Hands-on Activity: Engineering in Reverse!
Educational Standards :
Pre-Req Knowledge (Return to Contents)
Students should understand that engineers use the engineering design process (see Background information under the Procedures section) to invent and improve technologies, objects and systems. In this activity, students focus on the "asking and improving" steps in the engineering design process.
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
After this activity, students should be able to:
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Each group needs:
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
By studying an existing engineered object, we can learn a lot about how the object was designed and how it works. What steps might an engineer take to figure out and understand how an existing product works? Usually, we can just take it apart! Engineers use a process called reverse engineering to understand how something functions and to determine ways it can be improved. Have you ever taken something apart to find out what is inside? If you have, then you have already "reverse engineered!"
By carefully discovering how something was made and how it works, engineers can make suggestions for areas of improvement of the product. Sometimes the improvement is very simple. For example, suppose you reverse engineered a computer hard drive and noticed that one of the screws is not necessary. This may seem like a small detail, but if that screw costs five cents and it is removed from 1 million computer hard drives manufactured in one year, that saves $50,000! Imagine if you found two screws that were not necessary! A few small changes can make a big difference.
Reverse engineering, however, is not simply taking something apart. This process requires careful observation, disassembly, documentation, analysis and reporting. Many times, the reverse engineering process is non-destructive. This means that the object or component can be reassembled and still function just as it did before you took it apart.
Today, we will practice reverse engineering using children's push-toys. Before we take them apart, we will test the toys and record our predictions of how they work. We will each draw what we think is inside the toys making them work. It is perfectly acceptable to be unsure of a toy's internal "parts" — just make your best prediction. When everyone is done with their first drawing, we will carefully disassemble the toys and make notes about the process so we can reassemble them. Throughout the reverse engineering project, we will think of ways these objects could be improved. Is there some way it could function better? Or be manufactured less expensively? We will use our observations to make suggestions for improvement to the toys.
Vocabulary/Definitions (Return to Contents)
Procedure (Return to Contents)
Engineers use the engineering design process to invent and improve technologies, objects and systems.
The engineering design process includes five critical steps:
Engineers also use the process of reverse engineering to understand existing technologies, objects, components and systems. By carefully disassembling, observing, testing, analyzing and reporting, engineers can understand how something works and suggest ways it might be improved.
Before the Activity
With the Students
- How does the toy work?
- What might be inside the toy to make it work this way?
Attachments (Return to Contents)
Troubleshooting Tips (Return to Contents)
If push-toys are not available, use other objects, such as water toys, audio speakers, coffee makers, combination locks, wind-up toys, toasters, blenders, computer keyboards, Etch-a-Sketch™ toys, etc., which can be obtained from yard sales, toy stores, hardware stores or second-hand stores.
Assessment (Return to Contents)
Question/Answer: Ask students the following questions and have them raise their hands to answer.
Activity Embedded Assessment
Worksheet: Have students complete the Engineering in Reverse Worksheet and review their answers to determine their level of understanding.
Presentation: Have students discuss the following topics within their groups. Then assign one topic to each group and have students present their ideas to the class.
Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)
Have students create an advertisement (print, video or audio), marketing the re-engineered push-toy to an identified target audience. Students should describe the purpose of the object and the improvement(s) they have made.
Activity Scaling (Return to Contents)
References (Return to Contents)
Abarca, Javier, et al. Introductory Engineering Design: A Projects-Based Approach. (Textbook for GEEN 1400: First-Year Engineering Projects course.) Third Edition (spiral bound), Eds. Janet L. Yowell and Denise W. Carlson. Boulder, CO: Integrated Teaching and Learning Laboratory, College of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Colorado at Boulder, Fall 2000. http://itll.colorado.edu/index.php/courses_workshops/geen_1400/resources/textbook/
Boston Museum of Science, Engineering is Elementary, "The Engineering Design Process," accessed June 24, 2009. http://www.mos.org/eie/engineering_design.php
ContributorsMegan Schroeder, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
Copyright© 2009 by by Regents of the University of Colorado
This digital library content was developed by the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program under National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder
Last Modified: April 16, 2014