August 22, 2016

How To Introduce the Engineering Design Process Easily

This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
I love so many of the team building activities out there, but I always feel pressed for time. A couple of years ago I decided to embed my team building into a STEM mini-challenge during the first week of school. Students LOVE getting to "dig right in" and I LOVE that I can teach them my expectations and have them immediately practice them while working as a team.

My first unit every year is "What is STEM?" during which we review what STEM stands for and do activities that are related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. When I decided to incorporate team building activities and classroom expectations into this unit, the most logical place was the "E" of STEM because engineers work with other engineers ALL THE TIME in order to solve problems or improve products.

We started by doing a few activities where students reviewed what they had learned in fourth grade about engineering.
Students completed a quick writing assignment in their journals. I call it a "brain burp" because your brain just belches out any idea without warning and you write it down. Plus, I teach fifth graders so a burping brain is a fun image and gets them giggling.
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
Students were given three prompts to get them thinking like an engineer. I completed my writing along with students (see picture above) to show them that ALL of us have ideas worth sharing. Plus, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to draw a burping brain.

Yes - I am the adult. Yes - I act like a ten-year-old sometimes. No - I'm not sorry.
I just LOVE card sorts. Students seem so much more engaged when they get to manipulate pieces of paper and discuss their ideas before placing them into a pocket in their journals. To be fair, I pre-cut the pieces into strips to save some time. Gotta keep the class on schedule. Students worked in groups to determine whether each activity was an example of what engineers do or not. Afterward, we discussed their ideas and even determined that there could be more than one correct answer depending on their justification. Great embedded life lesson!
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
The card sort is actually part of my unit Introducing the Engineering Design Process. Check it out here. The unit includes several great activities that can be used with students.
Before I introduced the challenge, we reviewed the steps of the Engineering Design Process. Students shared what they remembered about each step and after we discussed it they recorded notes on a graphic organizer that I had provided for them. I like this version of the organizer because it includes stick figures that appear to be "doing" each step of the Engineering Design Process. It helps cement the ideas for my students who are more visual learners.
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
One thing that I try to make very clear as we review is the importance of every step. Even though students like the CREATE-TEST-IMPROVE part of the Engineering Design Process, without research, learning, and careful planning their designs will be poorly built and less likely to be successful.
Each year I try to assign a task that will get students immediately working together and using the Engineering Design Process. This year I challenged them to design a device to help their very short teacher (me) reach something located on top of the cabinets and place it safely on the counter below.
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
They were STOKED to solve this challenge! And they found it especially funny that in order to get the supplies for the challenge down I had to use a chair...because I'm so short! Talk about a problem that NEEDED to be solved!

If you're thinking of doing a similar challenge, here are a few tips:
1. Present the challenge at the end of class and refuse to answer any questions. Trust me. Students are DYING to ask a million "what if" and "can we" questions. Just smile and repeat that you're not answering any questions yet.

2. Give students 5-10 minutes of individual brainstorming time. I "force" my students to use this time to write down their questions, list supplies they might like to use, draw some simple sketches, and generally think to themselves about how to possibly solve the problem that was presented. I love walking around the room and seeing their ideas in their notebooks.
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
3. Once you group students (I prefer random groupings since I don't know my students very well at the beginning of the year), give them time to share each of their ideas and begin to develop an initial design. Since this challenge is not based on the science content taught in my class, I focus more on their ability to communicate and work in a group. I encourage students to find ways to incorporate ideas from each person into the final group design. (This might be the toughest part for them.)
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
4. STOP THEM. Before they get too set on their idea, call for a short "engineering conference" during which each group will present their ideas and answer probing questions about their solution. I model how to ask a good question, and then let my students ask the questions. They amaze me every year with how deeply they think and how carefully they consider each of the ideas. After this sharing time, students are just itching to get back together in their groups to refine their ideas based on the feedback they received.
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
I'm a big meanie. I refuse to give out any supplies until students have turned in a plan and I have approved their design. Don't get me wrong. I'm really just making sure they have put together a reasonable design and that they have a list of supplies. I also require a short explanation of HOW they expect their prototype to work once they build it. Then they get their supplies!

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE watching them in all of their excitement start to build their prototype. I alternate between walking around and visiting groups and sitting off to the side quietly observing. This is when I can see how well they can communicate with each other.
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
Students quickly learn that what they thought would work (on paper) is not always feasible when given the actual supplies. Luckily they know what to do - IMPROVE!!!
Until the prototypes are tested, students don't really know if they have met the challenge. This time I had fun standing on the counter to place items high up on the cabinets. (I promise I was careful, but what else could I do? I'm short, remember?!?) Students took turns trying to grab an item from the cabinet and place it safely on the counter below without dropping it. They recorded qualitative data in their notebooks that we analyzed later.
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
I'll be honest, I had a BLAST laughing at them as they tried their best but often failed. They had such good attitudes about it all. And students rallied behind each other and cheered each member on. They WANTED the other groups to be successful. Some were and some weren't. But each group was able to articulate reasons why their device was not successful at grabbing certain items and how they could improve their initial design.
Engineers share their ideas. Throughout the entire challenge I have been reminding students of this. My least favorite thing to hear is "They copied our idea!" I stress the importance of learning from others and modifying the designs to reflect what has worked for others.

This year our school was asked to bring a team of students to one of the local high schools to share what they have been learning in STEM class. I thought this challenge was the PERFECT way to show that students are already actively participating in challenges where they can implement the Engineering Design Process to solve real-life problems. I selected one student from each class to bring their prototype and share it with the visitors. My goal was to choose students who had worked really well in their group, had not given up even when it was difficult, and whose ideas were unique.
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
They did an AMAZING JOB sharing what they had learned. They were outgoing and not at all afraid to explain their devices to children, adults, and even business professionals. I couldn't have been more proud!
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
Probably my favorite moment was when they realized that using their devices together ended up making them more effective! (light bulb)
This post gives so many ideas and tips for encouraging students to think and act like engineers. A great way to introduce the Engineering Design Process and promote teamwork, cooperation, and perseverance while having FUN!
Whatever the age. Whatever the ability. Students seem to rise to the challenge. And the more meaningful the challenge, the harder they work.

In the past I have had students compete to build the tallest tower. While they worked hard and had fun constructing a tower as a team, I found this challenge really motivated them. I had students asking me how strong I was as they determined what supplies to use. Some asked my height and arm length so they could be sure their device had enough reach. One student asked me how good my balance was before deciding that the idea he had might be feasible.

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