Citizen science, Student design

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Students will be able to: 1) describe similarities and differences between the scientific method and the engineering design process; and 2) develop a model illustrating the complementary aspects of both processes.

Big Idea

This is the "thesis" lesson for this unit. Design answers the so what? and what now? questions students have about scientific research. How might we explicitly connect science research with design thinking?

FRAME: Why not just the scientific method?

In New York City, most high school students learn the scientific method during 9th grade Living Environment.  However, this version of the scientific method often emphasizes a linear process that does not capture how science really works.  Part of the motivation for incorporating engineering-design thinking into this curriculum is to counter the misunderstanding of the scientific method that high school students have.  Engineering-design thinking shares much in common with the scientific method; in this course, it might be thought of as the incorporation of the scientific method into solution processes for real-world problems.  This lesson aims to help students connect the two complementary processes and revise misconceptions about the nature of science.

ENGAGE: Science versus Design

10 minutes


Students will look for elements of the scientific method and engineering design thinking in a real-world exampleWhat are the elements of the scientific process in this video?  What are the elements of the engineering design thinking method? 

As with the opening activity in this unit, students will first organize their observations using a Venn diagram.  They will then share in small groups. Finally, we will chart responses on a class copy of initial understanding.


Students have years of experience with the scientific method, but engineering design thinking is new.  This lesson explicitly connects the two and explicitly frames a key feature of the way content and skills are presented in this course.  

EXPLORE: Points of divergence, points of convergence

20 minutes


Students will formally compare and contrast science and engineering design using a text from Sciencebuddies. (There is an additional attached text that is more complex and might be used instead.)

First students will independently read and annotate this article.  They will have two questions to answer:

  1. How is science similar to engineering design?
  2. How is science different from engineering design?

Second, student will write down three understandings from this reading experience.

Third, we will play Rumors to norm our understanding of the text and surface misunderstanding.

Teacher move

I will start this activity by showing the attached Venn diagram of engineering and science and explain that science and engineering are complimentary, related processes.  This provides a visual example of the purpose of this activity.  I will leave it displayed during the text analysis process.

Rumors, a protocol from ALL-ED, gets students moving around after a cognitively demanding compare and contrast reading process and surfaces understanding and misunderstandings in safe, public manner.

Resource for advanced students

Students that are already able to readily distinguish between the scientific method and engineering-design thinking and also point out how one compliments the other, may be better served by a reading similar to the attached.  Rather than read explicitly about each process, students that have a high level of proficiency might attempt to identify both processes in a real-world example.

EXPLAIN: Student-generated examples

20 minutes


Student pairs create a visual representation of their understanding of the relationship between science and engineering design thinking.  The assignment is open-ended.  Students receive the following guidelines:

  • Choose a topic that a scientists and an engineer could investigate
  • Create a diagram, picture, or narrative describing how a scientist and engineer would approach this topic
  • Highlight the aspects of each process that are similar and different

 Students share products with the class during the final five minutes.

Research resources

Unlike the Accountable Talk activity, I do not provide a list of research resources for students to use during this activity.  If students are stuck, I will redirect them to the farm presentation from the beginning of the lesson; I may also redirect student to work they previous completed for the Padlet "Deep Dive" activity.

Exit: summary paragraph

5 minutes


Students end class by answering this question: What is the relationship between the scientific method and engineering design thinking?  What is unique about each process?  How do the processes compliment each other? What is an example of an attempt to solve a problem that incorporates both types of thinking.

Criteria for success

I use a "pass/fail" assessment rubric for these responses.  Is a student able to distinguish between the two types of thinking?  To do this a students would need to explain that science essential seeks to understand some aspect of the natural world while engineering-design thinking seeks to find a solution to a specific problem.  Is a student able to identify how the processes compliment each other?  To do this a student would need to describe how science can reveal deeper understanding that an engineer might use as a possible solution or design constraint.  Can the student provide an example of these two processes at work.  To do this, a student would have to describe an example similar to those explored from Earthwatch or at the beginning of the lesson.


As noted in my reflection from the previous section, this is a lesson that I will have to tweak or eliminate next year.  Student responses were underdeveloped across the board and pushed me to consider how essential the objectives of the lesson are for the overall objectives of this course.