Engineering, Naturally

At ProjectEngin, some of our most exciting curriculum work centers around creating Engineering Design challenges that look to Nature for inspiration.  Biomimicry provides a terrific platform for incorporating Engineering Design projects into Life Science, Environmental Science, and Biology curriculum.

Engineering is all about problem-solving and finding innovative solutions to meet human needs and improve our lives. Good engineering demands an understanding of systems impacts, trade-offs and unintended consequences. Nature inherently operates on those principles, taking a long-term, sustainable approach to optimization. And nature has been successful for 3.8 billion years. There is clearly much we can learn by modeling our approach to design on Nature’s processes. As Janine Benyus, a champion of biomimicry, says, “The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.”train_bird_comparison_crop-729ec57f51d51e1fd9205d29c2424e4e

All of our curricular projects are centered on the Engineering Design Process. The way structures, processes, and systems in Nature are engineered follows the same process mapped out in the NGSS and other standards. Different parameters and a longer timeframe exist in the natural world. The table below compares Nature’s approach to the process we have employed to create the modern industrial world in less than 300 years.   

Engineering Design Process Nature’s Approach Human Approach
Define the  Problem Sustain life Make life “better”

Identify Criteria


Non-toxic, low temperature, recyclable, renewable Bigger, stronger, cheaper, safer, appeal to target audience
Determine Constraints Only locally available resources Least expensive resources, limited time
Testing and Modification Slowly over time, prolonged use, extensive population Rapid, often limited scenarios, small pilot samples


Sustain life with least negative impacts; positive impacts outweigh negative consequences Bigger, better, faster, more profitable; often maximize not optimize

Clearly, as we face the challenges of limited resources, increasing population, and relatively rapid changes in our environment, there is much that we can learn by studying the structures, processes, and systems that Nature has engineered.

In terms of the curricular projects we design we think of biomimicry in terms of increasing levels of complexity that fit well into increasing grade level skills and progressions. Our focus at lower grades levels is on structures and patterns. We then move on to processes such as photosynthesis, cellular respiration, and heat transfer. For students who are older, modeling based on natural ecosystems provides a comprehensive approach to systems thinking and renewable design.

Here is a sample of some of ProjectEngin’s Engineering Design projects that are inspired by Nature.FullSizeRender (8) (2)

Hidden in Plain Sight: This challenge asks students to design camouflage for a nature photographer. Students explore patterns and designs in nature while learning about adaptation and natural selection. The final prototype is a T-shirt for designed to hide the photographer in a specific environment.

Get a Grip: This project tackles the challenges of adhesives and other joining technologies. Students look at the benefits of using geckoshape and form to join objects (think burr-inspired Velcro and wall-climbing geckos) instead of using chemicals and high-temperature bonding techniques like soldering and welding. They are challenged to mimic Nature to design their own innovative “adhesive”.


Have a House: Nature has engineered housing to meet the needs of all creatures in a wide range of climates and conditions. Students explore the wayspenguins that structures and processes that support thermal transfer are integral parts of natural engineering. Termite mounds, penguin feathers, and camels all provide inspiration for thermoregulation.

Complete the Circle: This project, designed for older students, focuses on the idea of cradle-to-cradle processing and manufacturing. It uses some of the resources about the circular economy developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.  It looks at small ecosystems and biomes as the inspiration for local sourcing, efficient use, and upcycling and recycling. After analyzing the actual water, energy, and materials footprints of certain products, students are asked to emulate nature and develop a circular process to produce an object.

There are so many ideas you can use to bring a Nature-inspired focus to your Engineering and STEM projects. Here are some of our favorite resources:

Green Biz

The Biomimicry Institute

Ask Nature


The Circular Design Guide

Engineers have always worked to solve problems, but our future lies in our ability to solve those problems sustainably and with less negative impacts. Looking at how Nature has engineered for 3.8 billion years can inspire and empower the engineers in your classes.

 “Look deep into Nature and then you will understand everything better.”  

                                                                                                                            Albert Einstein


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Phase 3: Develop a Solution

Descriptions and graphics concerning the Engineering Design Process (EDP) can be found in many different resources and websites. They generally contain 6-8 steps in a cyclic, iterative arrangement. This can sometimes be overwhelming to a teacher who is new to Engineering Design projects and activities, particularly when one considers the dynamic environment of a classroom and the need to manage multiple groups of students.  At ProjectEngin, we believe that everyone “engineers” at times and we work to help teachers fit that natural inclination into the EDP.  In our workshops, we often find that dividing the Engineering Design Process (EDP) into three phases helps newcomers (both teachers and students) navigate through it more intuitively. The two previous parts of this series focused on Phase 1, Know Your Problem, and Phase 2, Knowing Your Options. The final phase, Develop a Solution, ties it all together and often sets the stage for revisiting earlier steps.

