Hands-on Activity Developing & Presenting Design Solutions:
Waves Go Public!

Quick Look

Grade Level: 8 (8-10)

Time Required: 1 hours 45 minutes

(can be split into two 50-minute sessions)

Expendable Cost/Group: US $1.00

Group Size: 2

Activity Dependency:

Subject Areas: Biology, Physical Science, Science and Technology

NGSS Performance Expectations:

NGSS Three Dimensional Triangle

Photo shows a teenager giving a report in the front of the class.
Good communication is important to the success of engineering designs.
Copyright © 2004 Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399 USA. All rights reserved.


Students apply everything they have learned over the course of the associated lessons about waves, light properties, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the structure of the eye, by designing devices that can aid color blind people in distinguishing colors. Students learn about the engineering design process and develop three possible solutions to the engineering design challenge outlined in lesson 1 of this unit. They create posters to display their three design ideas and the comparisons used to select the best design. Then, students create brochures for their final design ideas, and "sell" the ideas to their "client." Through this activity, students complete the legacy cycle by "going public" with the creation of their informative posters and brochures that explain their designs, as well as color blindness and how people see color, in "client" presentations.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers use their understanding of waves, light and the electromagnetic spectrum to create medical devices and systems that enhance the lives of people everyday. For example, the gamma rays in CT instruments enable doctors to see organs inside people and determine medical treatment. Engineers in all disciplines employ the engineering design process, including the process of brainstorming to come up with creative ideas, in order to create innovative, effective and efficient solutions to problems. The ability to provide concise and clear communication is important to the success of engineering designs.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Explain how humans are able to see colors.
  • Explain what causes people to be color blind.
  • Make an informative poster and brochure to communicate an engineering design.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-ETS1-1. Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions.

Alignment agreement:

All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.

Alignment agreement:

The uses of technologies and any limitations on their use are driven by individual or societal needs, desires, and values; by the findings of scientific research; and by differences in such factors as climate, natural resources, and economic conditions.

Alignment agreement:

NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-ETS1-2. Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 6 - 8)

Do you agree with this alignment?

Click to view other curriculum aligned to this Performance Expectation
This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.

Alignment agreement:

There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem.

Alignment agreement:

  • Students will develop an understanding of the role of troubleshooting, research and development, invention and innovation, and experimentation in problem solving. (Grades K - 12) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Waves (including sound and seismic waves, waves on water, and light waves) have energy and transfer energy when they interact with matter. Waves are a repeating pattern of motion that transfers energy from place to place without overall displacement of matter. All types of waves have some features in common. When waves interact, they superimpose upon or interfere with each other resulting in changes to the amplitude. Major modern technologies are based on waves and their interactions with matter. (Grade 8) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Analyze and interpret data to describe the behavior of waves (including refraction, reflection, transmission, and absorption) as they interact with various materials. (Grade 8) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Construct explanations for how humans see color as a result of the transmission, absorption, and reflection of light waves by various materials. (Grade 8) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

  • 8.5 x 11-in (or A4) white copier paper, 1-2 sheets per group (have extra sheets on hand in case groups want to start over)
  • poster board or large-sized paper for making posters
  • coloring utensils
  • ruler
  • Go Public Brochure Guidelines and Grading Handout, one per student
  • (optional) access to a computer and printer

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/clem_waves_activity] to print or download.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Content knowledge from lessons 1-5 in the Waves: A Three Color Mystery unit.


Get ready to "go public" with everything you have learned! Today, you will use the engineering design process and design devices to help color blind people distinguish colors. You will be responsible for communicating your design ideas through an informational poster, and marketing your final design idea through an informational brochure. You will demonstrate your understanding of the material we have covered throughout this unit by including in your final brochure and class presentation an explanation on how we see color and what causes a person to be color blind.


Legacy Cycle Information: This lesson covers the Go Public aspect of the legacy cycle, which coincides with part of the engineering design process, wherein engineers design solutions to present to clients. In this activity, students design devices that could aid people who are color blind in distinguishing colors. This activity tests students' comprehension of light properties, wave properties, the electromagnetic spectrum, and how the human eye is associated with seeing color. Students prepare brainstorming posters and informative brochures to advertise their final designs; they are graded on their understanding of the topics covered as reflected by the information contained in their posters, brochures and presentations.

Before the Activity

With the Students—Restate the Challenge

Who can tell me what the engineering challenge is that we have been working towards in this unit? (Call on students; see who can remember.) Let me re-read you the challenge to jog your memories:

You just got your first job. You are now a stock person in the new Food Lion. You show up for your first day of work excited and ready to prove how good a worker you are. The manager greets you and assigns your first task. He takes you back to the delivery entrance and you see cases and cases of apples sitting on the loading dock. The manager waves his hand over the entire mess, and says, "These need to be put into the cooler. Separate the boxes by apple type and put the Granny Smiths on the left side, the Golden Delicious in the middle, and the Red Delicious on the right. Then put some of each out in the store in the produce section." Before you can ask any questions, an urgent summons for the manager comes over the intercom system and he rushes off. You look at the cases and see no labels on the boxes. "No problem," you say to yourself. "I'll just look in the boxes to see what's what." So you look in the boxes. However, you only see two different colors of apples, not three. The only identifying feature they have are numbers on stickers. Just as you are about to panic, another worker walks by. "How do you tell the difference between Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and Red Delicious apples?" you ask him. He gives you a strange look and says, "The Granny Smiths are green, the Golden Delicious are yellow, and the Red Delicious are red. Duh!" You think to yourself: Why can't I see three colors? Is it my eyes, or something else that affects how we are able to see? Can you apply engineering principles to design a device that could be used to help distinguish these three colors from one another?

We have done a lot of learning, experimenting, and research to gather the knowledge necessary to design solutions to this engineering challenge. And, now you are ready!

