What Do Engineers Do? Part 2

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SWBAT explain that engineers help solve problems by going through a process of steps to find a solution.

Big Idea

Engineers follow many steps to help them solve problems!

Teacher Notes

Activity Description:

The children will review what they learned in the  previous lesson, What Do Engineers Do Part 1.  Then the teacher will go over the steps of the engineering design process.  For review at the end, the students will answer questions about what they have learned. 

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.  This lesson helps teach the children about the entire process that an engineer goes through to help create a solution to a problem.  It also introduces the idea that the whole process repeats and is flowing, not just in a straight rigid list of steps.


Materials Specific to this lesson:

Materials from PREVIOUS lessons:



20 minutes

I call the students to the rug, we discuss what they learned from yesterday's lesson, What Do Engineers Do? Part 1.  In the previous lesson, they saw a video titled "Mission Possible!" which showed engineers solving problems in today's world.  Also they watched a clip about liquid repellant paper and the world's biggest car delivery system.  In addition, the watched a clip about how engineers are just plain cool!  Please see the above link for the lesson.

Yesterday we watched some video clips to see what engineers are actually doing in the world today.  We saw some really interesting things.  Who can tell me what were some things that you learned about engineers?

I elicit their answers.  I am surprised at what they recall about what engineers do!


For the next part of the lesson, the students will be discussing what they have learned about engineering by linking what they have learned from the video clips mentioned above and the Real Life Examples of Engineering--Cards from What Do Engineers Do? Part 1.
Then I have the students partner up with another student using their My Clock Buddies (student paper and explanation). (Click here for a demonstration of how Clock Buddies works.)   I like when the children have an opportunity to share their ideas with a partner.  They have lots of fun and in turn, they come up with more ideas together.
Okay students,  we are going to work with a partner to discuss and answer some questions about engineering.  I would like you to pull out your Clock Buddies paper.  Today we will be working with your 8:00 partner. Check to see who it is and then put your paper back in your folder.

The students find their 8:00 partner and find a spot to sit together.  
You and your partner should think about the videos we just watched and the other information cards that I read.  What kinds of things do engineers do?  What do they all have in common? I want you to think about the question.  Then I would like you and your partner to share your answers.

I walk around the room listening to each group, taking informal notes, as needed.  When it looks like the partners have finished sharing, I bring the discussion back to the whole class.
What kinds of things do engineers do? What do they all have in common?

We create an anchor chart with the answers.  We take turns sharing their ideas.  I try to make sure each partner group gets to share something that they have learned.

Possible Answers: Engineers help solve real-world problems by creating solutions.  They design and build useful tools.  Engineers do many different jobs that help us in our everyday lives.

Here's an official definition of an engineer published by the National Academy Press, Framework for Science Education (2010):  Engineering is a “discipline that uses scientific principles to design and build useful tools and technologies, and to respond to real-world challenges and design opportunities” (p. 1.11).




20 minutes

For the next part I explain the process that engineers go through to come up with a design or a solution to a problem.  But before I begin the explanation, I want the children to activate their schema.

I want all of you to put your thinking caps on.  When I say put your "thinking caps on" that means I want you to concentrate and think about an answer.  During this time no one can talk, since you all will be digging deep in your brain to make connections and figuring out an answer to my question.  So at this time I want you to put on your thinking caps. (I pause)  Here is my question, "Have any of you ever had to follow steps in order to do something?  Think hard, remember no talking since we are all concentrating.  I will give you some uninterrupted time.

I give the students some time to think. I want them to be making connections to their own schema and what we are about to learn next.  The students come up with examples such as riding a bike, tying shoes and learning how to make a cake.

I say, “When engineers are trying to solve problems, they usually follow many steps.  Following each of these steps helps them to get to their goal.” 

I refer to the 8 poster set titled Engineering Design Process Cards full size version.”

 Here are the steps that engineers follow to help them solve a problem:

  1.  Define the problem—An engineer must first figure out what the problem is and define it.

Do you remember when we observed flowers and wrote down notes? (see link for more information)  Or when we observed snow dough? (see link for more information)  Scientists make observations just like we did to help them figure out what problem needs to be solved.  They need to figure out what the problem is before they can solve it.  How many of you have ever been to the doctor when you were sick?  Everyone raises their hands.  What did the doctor do? A boy comments that he took his temperature and asked him what was going on.  I ask, Why do you think the doctor did that?  They answer so he can figure out what is wrong.  I answer that he was trying to figure out the problem, which is exactly what the first step is in solving a problem.