EDP in Classroom

Our use of three phases is not arbitrary. It has been developed based on observations and input from the teachers we work with and from an understanding of the process of designing.

Modified Double Diamond Model of Design

Don Norman The Design of Everyday Things

The three phases reflect the need to move back and forth between convergent and divergent thinking throughout the design process.Keeping in mind the different types of thinking involved in the different steps and phases of the EDP helps teachers to keep the focus on skills and the value of the overall process.



This last part of our 1, 2, 3 Engineer series focuses on Phase 3 – Develop a Solution. It begins with a transition from the divergent thinking processes evident in Phase 2 to a group agreement on the best option for moving forward. Once multiple ideas have been put forth and explored, the group needs to decide which best fits their criteria and the given constraints. This decision- making process can be challenging. There many options for managing it and some will be discussed in more detail in a future blog post. We highly recommend that, at a minimum, the group settle on 3-5 options and then quietly vote by individual ballot using a ranking scheme. Ballots can then be tabulated and the options can be listed from most to least popular. Skipping the actual voting process and allowing a simple verbal group consensus sometimes creates a “groupthink” mentality or a situation where one member of the group dominates. Keep it democratic by allowing each person to have a say via a ballot.

The key steps in Phase 3 are present in the box in the graphic above: (1) Prototype, (2) Test, and (3) Modify in order to optimize. Let’s look at each in a little more detail.

Prototype: Prototypes can take many forms and can have varied functions. From the start, stress to your students that a prototype is, first and foremost, an aid to visualizing a solution. In some cases, a prototype can be a simple sketch that helps you explain an idea. It can also be as advanced as a full-size functioning model of a new product. In most classroom projects, a prototype will be a small scale model of a device or solution. It will often be made of materials chosen to substitute for the actual materials that would be used in the final full-size version.

Hand project

Prototypes of prosthetic hands; to be tested for grip

The reasons that you have students prototype is for them to have something that can help them explain their approach, test for some functionality, or enable end-users to provide feedback. It is critical to remember that this is the role of the prototype. It is not mean to be perfect and it should never be more than 20-30% of the overall grade for any project. The real learning happens in following the full process above, not in simply making a prototype. We never advocate that you make the final prototype the summative assessment for the project.

Testing: Teachers and students always have lots of questions about what it means to test a prototype. Think of testing as needing to evaluate one or more of the following:

  • Evaluating functionality or cause and effect. Does a given input create the desired output? This type of testing is closest to the testing typically done in a science experiment. Characteristics can include dependent and independent variables, a control, consistent and precise measurement.
  • Determine the reliability or repeatability of a device or product. This type of testing is similar to testing routinely done for consumer safety and use. Does it perform safely and/or can it repeat the same function numerous times? Bicycle helmets may be dropped over and over again and at forces in excess of those expected in a crash, pen tops are clicked thousands of times, chairs are subjected to loads above the assumed weight of a large person. This video of how cell phones are tested can be helpful in understanding this type of testing.
  • Obtaining customer and end-user feedback. Do people like it, do they use it correctly, would they buy it, what might make it more attractive to them? This type of test marketing is routine for most consumer goods. The most effective way to obtain good data in this case is through a combination of Likert scale (1-5) survey questions and observations and interviews.

Work with your students to identify what feature needs to be tested, what procedure should be followed, what data should be obtained, how it will be analyzed, and what the standard for acceptable performance should be.