With the Students—Engineering Design Process, Poster and Brochure Creation, and Final Presentations

  1. Explain to students that when engineers need to design solutions to problems, they follow use the engineering design process. Write on the board the steps of the engineering design process:
  • Identify the problem
  • Research the need or problem
  • Develop possible solutions
  • Select the best possible solution
  • Construct a prototype
  • Test and evaluate the solution
  • Communicate the solution
  • Redesign
  1. Tell students that whether they realize it or not, they have already begun to employ the engineering design process throughout this unit! Ask students which steps they think they have done so far. Tell students that during the course of this unit, they "identified a problem," which they were reminded of in today's introduction. Explain that they also researched the problem through the lessons on waves, light properties, the electromagnetic spectrum, and eye structure.
  2. Explain to students that in this activity, they will be going through the next two steps of the design process: "develop possible solutions," and "select the best possible solution." And then later, they will jump to the "communicate the solution" step. Explain that in the real engineering world, engineers would complete the process through all the steps, but that in this specific activity, students are really exploring and focusing on mostly the first half of the design process.
  3. Divide the class into groups of two students each.
  4. Explain to students that they will now begin the third step of the engineering design process by working as engineers to develop possible solutions to the engineering challenge.
  5. Tell students that, working with their partners, they must come up with three design ideas that utilize mastery of the unit content to engineer a solution to the challenge at hand. Encourage unique and creative designs, and encourage students to use the notes they have taken during the unit lessons to help them with their brainstorming. Give the teams 20 minutes for initial brainstorming and sketching in their notebooks of preliminary drafts of three design ideas. Inform students that the teacher must approve the designs before teams can move forward with this activity.
  6. Tell students that each group must create a poster that shows schematics of each design, as well as pro and con lists for each. Students are responsible to compare designs based on: cost, science (using the knowledge gained in the unit lessons), practicality, and usability. Require that they visually illustrate comparisons between design ideas on the posters. To make posters more professional, provide students with access to a computer lab, and require that all poster components are typed or illustrated by using the computer. Explain that quality visual presentation and professionalism are essential for success in real-world engineering.
  7. Next, explain to students that they are now moving into the fourth step of the engineering design process by selecting the best possible design.
  8. Upon poster completion, tell students to select one of their designs to "pitch to their client" (the class), based on the comparisons and analysis they conducted in preparing the posters. Tell teams that they need to defend their selections with comparison results. Then, give students five minutes to discuss with their partners all their designs, deciding as a team which is best to meet the needs of the challenge. Walk around the classroom to make sure everyone is participating and on task.
  9. Distribute the handout to students.
  10. Give students 30 minutes to draft and then refine final design brochures (this is essentially jumping to a later stage of the design process: communicate the solution).
  11. Give teams 15 minutes to write scripts and prepare "client" presentations. Let them know that each group is expected to give a three-minute presentation to the class about its design, and that each person must talk. When presenting to the client (class), students must explain their three initial designs and comparison process using their posters, and then present the recommended design. Explain that, acting as engineers, students need to communicate and sell their ideas to the client in order to gain approval and move forward with the process. Getting client feedback can lead to a few cycles of redesigning before the challenge is considered met. (Students will not be constructing device prototypes, testing and evaluating devices or re-designing in this activity—all steps that engineers would do in real life!).


brainstorming: A method of shared problem solving in which all members of a group contribute many ideas.

engineering design process: A series of steps used by engineering teams to guide them as they solve problems: identify the problem, research the need or problem, develop possible solutions (includes brainstorming), select the best possible solution, construct a prototype, test and evaluate the solution, communicate the solution, and redesign.


Pre-Activity Assessment

The Challenge: Ask students about the engineering challenge for this unit. Who can remember what we are working on? Quiz students orally on the main concepts from the lessons that are necessary to successfully complete this activity.

Activity Embedded Assessment

Poster and Brochure: Each group prepares a brainstorming poster and informational brochure, serving as a way to test students' understanding of light and how we see colors. Refer to criteria provided in the Go Public Brochure Guidelines and Grading Handout. Through his/her contributions to the poster and brochure (and the presentation, see below), each student is responsible to individually demonstrate his/her comprehension of light, waves, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the human eye. Make the point to students that good communication is important to the success of engineering designs.

Post-Activity Assessment

Going Public: Have student pairs give short, three-minute presentations that outline their brainstorming and final design selection process, as well as defend the science behind their design ideas. Expect each person to talk. The ability to provide concise and clear communication about all aspects of an engineering design is key to its success. Grade student presentations, posters, and brochures to assess their mastery of the unit materials.

Activity Scaling

For upper grades, or to challenge students, require that the three design schematics on the posters are drawn to scale and that students conduct internet research to come up with verifiable cost estimates for each device design.


Get the inside scoop on all things TeachEngineering such as new site features, curriculum updates, video releases, and more by signing up for our newsletter!
PS: We do not share personal information or emails with anyone.

More Curriculum Like This

Middle School Unit
Waves: The Three Color Mystery

Students are presented with a challenge question concerning color blindness and asked to use engineering principles to design devices to help people who are color blind. Using the legacy cycle as a model, this unit is comprised of five lessons designed to teach wave properties, the electromagnetic s...


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2010 Clemson University


Ellen Zielinski; Courtney Faber; Marissa H. Forbes

Supporting Program

Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Program, Center of Advancement of Engineering Fibers and Films, Clemson University


This activity was developed through Clemson University's "Engineering Fibers and Films Experience – EFF-X" Research Experience for Teachers program, funded by National Science Foundation grant no. EEC-0602040. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: January 11, 2019

Free K-12 standards-aligned STEM curriculum for educators everywhere.
Find more at TeachEngineering.org