  2.  Research—Research into possible solutions is the second step.  Engineers try to find materials or other ways to solve the problem that have worked in the past or what has not worked. 

Let's say you were going to design a shelf for your Playstation. You would probably try to figure out what designs have worked in the past, or what designs have worked well for your friends.  You could research to find out if wood or plastic would work better. We would call that researching.

  3.  Specify requirements—Are there any limits?  Engineers must figure out what the constraints are such as the width, length, weight or other specific measurements.

Let's go back to your Playstation shelf.  You made a shelf that was 3 inches wide.  Would that work?  NO! They shout!  What should you have done before you started designing it?  One boy answers that you should have measured it.  I emphasize that it is important to know the specific measurements so you make a shelf that is just right.  Engineers have to do the same thing.  Engineers must figure out the width, length or weight of the item they are to design.

  4.  Brainstorm—Engineers brainstorm lots of different ideas and solutions.  Many times one idea sparks another better one.  A team of engineers can create lots of different solutions to the same problem.

I bet you have brainstormed before.  Raise your hand if you have done this....Your family is deciding where to go on vacation, and your brother, sister, mom or dad shout out different ideas of where to go.  All sorts of hands shoot up. Great, then you have brainstormed.  Let's say your toy got stuck somewhere and you couldn't get it out.  You and your friends talk about all sorts of ideas to get it out.  If you have done this, you have brainstormed.   If you were building that shelf, you might brainstorm to think of possible ways that it could be built.  You would be just like an engineer.

  5.  Choose—Look at all of the designs that you and your team have brainstormed.  Is there one design that makes more sense or solves the problem more efficiently?

Think back to when we were talking about your family deciding on a vacation spot.  First you brainstorm all sorts of ideas and then you have to figure out the best idea.  When you do this you are choosing the best idea.  Engineers might have brainstormed lots of ideas too, ultimately they have to choose one idea that they think will work the best.  If you were building the shelf you would have to choose your best idea that you thought of for your design.

  6.  Develop—Once an idea has been chosen, it is time to develop that idea.  Think of the materials that will be needed and how it will be built.

Think back to you designing a shelf for your Playstation.  Once you have decided on your best idea, now you need to develop your idea.  You need to figure out what materials you need to buy and what tools you will use.  You need to figure out exactly how you are going to build it.

  7.  Build—In this step the prototype will be built.  A prototype is a sample of what the actual item will be.

What do you think we would do next to our shelf in this step?  A couple of children say, "We would build it!"  Yes, we would build a sample to see if it works.

  8.  Test/ Redesign—The next step is to test the prototype to see what works and what doesn’t work.  Keep track of the test results.  What can be changed to make the design better?

In our shelf example, what would we do to test it?  What if it falls apart?  What if you put the Playstation on the shelf and it was too high?  Or too low?  We could keep track of what worked and didn't work and then we could redesign it.  Then the process could start over, but maybe this time we just need to develop one of our other ideas.  So we don't have to start at the beginning, just at the step we need.


When our discussion is complete, I hang my posters up so they can refer to them as needed in future projects.





15 minutes
For review, I say to the class, 
“Today we have learned many things about what engineers are and what they do!  

I hold up the poster with an essential question on it which helps lead the children to think about what the big idea of the lesson was.  I love using essential/big idea questions in the classroom. Click here for more information on essential/big idea questions.
I pull up the Big Idea Poster and read it aloud.  
How do engineers solve problems?  Who can tell me some of the things that they do?  Can you give examples?”  

Then I add what they have learned to the “L” section of the What Does an Engineer Do? KWL.
I continue the discussion by asking the following questions:
  • Why do you think engineers follow these steps? 
  • Would you like to become an engineer someday?  
  • What jobs do you think would be fun and exciting?
  • What do you think the hardest part would be?


To add a little bit of fun with learning, I created a chant for the children to recite to help them remember the engineering design process.  (You can say that all my years of being a cheerleader has paid off!)  I pull the Engineering Design Process Chant up on the Smartboard for all to see. We recite the chant together (see video clip).  I have them put a copy of the chant in their poetry binders not only to practice the engineering design process, but also to help them become more fluent in their reading. Songs and chants work marvelously for helping the children remember large chunks of information and steps in a process.  Click here for more information about using songs and chants in the classroom.


Literature Connection

15 minutes

To review the concepts learned, I read the book Engineers Solve Problems.  You can grab the book on amazon.com for under $8.00.