Modification: This is where Engineering testing differs from science experiments. Engineers use testing data to modify and improve their designs; scientists are typically seeking verification or refutation. We have noted that many teachers skip the modification phase at first. This is most likely due to time constraints since most “first runs” of projects take about 20% longer than planned. We urge you not to skip this step. If time is too short to allow for physical modifications to a design, or if the testing was somewhat destructive in nature, asking students to answer a question or two about how they would modify their design can be part of a good summative assessment.  Whether you allow time for actual modification or ask for a written description of the planned modification, keep a few things in mind:

  • Allow one modification at a time. That is the only way to gauge the impact of a modification. Think of it as isolating a variable in science experiments.
  • Limit We rarely allow more than three and students are aware of that from the start of the project. This creates more focus during the initial design stages. Too many modifications are collectively a new design and you risk losing some of the value of the overall process.
  • Always require justification in terms of some combination of science, math, and testing data and feedback. And always keep the focus on meeting constraints and criteria. Meeting criteria and constraints drives the need to optimize, which means to work towards the best solution possible given your goals and the resources and limitations that you have. It is a key feature of the EDP and it is highlighted in the NGSS. Optimization brings the design process full circle, by asking students to justify their solution in terms of problem definition. In order to fully document the development process, revisions and modifications in industry are often tracked by modification forms. We use one with a space for a description of the modification, the reason or rationale for it, and the expected and actual results. Students often opt to provide a before and after sketch to further document the change.

Engineers are never done and any part of the EDP can be revisited or repeated in order to develop a product or process that solves the given problem. There is never a 100% perfect answer in Engineering. It is always a matter of developing innovative ways to best meet the criteria and constraints that define a problem. To do that you need to understand the limitations and goals that you have, investigate the possibilities available for solutions, and demonstrate the ability of your proposed solution to solve the problem. In other words, you need to engineer!


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The Creative Path from Problem to Solution: Know Your Options

Einstein imagine

Engineering is a natural process for most of us. We are continually developing solutions to challenges that are framed by constraints and criteria. In our work with teachers, we often break the Engineering Design Process down into three phases

  1. Know Your Problem
  2. Know Your Options
  3. Develop a Solution

The more specific steps of the process fit into these phases and the non-technical nature of our description supports use across all subject areas and grade levels.

Engineering Design is somewhat of a well-choreographed journey in and out of convergent and divergent thinking. It challenges you to first think carefully about a problem or challenge and to map out all of the constraints and criteria that delimit a viable solution. This involves moving in and out of different reference frames, along with some degree of systems thinking. In a way it involves thinking big in order to create a more manageable design space. We explored the idea of truly knowing your problem in the first of this three-part series. Knowing your problem involves moving from a somewhat undefined divergent space into a space defined by the convergence of constraints and criteria. Just right Phase one involves a lot of critical thinking. The second phase, knowing your options, is primarily about divergent thinking, creativity, and lateral thinking. And although it is a lot of fun, it may be a challenge for students used to the highly convergent (one approach, one right answer) world of traditional education. In this blog, we explore some ideas to help make Phase two productive.

This is what often gets called the brainstorming phase, but there is a lot more to it than the random production of ideas. Most teachers tell us that this is the most challenging phase to implement, so we have learned a lot about what does and doesn’t work. Let’s start with what to watch out for.

Top 3 Things to Avoid

  1. Convergent and conditional words and phrases. Jump in there as soon as your hear words and phrases like “but”, “if”, “it won’t work…”, “there is not enough ________ “. They should never be part of the conversation when all ideas should be on the table. Idea generation will shut down before it begins if you focus on the reasons why something won’t work. Words like “and” and “or” are far more divergent and idea-fostering. Listen to the conversation and stop any limiting language.
  2. Groupthink.  It’s a real thing and we have all seen or experienced it. Groupthink is defined as “a phenomenon that occurs when the desire for group consensus overrides people’s common sense desire to present alternatives” and it limits our ability to fully explore all options. We try to avoid it in both our teacher workshops and in classroom settings by allowing time for quiet, individual idea generation (brainwriting) before group brainstorming discussion. Our own experience as well as expert research indicate that this will help the group come up with more ideas. As a teacher, you need to be on alert for that group that has the problem solved before they begin – it almost always means groupthink is at work.
  1. Silence and order. Be prepared to intervene when the noise level in group sessions starts to go down. Change a constraint, eliminate obstacles, or create a new condition. What if money were no object?  What if you need to create shoes with more than one purpose?chindogu shoes  Here is a great example from Japanese art of chindogu, or the creation of unuseless objects.  Using paradigm shifts to jumpstart stalled brainstorming sessions is a very effective technique. Some of the ideas below can help you get students to take a new approach.


Three Methods that Create Lots of Ideas

  1. Word Merge

This is based on the idea that we often innovate by combining actual objects or their attributes. Think of the smart phone (computer + phone + lots more) or luggage with wheels. There are many ways to do this but the simplest is to have students pick random words from a bag or box and then partner with each other to create new things.

