Logan Explains the Engineering Design Process

53 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT list and describe the steps in the engineering design process.

Big Idea

What are the steps in the engineering design process? What activities do engineers actually complete during those steps? Students learn the steps and then apply their new knowledge in their first design challenge.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students begin the work that will lead them to explore the Disciplinary Core Idea of of Engineering Design - that possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints).  The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for a solution can be compared on the basis of how each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.  (3-5 ETS1-1); Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution.  Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.  (3-5 ETS1-2).  At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs. (3-5 ETS1-2); Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.  (3-5 ETS1-3); Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and constraints.  (3-5 ETS1-3)

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 4 is 760 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 15 minutes.  You will have a 1 time preparation for the Children's Engineering:  Technology Design Loop Poster.  I printed this, enlarged it to 135% on ledger paper in color, and laminated it.

Materials Needed:

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Lab Scenario Sheet - Lesson 4

One Copy of Children's Engineering: Technology Design Loop Poster

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution Lab Sheet - Lesson 4

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Design Brief 1

One measuring tape per team


Flexible Straws

Straight Straws

Wooden Tongue Depressors

Candy Mints (with a hole in the middle)

Duct Tape

Rubber Bands

Note:  I will use a copy of The Informed Design Rubric to assess the completed Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Design Brief 1 Sheet from each student.

Focus & Motivation

10 minutes

Introduce the Scenario

I tell my students, "In our previous lesson, we developed an understanding of the way that communities used a scientific process to take one of our most important natural resources - water - and made it safe for us to drink and use.  Today, we are going to look at how these scientists worked together to develop this process."

I pass out the Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Lab Scenario Sheet - Lesson 4 and my students get out their highlighters.  I tell them there are 3 reader's theater parts, Plaid Pete, a new classmate named Logan, and a narrator.  They get busy deciding who will read the parts in their teams. 

Students Read the Scenario in their Teams

Students read the scenarios in their teams.  As is typically the case now, I am pleased to see the engagement of all my students as these scenarios are read.  Even the students who are not reading parts this time, are following along in the text.  They know that I have embedded information that will give them clues to what they will be learning about today.  Science is an exciting time in our classroom, and they love this "heads-up" about what they will be learning.

When students have finished reading the scenario, I share today's learning objectives and success criteria. 

Learning Objective & Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria:  

Learning Objective:  I can list and describe the steps in the Engineering Design Process.

Language Objective:  I can give a recount of a detailed sequence of events or steps in a process using transitional words or phrases.  [ELP.4-5.9]

Success Criteria:  I can correctly complete my lab sheet.

After I have shared the learning objectives and success criteria I tell my students, "Let's get ready to work on this objective.  Please get out your pencils and your Science Notebooks and get ready to learn!"


15 minutes

Show Video

I tell my students that I have a short video clip that I would like to share with them that explains a little bit about, and gives a visual of the engineering design process.  I tell them that the video is fairly quick, so they will need to really listen.  I like this video because it uses a great visual and does a good job of describing the engineering design process as an iterative process, something that can be a difficult concept for students at this developmental level.  I share with them this YouTube Video:

Present Poster

I present the Children's Engineering: Technology Design Loop Poster  I explain to students that like the video, there are lots of different posters that describe the steps in the design process, and they often use different names - but ultimately - they all describe the same process.  I explain that we will be using this poster for our purposes.  I hand out the Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution Lab Sheet - Lesson 4 to each student.  

I introduce the first step:  What is the Problem? And write it on my copy of the lab sheet that I have placed under the document camera for students to see.  I tell my students, "This is the first step in the design process.  However, we need to "unpack" or tell what happens during this process.  I remind them that in the video, it talked about this first step at the end.  I ask my students to turn and talk in their teams, answering the question:  "What is involved in this step of the process?"  After teams have had a few moments, I call on students and we begin to create a bulleted list in the space for this step.  My students have little familiarity with the engineering design process.  So, I am adding bullets, and teaching about them as I go.  These are based on both the elements included in the Next Generation Science Standards, as well as the article, Design Practices and Misconceptions:  Helping Beginners in Engineering Design from The Science Teacher (January, 2013).  I write on my sheet, and they copy on theirs.  Our list looks like this:

  • State a want or a need.
  • Describe the problem in specific detail.
  • Take into consideration the "constraints."
  • Research! (earlier versions of a product, write a product history, or a focused search).


I introduce the second step:  Brainstorm Solutions.  And write it on my copy of the lab sheet.  I again ask students to turn and talk to "unpack" this step - create specific descriptors of what occurs during this step in the process.  I call on students and we write:

  • List as many ideas as you can think of.
  • Be creative - list unusual ideas!
  • List at least 3 ideas.


We finish the remaining steps and the remainder of our list looks like this:

Create the Solution You Think Is Best

  • Create a model of your solution.
  • Make a list of the materials you will need.
  • Build a model of the solution - a "prototype."


