Hands-on Activity: Problem Solve Your School

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Quick Look

Grade Level: 5 (4-6)

Time Required: 45 minutes

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

Cost depends on the class problem and chosen solution.

Group Size: 28

Activity Dependency: None

Subject Areas: Problem Solving, Science and Technology

The Engineering Design Process.
Students apply the Engineering Design Process to problem solve their school
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Summary

Students apply what they have learned about the engineering design process to a real-life problem that affects them and/or their school. They choose a problem as a group, and then follow the engineering design process to come up with and test their design solution. This activity teaches students how to use the engineering design process while improving something in the school environment that matters to them. By performing each step of the design process, students can experience what it is like to be an engineer.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers use the engineering design process to find creative solutions to a wide range of challenges. In addition to designing consumer products, the process is also used to design solutions to infrastructure and systems that benefit society: How do we remove dirty water from homes and make it into clean water? How do we manage the resources of a river to supply everyone's' needs without destroying the natural environment? How can we efficiently and responsibly produce energy and deliver it as electricity to where people need it? How can we design a factory to optimally produce a specific product? How should we lay out the streets and traffic routes to provide access, efficiency and safety?

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Explain the important steps of the engineering design process.
  • Relate how engineering incorporates this design process in many applications.
  • Apply the engineering design process to multiple design challenges in their school setting.

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

3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5)

Do you agree with this alignment?

This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Define a simple design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process, or system and includes several criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.

Alignment agreement:

Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.

Alignment agreement:

People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies.

Alignment agreement:

View other curriculum aligned to this performance expectation
NGSS Performance Expectation

3-5-ETS1-2. Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 3 - 5)

Do you agree with this alignment?

This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.

Alignment agreement:

Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution. Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.

Alignment agreement:

At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs.

Alignment agreement:

Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, to decrease known risks, and to meet societal demands.

Alignment agreement:

View other curriculum aligned to this performance expectation
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?

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:

View other curriculum aligned to this performance expectation
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?

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:

View other curriculum aligned to this performance expectation
NGSS Performance Expectation

MS-ETS1-3. Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (Grades 6 - 8)

Do you agree with this alignment?

This activity focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings.

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:

Sometimes parts of different solutions can be combined to create a solution that is better than any of its predecessors.

Alignment agreement:

Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process—that is, some of the characteristics may be incorporated into the new design.

Alignment agreement:

View other curriculum aligned to this performance expectation
  • The engineering design process involves defining a problem, generating ideas, selecting a solution, testing the solution(s), making the item, evaluating it, and presenting the results. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

  • Identify and collect information about everyday problems that can be solved by technology, and generate ideas and requirements for solving a problem. (Grades 3 - 5) More Details

    View aligned curriculum

    Do you agree with this alignment?

Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each student needs:

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/cub_design_lesson01_activity2] to print or download.

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Pre-Req Knowledge

A basic understanding of the steps of the engineering design process and brainstorming, as described in the Engineering Design Process unit, Time to Design lesson.

Introduction/Motivation

After you woke up this morning, did any of you experience something that just didn't go right? Maybe you hit snooze on the alarm clock too many times, or you couldn't find your glasses, or you spent too much time picking out something to wear. Did you think about what could be done next time if it were to happen again?

Who remembers the steps of the engineering design process? Remember that the process starts with stating a problem or recognizing a need. This step is important to help us get started thinking of creative solutions or designs to help address our problem. Sometimes a real-world challenge is given to engineers to solve, but other times, an engineer must think, "Is there a problem here?" or, "How can this thing or process be improved?" Sometimes engineers come up with exciting new ideas for a problem by thinking, "Wouldn't it be neat if...?" In other words, engineers might have to come up with a problem themselves. Today, we will identify a problem around our school or in our classroom — maybe the long lunch lines, or your hand hurting from taking a lot of notes. And, then we will use the engineering design process to think of some possible solutions for it.

(optional: Show students the What Is Engineering? video)

In the engineering design process, we first define our problem statement. The next step is to come up with many potential design solutions by brainstorming. Then, we pick one of these designs by voting on which is the best one. Next, we explain the design to make sure everyone understands it, and we might even present our idea to the principal if we need permission to try it out. After that, we will test the design to make sure it works. Finally, we will review and decide if it is in fact the best solution or if we should iterate our design and start over again based on what we learned from our first design. Let's get started!