Michael Michalko (author of Thinkertoys and other creativity books) calls a version of this idea One + One = One . His version might be fun to try in your classroom.


ScamperSCAMPER is a well-known acronym that is used to encourage different ways of thinking about a challenge or solution. It stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse. The words are meant to prompt questions that make you shift your thinking. SCAMPER can be used in many ways. You can even facilitate a whole-class brainstorm by assigning different letters to different groups. SCAMPER is also a helpful means of providing prompts if idea generation slows down.


  1. Brainwriting

Brainwriting is used to describe several idea generation techniques, but in most cases it refers to having individuals create ideas before any group discussion takes place. It is an effective means of giving everyone a say and it limits the opportunity for groupthink. When we use it, we ask participants to spend a few minutes generating ideas without talking and to record each individual idea on a Post It. The group then gets together and shares their ideas. This process normally leads pretty naturally to the next phase (Developing a Solution). Most groups will begin to look for similarities and patterns as they compare individual ideas and they will begin to form a convergent consensus about what a potential solution might be.

Phase 2, which involves exploring all options, is often the part of the Engineering Design Process that teachers and students will skip or minimize. Many will go directly from problem to solution. But innovation is rarely found on such a straight path. If you really want to encourage creativity in your classroom, you need to give students time to generate and evaluate multiple options for solutions. In most real challenges, there is never one right answer. Generate lots of options and then encourage your students to settle on one to test and modify as they search for the optimal solution to meet the constraints and criteria. In Part 3 of this series, we will explore this third phase of the Engineering Design Process, Developing a Solution. This is a phase where students will need to move back to more convergent thinking, which can be a challenge once they have those creative juices flowing!

modes of thinking

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1, 2, 3 Engineer!

(This is Part 1 of a three part series focused on using the Engineering Design Process to support a culture of creative problem-solving in your classroom)

At ProjectEngin, we have long held the belief that sustainable professional development starts with a focus on culture in both the classroom and school. Our initial contact with educators often involves whole school or district groups covering diverse grade levels, backgrounds, and areas of expertise. We always begin by stressing and illustrating through hands-on activities that Engineering Design highlights creative problem-solving in all disciplines. Our message in all of these workshops is that by highlighting key parts of the Engineering Design Process educators can focus on curricular concepts while following a skills-based framework.

In this three part series, we will share some of our workshop approaches by highlighting what we consider to be the three main stages of the Engineering Design Process. One of our mantras is that the word “process” really is the key to connected and impactful learning. Following the Engineering Design Process enables educators to highlight specific skills, to make clear connections to curricular content, and to focus on the journey and not just the destination or final product. We are committed to the idea that Engineering Design is a natural process that should be easy for teachers to implement.  In this article and the two blog entries that will follow, we offer a model to help you create a culture of creative problem-solving in your classroom.

Our goal is always to make things manageable and to enable teachers to build on the practices that they already employ. We can all relate to what we consider the three main phases of Engineering Design:

  1. Know your problem or challenge.
  2. Know your options
  3. Develop a solution


Let’s begin at the beginning by considering Phase 1 – Know your problem or challenge.Design Space We think of this as mapping out your design space. It is what makes solving a problem or meeting a solution different from simply “making” something.

This first step is simple but often neglected or minimized. We all know that you cannot solve a problem or meet a challenge if you don’t really know what it is.  (Please note – we often use the word “challenge” instead of “problem” when working with students. It seems to lessen the tendency to go straight to solution.)

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) focuses on three ideas when discussing the need to clearly define a problem. We think they are all key steps in getting your projects off to a solid start.

  1. State the challenge (problem) clearly. For example, the challenge of getting to work on time can stem from a failure to get up early enough, traffic issues, or underestimating time needed for other tasks. It helps to know what the issue really is before developing a solution. If you hit “Snooze” an infinite amount of times no matter what, you would already be behind schedule even if you were driving the sole vehicle on the road. Addressing the wrong issue by developing a different way to commute may not be the best answer. Make sure that you and your students have a clear understanding of what the core problem or challenge is. Ask questions, look for cause and effect relationships, and identify impacts.