Test Your Solution

  • Conduct tests to identify "failure points" of your prototype
  • Conduct fair tests - changing only 1 variable at a time.


Evaluate Your Solution

  • Observe carefully during the test, and list your observations. (Analyze Data)
  • Diagnose the problem that your observation has revealed - one problem at a time.
  • Explain why the problem is happening.
  • Fix the problem and retest.
  • Diagnose the next problem that your observation has revealed.
  • Explain why the problem is happening. 
  • Fix the problem and retest.
  • Repeat as needed.


I am concerned about my students' understanding of the concept of "failure points."  I don't have long to wait!  Every single team gets an opportunity to experience exactly what a failure point is.  Practical experience is a great teacher, as seen in this Video Clip.  They get to learn firsthand what happens when a system fails.

Team Activity

30 minutes

Introduce Team Design Challenge 

I tell my students that they will have an opportunity to practice these steps in their teams today, using a simple design challenge.  I am using an activity from PBS Kids.org - Design Squad Nation:  2 Wheel Balloon Car.  I pass out the Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Design Brief 1.  I have listed the steps for them, as I want them to focus their time on working through the steps.  I will be providing this short design challenge, as well as one tomorrow, because I want my students to practice working through the steps in the design engineering process before I have them work on a culminating team challenge.

Work Through Planning Steps

We discuss the first step together, as I know my students will have difficulty "defining and delimiting" the problem.  I also know that we will likely have to come back to this step after they have tested their prototypes, as they will need to have experiences with them that will assist them in further defining the problem.  Students list the following in the box next to step one:  We need to build a model car that goes in a straight line for the greatest amount of distance.  (Later revisions to this statement may include reducing friction or drag).

I then tell my students that it is time to complete the second step:  Brainstorming solutions.  I ask if anyone remembers how many solutions they needed to have.  One student correctly responds that they need 3 different solutions.  I tell them that one of the solutions can be the design indicated in the instructions, but that they need to come up with 2 different ideas for a 2 wheel car.  

I also play the video at the same website:  What is Friction?  (You will need to go to this link, click on "Animations" and then click on Page 6 to find this video clip). I tell my students to listen carefully as I play the video that is included at the above link, and to take notes.  They will take bulleted notes under section 1 of their copies of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Design Brief 1.  I explain that design engineers always do their research, and this step will serve as their research.  They should listen for any ideas that will help them design a car that will go faster.  

I tell my students, "Now that you have had a chance to listen to these two videos, talk in your team and make some notes in the box next to step 3 about some ideas that you could include that will help you in the design of your prototype model.

I allow students time to complete their notes, and then begin to construct a simple prototype.  I explain that this isn't an art contest, and they only need to make a simple drawing with labels. 

I am putting the focus in this lesson on these first 3 steps.  I want my students to begin to realize that in the engineering process, much of the work happens before engineers ever begin to work with materials.  I am going to allocate the bulk of my instructional time today to these steps.  Also note:  I didn't specify how many of each item students could use in the constraints.  Let them figure that out for themselves!

Work Through Test and Revision Steps 

I tell my students to pay attention to Step 4, noting that they must identify one failure point, and that they will only have time to make one design revision today (time constraint).  

I caved!  Yep!  I told them they would only get one class period, and I revised my own decision!  I was absolutely mesmerized by the level of teamwork that I saw demonstrated by my students, as seen in this Video Clip.  (Okay, I know that cutting duct tape with your teeth is probably not best practice - but the teamwork!)  Yes, they were having fun - but it wasn't just that.  They were taking the whole revision process so seriously.    

Students get busy constructing their cars and using their tape measures to eke out every quarter of an inch that they can.  I explain that I am the final judge, so I need to verify their efforts.  I remind them not to come and grab me unless it is one worth measuring - a good attempt.

You can see this team's work over time.  In Video Clip 1, their first effort resulted in a ballon car that wouldn't go!  By the time we recorded Video Clip 2 they have gone through the revision process and have now developed a ballon car that is functional.  Finally, as seen in Video Clip 3, this team has now discovered the merits of analyzing their failure points and targeting their design revisions!  I do believe they are on their way to understanding iteration in the design process.

Reflection & Closure

5 minutes

Celebrate the Winner!

We give a big round of applause to today's winning team.  Just so there are no hard feelings, I explain that there will be more design challenge opportunities!  I ask my students - "So what are the steps in the engineering design process?"  I also ask, "What is important to remember during this step?"  I randomly call on students to answer.  

Real World Applications

I want my students to begin to extend the steps of the design process to real life situations.  Since I have five teams, I assign one of the steps to each of my teams.   I ask them to brainstorm a list of problems that could occur in real life if an engineering team did not attend to that step in their design process.  What kind of problems could that create?  How would it affect the final product?  What potential problems could it create?

I create a Class Poster using chart paper of their comments.  I will post this in our classroom as we work through this unit.  This will be a "touchstone" that I will use in speaking with teams to remind them when they are skipping steps.  And they will skip steps - they are just beginners!