Montgomery Schools Looking to Expand Technology Courses

Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland are facing state standards that offer them little flexibility to create new classes despite the fact that they want to engage their students in learning technology.

Associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction Erick Lang said the district has to stick to “very specific” state standards that place an emphasis on engineering and engineering skills. They want to expand the courses that are available while following the states standard requiring students to complete a one year technology course before graduation.

New standards were created in 2007, and before that the school system was offering a broader selection of classes that included various computer programming courses. Since then the school system has only developed one course that fits the bill, it now has four technology classes that provide the necessary credit.

One of Montgomery’s recently added technology courses is Designing Technology Solutions. According to Lang the class combines engineering principles and computer programming and allows the students to study engineering “through the lens of computer programming”

Marisa Amberg, a resource teacher at Clarksburg High School, said the course has served as a great way to combine engineering with computer programming aspects that the students enjoy. Amberg said the course, currently in its third year at Clarksburg, incorporates computer programming and robotics to cover some of the engineering objectives found in other technology education classes. “The programming piece and the robotics piece still allow them to get at the same objective but it’s a fun way for kids to do it,”.

Lindsay Powers, staff writer for Gazette.Net reports that at a recent board meeting members were interested in finding out if two new computer science courses could be developed into technology education courses. Lang responded by saying he did not think the school systems could make the classes fulfill the state’s “very strict” requirements.

The state currently requires that a technology education course incorporate topics including the nature of technology and its connections with other fields; the cultural, economic and political impacts of technology; engineering design and development; and core technologies such as biotechnology, electronics and mechanical technology.

Luke Rhine, a career and technology education program specialist in the state education department’s Career and College Readiness division said that the states plan for the courses is to help students increase their literacy in technology and learn how to apply technology to situations and problems. The standards aim to focus on engineering skills like using tools and machines, developing a process to solve a problem, and evaluating multiple variables instead of focusing on a specific engineering career. The hope is that the courses will motivate students to consider fields like engineering. The standards were created to ensure consistency among Maryland’s school system.

Shirley Brandman (At-large) County school board member, supports exposing students to STEM — science, technology, engineering and math —and wants other options available to students that may be more interesting and relevant. She says the courses teach kids critical thinking and problem solving skills but says “We can probably address those skills in other related fields and accomplish the same purpose”.

According to Brandman the school system is currently discussing possible opportunities for expanding their technology courses with state representatives.