Quotefancy Einstein problem

  1. Determine what the constraints are. The next step in knowing your problem is to understand what constraints or limitations impact the current situation and the possible solutions. Think of constraints as positive motivation. If we didn’t have to deal with limitations such as time, money, and resources, innovation would rarely occur. Constraints will generally be common issues that all groups will face as they design. Some constraints derive from the science that relates to a project, so this stage is a natural point for making connections to curricular concepts. Do not give students an unconstrained challenge but be careful of having too many constraints since that can limit creativity. Brandon Rodriguez has a great TEDEd lesson about The Power of Creative Constraints that can help you and your students see the value in having some constraints.
  1. Determine the criteria for a successful solution. While constraints may be the same across all groups developing a solution to a challenge, criteria are most likely different. Criteria are the goals that a group defines as being the hallmarks of a successful solution. Criteria form each group’s identity and should also reflect an understanding of the needs of the targeted end-user. Think of the many different car models available. In order to function, be safe, and appeal economically to the average consumer, they all are designed within many of the same constraints. The differences in body styles, special packages, and interior details are all designed to address the criteria that matter to specific users while reflecting the brand image of each particular company.

Keep in mind that when student groups create criteria they are developing a      “rubric” for a successful design. They should be able to indicate how a solution meets their most important criteria and how it was impacted by the given constraints.

Think of this initial process of knowing your problem as defining the space for launching the challenge. By identifying constraints and criteria, you create a situation that moves beyond making or simply “doing a project”. A critical key to successfully managing students’ Engineering Design projects is to continually bring their focus back to these early definitions. Criteria and constraints should provide a litmus test for design decisions, helping to foster critical thinking and analysis. And they should be present in all phases of the process, not just in the initial planning.problem

A well thought-out start will go a long way toward developing a solution and it will aid in keeping the focus on process.  Don’t skip this step. In its absence, student work will quickly become making for the sake of making and you will lose a valuable opportunity to foster mastery of concepts through application.

Coming in Part 2 – Navigating the design space to consider multiple options.

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EngineerGOOD: Engineering Solutions and Developing Global Competence


At ProjectEngin, we view the inclusion of Engineering Design practices and thinking in STEM classes as being a critical component in the development of creative and collaborative problem solving skills. But very few problems occur in isolation and even fewer solutions are free of negative impacts. The students who are in our classrooms today are facing a highly networked world full of both amazing potential and enormous challenges.

Globally competentThey will need to work together to develop new ideas, products, and ways of doing things. And just as importantly, they will need to understand the people and places that are impacted by both the problems and the solutions. STEM skills are important, but global view and systems thinking are critical if solutions and innovations are to be effective and sustainable. The goal of education has always been to help young people lead meaningful lives. However, it has become increasingly clear that education itself needs to be redefined to include the development of skills, not just the delivery of information. Veronica Mansilla of Harvard’s ProjectZero and the Asia Society’s Anthony Jackson cite the ability to identify and explain issues of global significance, along with the ability to generate solutions, as being critical to education in this interconnected world. Global Competence


EngineerGOOD curricular projects feature all three key components of a 21st century education at the center: creative problem-solving, global competency, and systems thinking. They embrace a model of project-based learning that tackles authentic global challenges based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.sdg Students follow the Engineering Design Process to generate solutions and prototypes designed for a specific location. Allowing students to choose specific end-users in the context of a larger, global issue encourages an understanding of culture and increased engagement. Instead of learning about problems, students focus on solutions. By including a focus on suitable, small-scale technology, students are able to consider their solution as part of a larger system and to consider both positive and negative effects.

Young people cannot envision or design a desalination plant to supply water to an entire country, but they can develop simple filtration devices for a small village in Kenya or Bangladesh. They may not be able to plan and connect a large scale solar array to the grid, but they can combine small (pico) PV panels with rechargeable batteries and LEDs to create a light to do homework by anywhere in the world. We believe that today’s students can engineer a better future, one place, one project at a time. But to fully realize their potential, we need to re-engineer the learning experiences that they have today.

Contact ProjectEngin to learn more.






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The Three Terrible T’s

What are the three practices you need to avoid if you hope to create lifelong learners? At ProjectEngin, we call them the three T’s.





Yes, we started our list with teaching!

We often equate teaching to with learning, talking at with discussing, and testing with assessing understanding. But maybe it is time to move away from doing things to or at students and to start doing things with them.

We are trained as “teachers” but what if we joined our students as learners? Clearly, it is time to change the practice from “teaching to” to “learning with”.  What a great way to model lifelong learning! It would be so much easier to focus on critical thinking and collaboration as vital parts of education.

