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Science and Technology/Engineering
Curriculum Framework - Spring 2001

Purpose and Nature of Science and Technology/Engineering

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The purpose of science and technology/engineering education

Investigations in science and technology/engineering involve a range of skills, habits of mind, and subject matter knowledge. The purpose of science and technology/engineering education in Massachusetts is to enable students to draw on these skills, habits, and subject matter knowledge for informed participation in the intellectual and civic life of American society, and for further education in these areas if they seek it.

The nature of science

Science may be described as attempts to give good accounts of the patterns in nature. The result of scientific investigation is an understanding of natural processes. Scientific explanations are always subject to change in the face of new evidence. Ideas with the most durable explanatory power become established theories or are codified as laws of nature. Overall, the key criterion of science is that it provides a clear, rational, and succinct account of a pattern in nature. This account must be based on data gathering and analysis and other evidence obtained through direct observations or experiments, reflect inferences that are broadly shared and communicated, and be accompanied by a model that offers a naturalistic explanation expressed in conceptual, mathematical, and/or mechanical terms. Here are some everyday examples of patterns seen in nature:

  • The sun appears to move each day from the eastern horizon to the western horizon.
  • Virtually all objects released near the surface of the earth sooner or later fall to the ground.
  • Parents and their offspring are similar, e.g., lobsters produce lobsters, not cats.
  • Green is the predominant color of most plants.
  • Some objects float while others sink.
  • Fire yields heat.
  • Weather in North America generally moves from west to east.
  • Many organisms that once inhabited the earth no longer do so.

It is beyond the scope of this document to examine the scientific accounts of these patterns. Some are well known, such as that the rotation of the earth on its axis gives rise to the apparent travel of the sun across the sky, or that fire is a transfer of energy from one form 3 Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework May 2001 to another. Others, like buoyancy or the cause of extinction, require subtle and sometimes complex accounts. These patterns, and many others, are the puzzles that scientists attempt to explain.

The nature of technology/engineering

Technology/engineering seeks different ends from those of science. Engineering strives to design and manufacture useful devices or materials, defined as technologies, whose purpose is to increase our efficacy in the world and/or our enjoyment of it. Can openers are technology, as are microwave ovens, microchips, steam engines, camcorders, safety glass, zippers, polyurethane, the Golden Gate Bridge, much of Disney World, and the "Big Dig" in Boston. Each of these, and innumerable other examples of technology/engineering, emerges from the scientific knowledge, imagination, persistence, talent, and ingenuity of its practitioners. Each technology represents a designed solution, usually created in response to a specific practical problem. As with science, direct engagement with the phenomena in question is central to the definition of these problems and their successful solution.

The relationship between science and technology/engineering

In spite of their different ends, science and technology have become closely, even inextricably, related in many fields. The instruments that scientists use, such as the microscope, balance, and chronometer, result from technology/engineering. Scientific ideas, such as the laws of motion, the relationship between electricity and magnetism, the atomic model, and the model of DNA, have contributed to improvement of the internal combustion engine, power transformers, nuclear power, and human gene therapy. In some of the most sophisticated efforts of scientists and engineers, the boundaries are so blurred that the designed device allows us to discern heretofore unnoticed natural patterns while the accounting for those patterns makes it possible to continue to develop the device. In these instances, scientists and engineers are engaged together in extending knowledge.

Last Updated: May 1, 2001
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