What Is Engineering

4 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT identify how engineers help solve problems.

Big Idea

Ever say, why didn't I think of that when some simple invention solves a problem such as a pencil that always needs sharpening replaced by a mechanical pencil?

Teacher Notes

This is a first lesson in a unit about engineering. Engineering is an important part of the Next Generation Science Standards. For second graders engineering is a term that they might have heard in terms of a parent who is an engineer, but it is probably a vague term. The NGSS introduce the idea of design in engineering. This lesson introduces the idea that engineers design things to help solve problems that people may have. Their inventions often make things easier for daily life. 

I have chosen to introduce my students to the idea of engineering design using objects that students are familiar with. The lesson also build upon the lessons we have done exploring what scientists do. I want students to understand that engineers are scientists too.

What Use Is It?

15 minutes

I start today by taking out two apples, a knife, a spoon and a vegetable peeler. I hold up the first apple and say, "I really want to eat this apple but I don't like the skin, what can I do?" (peel it). "Ok, well I have a knife. Can I peel an apple with a knife?" (yes), "Ok, here I go." ( I peel it but highlight struggling to get the skin off, cutting too far into the apple, etc. when I am done I have a smaller and very uneven apple.) "How did I do?" (not too well). "I wonder if there is an easier way?" (I try holding the knife upside down, I pick up a spoon and try to use that, then I pick up my peeler and try to use that on the second apple. I make sure I do a much neater and more complete job with the peeler. "Did I do a better job the second time?" (yes) "Why is that?" (I had a peeler, the right tool, etc.) "Yes, my peeler made it much easier. Did you know that someone had to invent the peeler? They did it to help people peel things like apples or carrots. The first one was invented over 200 years ago by a man named Thomas Williams. Do you think he did it to help cooks peel things?" I let students answer my question and then explain that he did indeed create it to help solve a problem. 

I have gathered a set of school/household items that solve a problem. I place the students in science study groups of 3 students each.  I give each group one object. (My objects include a stapler, a tape dispenser, a can opener, a whisk, a pair of children's safe scissors, clothes pin, a large paper clip (the snap type), a screw driver and a tv remote. 

I say, "when you get your object I want you to look at it carefully. Can you figure out how it is made and what it does? I would like you to sketch it, and write what it does.Acceptable Student Work Example I will give you 5 minutes to write down what the object does and to sketch it."engineering1form I have purposefully not told the students why I want them to do this. I am hoping that they can discover that engineers create objects to help solve problems by exploring simple objects.  I circulate around watching what each group is doing. 


Why Was It Invented

15 minutes

This part of the lesson supports K-2 ETS 1-1 as students try to think about the object and what problem it might have been invented to solve.

"Ok, now that everyone has a sketch of their object and has told what it does, I would like you to add one more thing to the paper. Can you tell what problem your object might have solved for people? Try to write a good sentence to tell what problem someone might have had that your object helps with. We will share these at the rug in a few minutes." One group's description of their object

I give students time to finish and then invite them to bring their object, paper and to sit with their science partners at the rug.

 Students are now gathered on the rug. I say, "now each group will have a chance to share their object. Please hold up your object, show us your sketch, tell us what your object is for, and what problem it solves. Each group will be able to take questions from other groups. Remember that if you don't understand what a group has said, if you have an additional thought about how the object works, or what problem it solves you may raise your hand and share your thoughts."

We go around the circle listening to each group and adding comments as appropriate.

Our Own Inventions

30 minutes

I ask students to return to their seats and to help me brainstorm some problems that we might have at school or at home.

I say, " I often help some of you try to open those little containers of peaches or pudding at snack time. It is tricky not to spill all the liquid inside. I think it would be good to invent a special opener for those packages. How about you, can you think of something that you would like to make easier either at home or at school? This is a brainstorming session so we will take all ideas and we won't comment on them right now." I let students volunteer their ideas.

"Ok, now we have lots of great ideas and you may have more ideas of something you would like to make easier. I would like you to draw a picture of what you might invent to solve your problem. Write the problem at the top and then draw your invention. I am excited to see all of the things you have thought of."

I give students their papers problem page and then circulate around listening to their explanations of what they have invented and why.An Example of a Student Invention Idea

If I have students who are having trouble thinking of something to draw, I ask them if they could think of something that is tricky for them, like sharpening a pencil, or tying their shoes, etc. When I find something, I ask if they could think of a way to make it easier. I know that some students will draw a robot or other mechanical device, but I do not discourage this. I know that students are thinking of things they have heard of and trying to use those. This is a step in trying to go beyond what is already there, and to help to solve a problem as an engineer does.

Self Assessment

5 minutes

I did not begin to day with an I Can statement, because I wanted students to figure out how objects have been created to solve a problem, as this will begin to help them understand that engineers work to solve problems that people face in their daily lives.

Self assessment is very important for students to begin to do. I do not always have students self assess for content and today I have chosen for students to self assess for effort. If students are praised for content only they begin to label themselves as smart or stupid depending on how they did. If they are praised for effort and realize that putting in a decent amount of effort is valued, they will continue to try. I want students to want to try and so I have them self assess their own effort and then I can acknowledge that effort. If they say they did not put effort in, I can talk to them about why they might not have tried, and what I can do to help them try harder next time. 

I do not expect every child to do perfect work, but I do expect every child to try and I want to acknowledge that effort. 

I say, "I would like you to finish up today by looking at your drawings. Give yourself a smiley face if you think you worked hard on your drawing today. Give yourself a straight face if you worked on the drawing, but didn't really work as hard as you could to do your best. Give yourself a frown face if you didn't really put any effort into your work today."

I want students to think about their own effort in doing their work today.