Technology Educator Steps up to NSW Board of Studies

Peter Thompson, a Warren Centre Communications Committee member and high school head teacher, has just been appointed as the Board of Studies inspector for the technology learning area in NSW schools. He is to take up the appointment in October.

Effectively this means that Thompson, currently the head teacher of technology (industrial, engineering and information) at Bossley Park High School in Sydney’s southwest, will be responsible for providing statewide leadership in curriculum development in the Technology learning area in the NSW education system.

Teachers like Thompson are most important in introducing young people to engineering and technology and are a key component in the international push to revitalise science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Now aged 57, Thompson has been an industrial arts and engineering studies teacher since graduating with a BSc Hons (science degree in technology) from the University of NSW in 1977. Thompson and his wife Ruth, also a technology educator of ,having received a Chrurchill fellowship in 1998 to study design and technology education in UK, Germany and Canada. They have both continued to study and develop their careers, including attending and presenting at major international educational conferences , both here and abroad. Thompson has spent his career in Sydney schools; firstly at Birrong Boys High; then Cabramatta High and since 1988 at Bossley Park. Indeed, Thompson was a foundation staff member when the just-completed Bossley Park High accepted its first students in 1988. Along with two other staff members, he has been there ever since and commenced his term at the school as a Head Teacher of Technology Learning (then called Industrial Arts).

While most of us will remember the traditional craft-based junior school subjects of woodwork, metalwork and  the more engineering-focused technical drawing, the modern technology learning area subjects now embrace food technology and textiles (home economics), agriculture, computing and media courses. Industrial technology has 11 focus areas with 58 individual 50 hour modules. These include timber technology (woodwork), metal technology (metalwork) and industrial technology engineering, which is available at Bossley Park as an elective in years eight, nine and ten.

There is also graphics technology (formerly technical drawing) and Design and Technology, which also focuses on problem solving to meet human needs.

“These two are the strongest intellectually of our offering and are usually precursors to engineering studies (formerly called engineering science) in the senior school,” Thompson points out.

“Also, every child in NSW has to do a minimum of 200 hours of technology studies in the junior school. It is the only western education system that I know of where this is mandatory,” he said.

Thompson readily admits that modern technology education has subjects which are not necessarily engineering-related, but “engineering studies are definitely included as part of the technology learning area”.

Thompson said technology teachers in NSW have been serious about engineering studies since the early 1970s when the senior school elective of engineering science was created.

“The syllabus for this subject was so sound, it lasted for about three decades before it was rewritten, when feedback from Engineers Australia and others asked for more written communication and reports tasks in the subject,” he said, adding that its successor, Engineering Studies, is successful in getting a very high percentage of its Higher School Certificate candidature going on to do an engineering degree.

“It is also a top ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) score subject with a very high quality candidature who typically mesh physics, chemistry and extension mathematics with theory study of engineering.

“This subject is taught through modules which include: engineering fundamentals, engineered products, bio-engineering, motors and drives, basic structural analysis, civil structures, lifting devices, hydraulics, braking systems, telecommunications and introductory aeronautical engineering.”

“At US conferences I have been met with incredulity regarding what we are doing in high school, where these subjects are typically not contemplated prior to college studies,” he said.

Thompson points out, that at the junior school level industrial technology engineering is very popular at Bossley Park and has been the school’s most rapidly growing elective. The course includes six month modules in structures, mechanisms, control technology and alternative energy.

“A recent standout was getting year eight students to design a car using super capacitors charged by a solar panel. The car can run for 16 minutes and is a great introduction to alternative energy concepts.”

When questioned about the STEM campaign, Thompson  believes it is worthwhile but, as a technology educator, he feels the science and maths in STEM often get pushed to the front, while the engineering and technology can get taken for granted.

“Technology and engineering is about applications and that is what technology teachers like to stress,” he said.