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Frequently Asked Questions

(click on a question in the table below to jump down the page to its answer)


the KnowledgeContext Corporation

the ICE-9 Curriculum

the book Technology Challenged


About the KnowledgeContext Corporation



What does KnowledgeContext actually do?


We teach young people to think about technology.  One way we accomplish that is by developing and distributing curriculum on understanding and evaluating technology for use by teachers in their classrooms.  This is different from the vocational instruction on how to use specific technologies like email and programming languages.  Our conceptual approach is a complement to that.  Watch an interview with a parent.

The curriculum activities are targeted at middle school, but the concepts are applicable to those ages and higher.  Becker College in Massachusetts has adapted it to the undergraduate level.  Teachers may download the curriculum without cost.

Why is that important?


Technology has transformed our world  The wheel, agriculture, the printing press, the steam engine, electricity, and the Internet have had huge impact on the lives we lead and the decisions we make.  Conclusion:  important decisions are based on understanding and evaluating technology.

Recently, it has become clear that technological change is accelerating.  Computers are rendered obsolete in just a few years.  Conclusion:  learning how to operate a specific technology (e.g. a software program) will itself become obsolete unless complemented by learning those patterns that endure over many generations of technology.  Our curriculum teaches those enduring patterns.

Who is involved?


Teachers and people who work in the technology industry have been our main supporters.  Our board of directors includes people from Oracle, JPMorgan, and Riverside Publishing.  Our curriculum advisor is a veteran middle school teacher with 40 years experience.  A 6th grade teacher with 20 years experience has been using our curriculum for four years.  Our executive director came from AT&T and holds a degree in electrical engineering and computer science.  Teachers in Berkeley, San Jose, and Santa Cruz , California, have helped us develop and test our curriculum.

What does this program cost?


There is no charge for teachers using our curriculum in their classrooms.  We sell nothing to schools, so this is not a "loss leader" product.  All of our funding comes from corporations, foundations, grants, and individual donors.  We are a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit corporation, so all donations are tax deductible.

If a corporation wishes to incorporate our curriculum into their educational outreach program, we request that they pay a licensing fee so that teachers will never have to.  If a school or district would like us to provide a teacher workshop, we would like to work with them to secure a grant funding this effort.

How can I get involved, too?

(Contact us on the feedback page.)


Start with our How Can I Help webpage.

Teachers can review and download the curriculum on-line.  The download includes lesson plans and student handouts.  Activity descriptions identify any materials necessary/suggested for the activity.

Schools/districts/offices of education can introduce teachers to our website and curriculum.  As our funding allows, we would be happy to give workshops to teachers.  Working with school groups to secure grants for this professional development is one good way to do this.

Parents can ask their child's teacher if they are already covering the understanding and evaluation of technology.  If not, suggest they visit our site or show them our brochure or give them a copy of our book.

Parents or concerned citizens can introduce us to their employer's philanthropy programs.  Many corporations support charities that their employees support (and, conversely, will not consider charities not sponsored by an employee).

Anyone can connect us with people or information to advance our effort to provide a technological literacy to young people.

Innovation is welcome:  Perhaps you would like to teach our curriculum in your child's classroom, or advocate the use of our curriculum.  Just contact us.

Is your question not here?


Give us feedback!  We will answer your question directly and may add it to this list.


About the ICE-9 Curriculum



Do you need to be computer literate to get involved?


No.  The curriculum uses technology as a cross-disciplinary thread, so teachers with a background in science, history, social studies, or English-language arts will be well-equipped to deliver it.  The curriculum is available for download from the KnowledgeContext website (www.knowledgecontext.org).  Print a brochure that you can share with teachers.

My child is not into technology but knows enough about computers to use them.  How will this curriculum help her?


The curriculum shows how history, science, math, social studies, communication, and almost all aspects of our lives are somehow intertwined with technology.  Whether or not she pursues a technology career, your child will make decisions on issues affected by technology.  The curriculum will give her the foundation on which to make technology-informed decisions about education, career, politics, and more--rather than emotional decisions or those based on what someone else asserts.  It may also show how her areas of interest are connected to and influenced by technology.

Do I need computers in my classroom to deliver the curriculum?


No.  Most lessons do not require computers at all.  Some offer optional activities that use computers.  One lesson  (4. How Does It Work?) does rely on Internet activities.  For this lesson, access to a computer lab, where student teams can share computers, is necessary.  Internet access is highly desirable for these computers, but can be worked around by downloading our pages from a computer that is connected to the Internet and copying these to this group of computers.

Where does the KnowledgeContext content come from?


