Automata, Science and Technology Education
Odlin, Susan Elizabeth
In my mind, I can still picture the first automata exhibition I ever saw in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. The pieces were colourful, quirky and captured my attention. At first glance, science and automata appear to have little in common; but it is clear from the literature, how developments in the field of automata have led to developments in science and technology.The creative component of the thesis was a set of seven automata, each demonstrating a different mechanism, and featuring bright, colourful toys. Cams and followers featured in five of the automata, one had a cog mechanism and another demonstrated linkages. The set of seven automata represented scientific principles of movement and provided a link between designing and constructing automata, the study of history and teaching automata in school.The thesis introduces the reader to the history of automata, a body of work that covers mechanical developments, the magical and mythical automata found in prose and poetry, oracular talking heads, humans as machines and contemporary automata. The science that underpins their development, the influence of change in societal and cultural values, and the role of the church are discussed in Chapter 2.The history of automata can provide technology teachers with a context for their projects, demonstrating the evolution of ideas, highlighting historical links, and informing their practice. In the last 30 years, technology education in New Zealand has changed from a vocational and skills-based subject, to a sociocultural and constructivist-based location. Technology has moved from being a subject where artefacts were made, to one where artefacts are situated within a wider cultural, academic and community context. It has expanded to include better understanding of the role played by science and technology in society, achieving a balance between technology and the environment, and developing technological literacy and a diverse range of skills. Chapter 3 examines these changes and their impact on students, teachers, and the curriculum. The research described in Chapter 4 investigated the use of automata with Year 7 and 8 students, as part of the New Zealand technology education curriculum. Students constructed two automata; one was pre-printed onto card, and the second made from wood. Four research questions drove the study: (a) how would students respond to making an automaton? (b) Could they describe how automata worked? (c) What role did gender play in this particular module? (d) Would they recall details about the movements used in their automata, at a later date? The study involved 74 pupils, 33 female and 41 male, and data were collected through observations of the pupils during their five technology periods and from a questionnaire administered at a later date. The results showed that students responded positively to automata, could understand and describe movements, and 71% were able to draw an automaton movement six months later. In most areas of this study, gender was not a factor. The automata projects provided a positive and novel learning experience for the majority of students.
Advisor: Fleming, Jean S.
Degree Name: Master of Science Communication
Degree Discipline: Zoology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Automata; Science; Technology education; New Zealand; Intermediate; Gender
Research Type: Thesis