system that could pick up an egg and put it in a container without breaking it. When I walked in, a couple of dozen people were measuring and discussing, sawing and chatting, while Keck swirled among them.

If future generations are going to make informed decisions as citizens, today's teachers are faced with the double challenge of keeping up with rapidly-changing technologies and finding ways to attract student interest. A growing network of teachers all over America are experimenting with a teaching philosophy for science and technology called "project-based learning." I dropped in at a project-based learning conference recently and was pleasantly astounded by what I experienced.

Everything I saw represented a beacon of light in the educational darkness.Six girls and two boys from Brookside School made their freshwater shrimp presentation for us, just as they had made it to local politicians land neighbors who owned creekside property. They showed their slides. These kids had learned about ecology, marine biology, environmental restoration, political activism. The most important thing they learned radiated from their faces. They had discovered that they had the power to repair the world.

We need a hundred thousand Brookside Schools.

Laurette Rogers is For information about Technology Education in the Elementary School, contact Brad Thode, or fax 208 788 4598. Contact Catherine R. Ney at

Other resources on the World Wide Web include The Exploratorium, the Virtual Science Museum,Franklin Institute , Scientific Visualization for K-12 Teachers, and the Kid's Web Science and Technology page .

Go to the Tomorrow home page.
Go to Howard Rheingold's home page.

Copyright 1995, Howard Rheingold