KnowledgeContext structured the curriculum to be able to incorporate the best research and publications on technology.  Our executive director, with a background in electrical engineering/computer science and teaching, has built the curriculum on technology patterns from many sources and written about them in a book.  A few books whose ideas have found their way into our curriculum:

Our curriculum advisor incorporated learning cycles into each lesson and into progression of lessons.  Drawing on her background in pedagogy, she incorporated activities for multiple intelligences as well as layering for differentiated instruction.

What schools use the KnowledgeContext program?


Westlake School in Santa Cruz, California, has used our curriculum for years and now Mission Hill Middle School in Santa Cruz does.  Willard School in Berkeley and Bernal School in San Jose were involved in the pilot program.  Grant Joint Union High School District in Sacramento, California, used our curriculum in an English Language Development program.  Portions of our content have been incorporated into a program sponsored by the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).  SETI's Voyages through Time curriculum is in field test and will be disseminated to many schools.  Becker College in Massachusetts has adapted it to the undergraduate level.

How are students evaluated?


The first and last lesson of the curriculum include an activity to write a paper that explains and evaluates a technology.  The essay on which students base their writing is the same for the pre-test and post-test.  This demonstrates improvement in ability to understand and evaluate technology.

How does KnowledgeContext relate to the California Frameworks?


The curriculum uses technology as a cross-disciplinary thread, connecting history, social studies, science, math, and English-language arts.  See specific connections between the curriculum and the California content standards.

Does the KnowledgeContext program replace something currently taught in schools?


No.  Many people assume that technology education means training on how to use specific technologies: web browsers, email clients, Java, HTML editors, PowerPoint, Word, etc.  This is already done in many schools and is not what KnowledgeContext does.

Our curriculum is more conceptual than vocational.  By teaching the patterns that endure through many generations of technology, it provides a tool to understand and evaluate technology even when all of today's computers and software are obsolete.

Those enduring patterns show relationships and connections between technology and core content areas (e.g. history and science).  That creates a context in which to make informed decisions about education, career, civics, and personal issues that, by the nature of our modern civilization, are influenced by technology.

The curriculum can be taught in a core content area, a technology class (to provide context before focusing on a specific technology), or in a self-contained classroom (where it ties together the other subjects taught).

About the book Technology Challenged



What is Technology Challenged about?


Stories from the Hawaiian Bobtail squid's use of bacteria to simulate moonlight to an Australian aboriginal tribe's mythology-based evaluation of axes and canoes illustrate a nine-step strategy for understanding and evaluating any technology.  By painting a big picture view of technology, this book offers context, an antidote to information overload.  From that perspective, it reveals the simple patterns underlying all technology, allowing us to see what does not change in a technological world of rapid change.


Why is it important?


Technology has transformed our world from the first stone tools through development of agriculture, writing, printing, global transportation, global communication, computing, genetic engineering, and much more.  When we used the same technology as our parents and their parents, we needed no more than to know how to operate a few objects.  Today, technology's generations pass more quickly than human generations.  Further, our choices in education, career, politics, and health are predicated on rapidly changing technology.  How do we understand enough about our creations that we can make informed choices?  How can we choose our individual and collective future?


I already understand technology.  Why would I read it?  

No single person understands all technology.  What rocket scientist repairs his own car, performs surgery on his own family, develops genetically-modified crops, knows how to harvest them, and invents new ways to synthesize music?  Even before the 15th century, when the printing press made it easier to research and develop specialized knowledge, there was too much technology for any one person to be able to build, repair, and operate it all.

And the situation is becoming more extreme.  New technology is being developed around the world and around the clock in countless specialized areas.  Being immortal would just give us more time to fall farther behind.

But as hopeless as understanding all the details is, many of us are quite capable of understanding the simple patterns behind a wide variety of technologies.  That enables us to evaluate those technologies, deciding if they are good for us, our community, and our environment.  While the "technologically competent" may have already figured out some of the patterns underlying "technological literacy," their ability to create technology makes all the more important their ability to evaluate it.

So you may already be technically adept, but chances are good that Technology Challenged will offer you a bigger view of the technology you know so well.  And who doesn't like to see the familiar in a new context?


What do you mean by "simple patterns behind a wide variety of technologies"?   Two examples...How does technology work?  It can be centralized or distributed, and over time it may swing from one to the other.  Most electric energy production is centralized in large fossil fuel-burning plants, but also nuclear plants and hydroelectric dams.  The first power plants were distributed, however, with small generators distributed in New York City and one underneath the home of a very wealthy family ("the monster in the basement").  That early pattern is returning with solar power on the roofs of some homes.  An entirely different technology, computers, started as huge, centralized systems shared by everyone who used them, but became distributed with the personal computer (PC) and even more so with the Internet.  But the Internet has created the centralized "server farms," which fill huge rooms with the equivalent of PCs to "serve up" web pages to all of those browsing from our distributed PCs.

