You probably have some experience with the engineering design process but the online ideas seem a little tired and you want the kids to do most of the work. This lesson is for you. Students develop their dream invention as they explore the engineering design process and explain how difficult it can be to invent a homework machine, for example, when the technology doesn't exist! Students have to really think about the connections to science, technology, engineering, and math to create their dream invention.
To read about my frustrations in getting creative and some of my classroom practices, check out the Engage Section. I group students according to learning themes, in the Explore Section. In this section I also have a Dream Invention Graphic Organizer that helps student organize their ideas as they think about the science, technology engineering and math that is necessary for their invention to work.
In the Explain Section students determine real world connections to their dream invention. In this section student draw models and determine how the model should be tested to determine its success. The Expand Section, I bring in Common Core Reading and Writing as students expand their learning as they think about the best way to convince the public to buy their invention a persuasive poster. Finally in my Evaluate Section, students conduct a gallery walk as they use the rubric to evaluate one another’s products.
If you are interested in more engineering design process activities check out the following lessons:
Designing an EcoFriendly Building
Designing a Nuclear Waste Facility
This is an introduction to the steps of the Design Process. Students rev up their creative juices and come up with their dream inventions. Any idea is good because we will be exploring the process so the fact that a material has not yet been invented doesn't matter. It's only a dream.
To get a review of this lesson, watch my Dream Invention in a Nutshell video.
Before I begin a lesson, I plan for transitions. I sometimes have up to 90 minutes in a period and I want to be sure students know the materials. In addition, students work better independently when they know what to do and when. I start the lesson with a tour of materials (Classroom Video: Tour of Materials).
Once upon a time I wanted to start this creative journey with my class with what I thought was a simple question, "If you can invent anything, what would you invent?" My intention was to tap into creativity and create an engaging conversation. I was astounded by how many students could not come up with a reply. I could not help feeling that we are killing creativity in schools. I used a strategy of providing different prompts to promote curiosity and deeper thinking.
"If you could make your life better, what would you invent?"
"If you could make a product better or innovate, what would you do?"
"If you could make the life of another person or an animal better, what would you invent?"
By using these prompts I provide critical cues to help my students understand the big question, "What is your dream invention?" When almost everyone has developed an idea, kids share with their table partners. My strategy is collaborative sharing as students bounce ideas off one another. I give them a timer and each person is allowed two minutes to share. This prevents long winded responses and allows equal collaboration of ideas.
I still have students without ideas and I'm okay with it. My strategy is to give them thinking time. When given the time, they come back later with a brilliant idea or they ask to use a friend's idea.
I want to promote listening, questioning, and sharing. I get to the "meat and potatoes" of the engagement as students share. I deliberately use language to help them understand important components of the content. For example, a child will say, "I would invent a time machine so I can get out of school. My response is, "Awesome idea! What kind of science would you need to make that happen?" "What would it look like so an engineer could build it?" "What math would you need to make it happen?" "What technology is involved do you think?" The goal is to use science, technology, engineering and math and walk though the design process like an engineer.
To introduce vocabulary I explain the difference between innovation and invention. I use prompts to get students to think about the metamorphosis of the telephone. My strategy is to promote the marriage between technology and engineering. Better ideas develop as technology becomes more sophisticated and as material science develops.
Before I dive into the lesson ask students to respond to the prompt, "Write down your Dream Invention. Explain why it is an innovation or an invention." This quick assessment gives me important information about what the student is thinking. I can quickly assess the ideas to be sure the kids are on the right track. I can determine who is having difficulty with the vocabulary. When I notice a misconception, I work with the student privately to help promote understanding.
At this point, each student has an idea of their dream invention. Inventions and innovations change as technology and science grow. The purpose of this activity is to organize thinking into four categories: science, technology, engineering, and math. I use a graphic organizer to help students convey their ideas of how their dream invention uses STEM. My strategy is to organize them for a cognitively complex task by practicing the process of thinking more deeply about content.
I group the students into the themes of their inventions. I use Thematic Grouping as a strategy because I want authentic groups. Check out the strategy in my Classroom Video: Thematic Grouping movie.