What if we stopped “talking at” or “to”, and began to “talk with”? Think how much more we would model communication, problem-solving, and empathy.

What if instead of using tests to assess knowledge, we focused on challenges and tasks in order to assess understanding? The application of ideas requires a deeper understanding and an awareness of connections as well as systems impacts. Applying knowledge leads one step closer to mastery and requires innovative and creative thought.

We work within the confines of an education system that has roots in the 1800s.overwhelmed student It was a time when content was king and the classroom was a way to disseminate facts. Two hundred years later, content is at our fingertips and teaching needs to go far beyond both the transmission of information and a simple check to see if it has been received. Students need to learn how to make use of content and work with and expand ideas. Every classroom needs to include active ways to build the skills needed to access, apply, and extend information. And you need a way to assess those skills along with content.

So, as you re-think your approach for the new school year that begins next month, think about replacing the 3 T’s with the 4 C’s, Super Skills for the 21st Century .  Develop a classroom culture that values critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication by learning with and talking with your students. Look for real understanding and assess it through the application, extension, and innovation of ideas.

It is time to stop telling your students “how to” swim and to let them jump into the water!

swimmers on side of pool                   swimmer in pool

If you need help diving in, contact us to learn how you can banish the Terrible T’s and have a terrific year!

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Engineering Your STEM Classes: 3 Key Ideas for Success

Henry Ford QuoteOur work at ProjectEngin has allowed us to support a wide range of educators in a variety of schools and classrooms as they work to include more E in STEM. All have the goal of creating more skills-based, active learning experiences for their students. And most of them report encountering the same obstacles. As a vision-based enterprise, we always try to keep our eye on the goal of more meaningful education. We believe educators who are working to include more Engineering should keep the following three ideas in mind.

  1. Work to support imagination, teach creativity, and focus on process.

We like to think of imagination as free-range thinking that just happens. Young children excel at it, but very few aspects of formal education embrace it. Allow time to, as Albert Einstein put it, “…develop the childlike inclination for play”.  We often use Quick Build activities to engage imaginations. This are hands-on short building challenges involving unlikely materials.

Creativity is the skill of harnessing your imagination and making the connections needed to create reality out of your imaginative ideas. This is where brainstorming, brainwriting, divergent thinking, and other activities need to be actively taught, particularly in middle and high school classes where the quest for the “one right answer” begins to dominate. The book “Thinkertoys” by Michael Michalko is a great resource for creativity exercises.

Innovation and engineering are processes. This is probably the most common of all of our mantras at ProjectEngin. Following a process that starts with knowing your end user and investigating all of your options is the key to good design. diverge convergeThe Engineering Design Process is often a balance between divergent and convergent thinking as you move from the consideration of all possible solutions to the building and testing of a protoype that best fits a given design space.  All of the skills that are the key to 21st century learning are embedded in the process of innovation and design. Our next post will highlight key steps in the process.

  1. Allow for student choice and voice.

No Engineering Design project should be scripted to result in identical solutions from all student groups. Ever! Present an overall design challenge but allow students to identify the end-user. By mapping out the constraints and criteria relevant to their target audience, students will create unique solutions to common challenges. In our EngineerGOOD curricular modules, the challenges are based on global issues, but students choose specific places for which to develop solutions. Global view and cultural empathy follow as a natural consequence. Even a simple, generic bridge-building challenge can allow for student choice by allowing for variations in prototyping materials and the identification of a real or hypothetical location and purpose. Requiring clear connections between design and the target user reinforces the idea of following a process while enabling the creation of unique solutions.


  1. Plan time for modifications. The first attempt should never be the final result.

Many beginning “Engineering” teachers skip this step because of time pressures and the need to “cover” new material. Don’t fall into this trap! The modification phase is often where the real “aha” moments happen for students. Allow only 2 or 3 changes, one at a time. Require a justification for each and you will see students begin to make clear connections between cause and effect. If it is too difficult to modify prototypes because of construction issues or serious time constraints, request a reflection on planned modifications or next steps for implementation. Make it clear that the first model is just a beginning and embrace the facts that mistakes and failures provide a platform for genuine improvement.

Light Bulb

Most of all, model all of the above in your own practice! Engineer your activities by imagining how much fun school could be, think beyond the box, frame it all in a reproducible process, and always allow yourself time for reflection and modification once the activity is completed. Keep these three ideas in mind and avoid common obstacles as you focus on the goal of a better learning experience for all of your students!

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