What Do Engineers Do? Part 1

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SWBAT explain that engineers help solve problems.

Big Idea

Mission Possible! Engineers solve problems!

Teacher Notes


Get your kiddos excited and revved up for the engineering design process.  They are going to love every minute of this unit.  It sparks their interest knowing they have the ability to create something special, and yet that something can actually solve a problem.  Ahhh…..the feeling of fulfillment is a wonderful thing!

Activity Description:

The children are asked what they think an engineer is since there are many misconceptions.  Rather than tell them what an engineer is or does, the children will view two videos and draw their own conclusions.  The children review the concept of engineering by using posters called “What Does An Engineer Do?”  They will generalize that an engineer is a person who creates solutions to real-life problems.  


NOTE:  This lesson is the first part of a two part lesson introducing the children to engineering.  

NGSS Connections:

In the NGSS the children must demonstrate the basic understanding of what an engineer does. They must replicate the steps engineers might go through, just at a second grade level.  So this lesson prepares them by teaching them that an engineer helps solve problems by creating new solutions. Thus, this lesson focuses on  the K-2-ETS1 standard.




15 minutes

 To begin, I tell the students recent world events involving engineers solving a problem. Watching these short clips will help them to understand that engineers are people who help solve real-world problems in the world today.  This is a stepping stone that will help them understand more about engineers and the engineering process, which in essence will help them work towards the engineering standards of the NGSS. 

I was listening to someone talk about how their chair hurt their back.  Then I started investigating and found out that engineers, called bioengineers are people who work to design chairs that fit your back better and are more comfortable.  Here is the video that shows what bioengineers do. Watching this made me wonder, what do engineers do?   Then I read about engineers creating paper that completely repels water.  It could be used for packages so they don’t get wet in the rain.  I heard someone say that they were a toyologist, which is an engineer who designs toys.  Have you ever heard of a toyologist?  Just watch this video to see what they do.   

Then I really started wondering about what engineers do.  Then I heard about an audio engineer.  Watch this video clip to see what they do.  I watched in awe and then wondered even more about what is it exactly that engineers do?"

How many of you have heard of a job called engineering? What do you think an engineer does?

I elicit their answers.  I write down their ideas on a class What Does an Engineer Do?  K-W-L chart on the board in the “K” section.  Then I ask the students what they would like to learn about engineers.  I add their ideas to the “W” section of the K-W-L chart.

I also ask the children one of the big ideas from the unit--How do engineers solve problems? To do this, I pull up the Big Idea Poster on the Smartboard.   We take a few minutes to discuss their answers at this point in the learning.  It helps me assess what they already know and what they need to learn.  For more information on using Big Idea or Essential Questions,  click here.

(In this part of the lesson I am careful not to “give away” too much information.  I want the children to discover it on their own.)  



25 minutes

I have the children come up to the front to watch the video titled “Mission Possible!" It is a 4 ½ minute video with a Mission Impossible theme.  In the video, the children are given a mission of figuring out what engineers do.  Real-life problems are given and then the solution that was created by an engineer.  I think showing the children real people doing real jobs helps expose them to the idea that engineers are all around us and help us do many things.  Knowing the vast array of jobs that engineers do helps build the foundation for the engineering standards.

We are going to watch two short videos that show some exciting and beneficial things that engineers do.  I want you to be watching closely so you can answer the questions asked in the video.”

I pull up the other 3 ½ minute video titled “Engineers are Cool!”  This video is really cool!


“Now we’re going to review some of the jobs that engineers do by viewing photos and reading a description about their jobs.  As I am reading, I want you to think about what type of things engineers do.  Even though each of these engineering jobs are different, they all share something in common.  I want you to be a detective and see if you can figure it out.”

Next I show the students photos of real engineers and read the information given (see resource titled Real Life Examples of Engineers--Cards).  After each card, we stop and discuss.  When we have viewed all of them, we stop and discuss.

Were you a good detective?  After viewing both clips and reviewing the cards, did you find out some things you didn't know about engineers?  Were you surprised by any of the jobs they do?


5 minutes

We have a short discussion of today's learning.  I pull up the Big Idea Question.  Our discussion focuses on a few main questions.

How do engineers solve problems?  What did you learn about engineers?  Do they do things you didn't know or expect?

We share and discuss their answers.  The kiddos really soaked up a lot of information!  I think putting the focus of engineers in the real-world context really intrigued my children.  They could have talked about what they learned for the rest of the day!  

Here are a few video clips telling of what they learned Golden Gate Bridge,  engineering legs, and saving the miners generates a great question.  But what I was so impressed with were these two girls who took what they had learned and applied it to a new situation.  They told me about a movie they had watched, Dolphin Tale, and told how it pertained to what we were just learning!  The connection was fabulous!(applying knowledge to a new situation video clip)

I am looking for their ideas to boil down to the fact that engineers help solve people's problems!  This helps build the foundation for the three engineering standards, which will be developed in subsequent lessons--such as designing a pollinator, building a bridge and designing a tower.

I can't wait until tomorrow since we are going to find our even more about engineers!