The flying cars and hover boards will be together because they will have similar ideas. The students with transport and time machines will be at a table also. In the Classroom video, I am explaining their groupings. There are always brilliant ideas without a similar idea. I place these students together to help one another and inspire one another. My purpose is to promote collaboration and social learning.
As you look at the Dream Invention Graphic Organizer, the students will complete four columns. Under example, I have the students write the invention. I allow them to call it a silly or persuasive name.
In the second column students write the science needed to make this invention come to life. This is the most difficult section. This is a fantasy project so students need to think about the science. 8th graders don't have a working knowledge of all that is involved in science. I ask, "What science is needed?" and use a direct instruction technique to provide critical information. When classes are completely stumped, we discuss Life Science, Physical Science, Earth Science, and Space Science. My strategy is to start with information they know and dig deeper into individual components. I may teach about cells, kinetic and potential energy, heat transfer and rare Earth materials, and satellites.
The technology column is more straightforward. I try to lead the students to thinking about computer systems including programming and sensors. Typical answers include, "Programming a computer to set it to the year 1876." "A sensor to know when my hair is perfectly curled."
The engineering component includes how an engineer will put all the components together. I ask the student to draw what they think the device will look like. I ask, "What makes the design of your invention difficult?" My strategy is to promote thinking about the process of design to determine the invention's physical and technological components.
The math component includes mathematical vocabulary. I ask, "Will there be variables?" There are always variables (speed, heat, time, etc.) and I explain they will need algebraic equations. I ask what scientific equations do they remember. We generate a list of formulas they have learned. Students always use dimensions for math and I ask them to write specific formulas. My strategy is to practice skills used in other classes and generalize to real life situations.
My Dream Invention 
Science 
Technology 
Engineering 
Math 

Drawing
When the students have their great ideas thought out, it is time to use what they written in the design process. Students use the second side of the graphic organizer with the steps of the engineering design process.
The Design Process differentiates engineering from science. Using the steps of the design process, students can walk through how their invention will come to fruition in a fantasy world where the science and technology are available to make it happen. The graphic organizer helps the students understand the process. If you are interested, I've attached NASA Design Process Packet which is a great resource for helping students work through the engineering design process.
Each row of the graphic organizer corresponds to an engineering process strategy. In the first box, students are asked to Develop Engineering Problems and Make Real World Connections. To develop their dream inventions, students determine an authentic problem their invention can solve. There is a social science theme and strategy that I emphasize as students think about how they can make the world a better place with their invention. (Check out how I use this thematic framework in my movie Classroom Video: Thematic Framework.) The student learning reaches outside the classroom as they consider how their idea can help others, encouraging students to understand how engineers work to make the world a better place. (See Classroom Video: Real World Connections.)
The second row is devoted to Developing Solutions to the engineering problem. I ask, "Do you think engineers only create one solution?" When students answer, "No!" I ask, "Why?"Students creatively think of ways to improve their invention to develop several solutions. I use an idea of clamps and eventually walking jeans as a model for their thinking. By modeling my ideas, I help the students understand the thinking processes as they develop solutions.
Collaboration is the key. My strategy is to allow students to share ideas to complete the graphic organizer. For many students this is the first time they have gone through the design process. I have been wandering around the room offering positive feedback and suggestions for improvement. I have not been to every table so I make a commitment to let everyone know what I am feeling,Classroom Video: Positive Reinforcement for Behavior.It is important to collaborate because groups can work together and help one another develop a variety of good solutions. The purpose is to find the best solution. The purpose is not be the person with the best solution. I teach how the ideas of a group collaboration may create the best solutions.
Students indicate the solution they think is the best and they defend their idea in the next row. The strategy is Defending Solutions. Students must explain why one idea is the best solution to the engineering problem.
Students draw a conceptual model or a prototype of their dream invention. My strategy is Diagramming Models and is useful to promote an understanding of how solutions evolve. Students may consider how the invention works and sometimes ask if they can change an idea. My answer is always, "Yes! You never know when you will be inspired by an idea."