Next example...What are technology's costs and benefits?  Independent of the specific technology, the more it enables us, the more dependent we become on it.  When our computer crashes or there's a network outage or we're buried under an avalanche of spam, many of us gain appreciation for how dependent we are on email.  Likewise, if we lose a cell phone.  Blackouts clarify our dependence on electricity.  Labor strikes by garbage collectors reveal our dependence on this infrastructure.  The more useful a technology, the greater our dependence, which does not mean we should not use it, but it does recommend that create resilient systems with backup plans for the times we lose technologies we can't imagine living without.

A few patterns help to explain a diversity of technologies.  The game's the same but the tools change


Who is it written for?


Technology Challenged is written for:

  • A general adult audience interested in better understanding our world

  • Parents who want to put technology into context for their children

  • Teachers who want more context for using KnowledgeContext's curriculum

  • Students of education, history, and technology

  • Anyone who would like to understand the technology underlying their choices in life

Two rather bright middle school students read the book and interviewed the author, showing that age is not a factor.


If it's written for adults, how does that support "Teaching Young People to Think About Technology"?


When presented with KnowledgeContext's curriculum on technology, many teachers assume it's about how to use computers.  Many parents also jump to this conclusion, pointing out that their children learn about (how to use) technology so quickly, they don't need extra help.  The book is a response to that, helping to show that the quicker we are at figuring out how to use technology, the more important our being able to evaluate it.

How reassured would you be if your young child developed a precocious ability to light matches?  Or if your neighbor's child had this talent?  Clearly, the critical thinking ability to know when or if to light a match is important.  While matches are a form of technology, there are far more powerful forms, from nuclear weaponry to genetically engineered viruses.  Being able to understand and evaluate these forms is even more important.

Teachers and parents are not the only adults we need to educate.  Sources of funding, whether private foundations or government or individual donors, may not fully understand the importance of critical thinking about technology.  This book is for them, too, because their contributions to KnowledgeContext are critical to delivering our curriculum (and training the teachers who will).

The book is another reason to be on the media.  Any newspaper or magazine article, and any radio or TV spot will be, at it's core, about how we each can understand enough about technology to make conscious, critical, thoughtful choices for ourselves and for our society.

Even though the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line, in a world full of walls the quickest distance may be around.  So, while the book may reach only the brightest of young people, the book helps our curriculum reach all students by first educating adults.


Why would someone read it?  

Technology Challenged...

  • Enhances technological literacy.

  • Gives a simple strategy for understanding and evaluating any technology

  • Makes sense of rapid change by revealing the underlying patterns in technology's history and future

  • Connects to a middle school curriculum on critical thinking, helping parents and teachers support the learning process

  • Empowers readers to identify and choose technology that is good for them, their community, and our civilization

  • Supports the philanthropic activities of KnowledgeContext, a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit corporation through a portion of the profits from sale of this book.

  • Tells many interesting stories.


What's with the title?  What does it mean?


"Technology Challenged" has at least two meanings.  First, it refers to many of us who feel overwhelmed by the rapid pace of technological change.  Just as those referred to by the politically-correct term "vertically challenged" may have trouble reaching a basketball hoop, those of us who are "technology challenged" may have trouble understanding and evaluating the technology that impacts our lives.  When one considers how much technology is developed by specialists around the world and around the clock, it quickly becomes apparent that no single person could come close to understanding all technology.  So we are all, more or less, technology challenged.  There's no shame in that.  The book offers us a response to this flood of change: an approach to understanding and evaluating any technology by finding the patterns that hold true for many or all technologies.  It won't transform anyone into a rocket scientist, but it will help even rocket scientists understand the technology that lies outside their areas of expertise.

The second meaning of "Technology Challenged" refers to an action we can take toward technology: challenging it.  Instead of blindly accepting or rejecting technology, we can evaluate it based on a contextual (scientific, sociological, philosophical, etc.) understanding of it.  We can challenge technologies to determine if they truly benefit us, our community, our civilization, or our environment.  While Technology Challenged is about understanding and evaluating technology, these are means to the end of taking action in our lives so we can guide technology in a beneficial direction.


How did you come up with all these stories?  

Technology Challenged draws on research and observations from many sources.  The book's innovation is in organizing technology's patterns into ICE-9, an easy-to-use strategy for understanding and evaluating any technology.  A few stories are original to the author, but the section Going Beyond This Book gives references to many books, articles, and websites where the other stories originate.  The reader may find stories from the newspaper or radio suddenly answering one of the ICE-9 questions that frame the book.  Context is crucial to understanding anything and ICE-9 gives context.



 2010 KnowledgeContext


Teaching Young People to Think About Technology