Students consider how the invention is to be tested in the next row. My strategy is Designing Investigations. Students record how they would test to make sure the invention is successful. I ask the following questions, "Would you test it on a human or is that too dangerous? An animal? Is that unethical? Would you test it on a book?" The class discusses how a scientific test can be designed.
In an effort to legitimize the invention and to tie into Common Core Writing strategies, I ask students to create a statistic reporting the success of the test and an expert quote. My strategy is Communicating Results. Students use quotes and statistics to legitimize their inventions. I have several examples of products with and without the quotes and statistics. Students read over the exemplars to "feel" the difference when quotes and statistics are used to defend solutions. To bring some joy in the classroom, I allow quotes from deceased people, cartoon characters, or movie star endorsements. I use formative assessment to reinforce students and to scaffold misconceptions, Classroom Video: Formative Assessment.
Finally, students create a method for telling the public about their inventions. My strategy is Communicating Results. Students are allowed to use commercials, social media, etc. Check out my Student Sample: Design Process.
Students have completed the graphic organizer and now design a persuasive poster. The poster advertises their dream invention. To incorporate technology, I use Google Docs and the students use the drawing tools to draw their invention electronically. I teach CAD design and my back objective is for students to have experience with similar drawing tools they will use later in the year.
Students reflect throughout the lesson. This lesson lasts a few days. Many times at the end of the period, I'll ask them to think about the day, "What did your group do well together?" "What should your group do better tomorrow?" Classroom Video: Student Reflection
My strategy lines up with Common Core writing standards. Students create a visually appealing poster. The graphic organizer does not become the product. It has too much information on it. I want to support my students as they determine what they feel is the best persuasive information.
Persuasive posters should be visually appealing without too many words. This is a great lesson in brevity: it is more difficult for kids to write succinctly. My strategy is to teach how word choice really matters. If the poster is boring and repetitive, I take off points.
I use a Dream Invention Checklist with the categories of the ELA rubric.
______Word Choice: phrases and/or clauses to add emotional appeal (Language)
______Hooks the reader (Organization/Structure)
______Fake statistics indicating your scientific tests (Development)
______Fake references/Citations/Quotes:The organization or company testing the product. (Development)
_______Insightful/Clever (Focus)
_______Explains why this is an important design problem (Focus)
_______Visually appealing (Organization/Structure)
_______Organizes the information ((Organization/Structure)
I ask the students to complete a Student Reflection Strategy. The students were asked to reflect upon how their dream invention helped them to understand the design process. Included in resources is a power point highlighting some of the student samples.
In addition, to wrap it up, my strategy is a gallery walk. An important component before the gallery walk is a collaboration of projects. My strategy is to allow the students to learn from one aonther about how to make the project better. Students meet in small groups and offer suggestions for improvement. In my resource folder there is a film called Collaborate to Learn. It showcases students helping one another.
For the gallery walk, each child is given a sticky note for positive comments and a copy of the rubric checklist. Students need prompting to read rubrics. I support their understanding of the graded criteria and ask students to make positive comments using the rubric. I start them at their own computers and everyone moves to each computer to see all the projects.
I ask students to make checklist centered comments because I want them to read the rubric frequently before I assess. I do not grade the sticky notes but I read them as I walk around just to be sure there is nothing mean. Many times I have pulled kids out to discuss a comment and discovered they were joking. Other times we have the conversation about mean comments. I have been delighted by their comments as it has brought a touch of joy and fun in the classroom.
As the students look at projects, I am assessing. This is a great strategy because I can scaffold students and privately make changes. Frequently there are spelling errors. I'll ask them to spell a word and they will get it right. I'll point to the computer and let them change it. Assessing in a gallery walk is also an important stragegy because the students get immediate feedback.
When we have seen all of the projects, I ask students to pick the project to be printed on big paper. We have 24"x 36" paper and the students point to the best projects from the class. If there is a tie, we pick more than one. I put the project up in the classroom for everyone to see. They make a great decoration but more importantly using student work as decoration is an important modeling tool. My strategy is to use the posters for other students to use as a model and as a reference.