Procedure

Before the Activity

With the Students

  1. Perform the pre-activity assessment activities as described in the Assessment section.
  2. Pass out the Problem Solve Your School Worksheet for students to follow along with the activity.
  3. Problem: As a class, come up with a problem statement. Use brainstorming to help in this problem definition step. Make a list of several problems within the school or classroom. Remind students that in brainstorming, no idea or suggestion is "silly." All ideas should be respectfully heard. Take an uncritical position, encourage wild ideas and discourage criticism of ideas. Have students raise their hands to respond. Write their ideas on the board. Omit any ideas that may have limiting factors, such as high cost or safety. Take a class vote to decide which problem to try to solve. Change the problem issue into a problem statement by talking with the class, and write the agreed-upon problem statement on the board.

Suggestions: Make it a short, carefully thought-out sentence explaining the problem in a way that is open to multiple solutions. For example, instead of: "Insulate my lunch bag," a more general statement might be: "Keep my lunch cold until lunchtime."

Examples: Getting to school on time, long lunch lines, crowded halls after assemblies, backpack does not fit in your locker or coat closet, you cannot sit next to all of your friends at lunch because the tables are long and narrow, your pencil eraser always runs out, no running at school when you are late to a class, your hand hurts when you have to take notes for a long time, something in the classroom is too high to reach, the classroom is too hot or too cold, etc.

  1. Brainstorming: As a class, brainstorm different design solutions to the problem, keeping the available materials in mind.

Suggestions: Write all ideas on the board. Encourage wild ideas and building off of each others' ideas. Remind students that in brainstorming, no idea or suggestion is "silly." All ideas should be respectfully heard. Take an uncritical position. Have them raise their hands to respond.

Examples: For a "keeping my lunch cold" problem, students might suggest adapting an idea from somewhere else, such as other products that use insulation. To help them generate ideas, ask them to think of other possible uses for an insulated bag, which might trigger different ideas. Or, is there something we can eliminate that might be transferring heat? Can we rearrange anything? They may come up with ideas, such as: wrapping each lunch item with aluminum foil so as to not leave any item exposed, or lining the lunch bag/box with bubble wrap.

  1. Pick one: Take a vote for the best design solution. Example: Wrapping each lunch item with aluminum foil.
  2. Explain: Write the chosen design on the board. Explain the plan again to make it clear to everyone or have several students take turns explaining the plan to the class. Example: We will insulate our lunch by wrapping each food item with aluminum foil.
  3. Test: Obtain the necessary materials and test the design to see if it works. Have students teams test similar designs to find the best solution or test one design as an entire class. This step may have to be done the next day, depending on the problem chosen and the materials needed to test the design. Example: Test several identical lunches, taking temperatures in the morning and then at lunchtime. Change one factor for each test lunch: the amount of foil used. Use one layer of foil on one lunch, two layers on another lunch, and three layers on another lunch. With a fourth lunch, fill all empty space in the bag/box with crumpled foil balls.
  4. Review: Does it work? If not, brainstorm as a class and figure out why it is not working, or try one of the other ideas. If it works, the class solved the problem! Ask students if they can think of ways to make the design work even better. Example: Were the lunches at least as cold as necessary? If not, what did we learn that could help us with a better design? If so, which lunch lost the least heat? Was using a lot of foil worth the extra insulation, or would this method be a waste of money?
  5. Conclude by conducting the post-activity assessment described in the Assessment section.

Vocabulary/Definitions

brainstorming: Thinking of ideas as a group.

engineer: A person who applies her/his understanding of science and mathematics to creating things for the benefit of society.

engineering: Creating new things for the benefit of society.

Engineering Design Process: A structured way to help engineers come up with the best design to solve a specific problem.

iteration: Doing something again, like starting over with the design process.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Discussion Questions: Solicit, integrate and summarize student responses. Ask the students:

  • What is good or works well in our school or classroom?
  • In what ways could we improve our school or classroom?

Activity Embedded Assessment

Worksheet: Have students follow along with the activity on the Problem Solve Your School Worksheet; review their answers to gauge their mastery of the subject.

Post-Activity Assessment

Informal Discussion: Today we used the engineering design process the way that an engineer would. Engineers sometimes improve the design of existing products or systems. Other times, they design new inventions to help a person do something that has never been done before. Ask the students to come up with problem statements by asking themselves:

  • How can this be improved? (Possible answers: Make [a product] stronger, lighter, less expensive, last longer, more dependable, not wear out as quickly, recyclable, etc.)
  • Wouldn't it be neat if...? (Possible answers: Medical doctors could see what is going on inside of a body without harming the patient, we could take photographs using a more lightweight and inexpensive device, there was enough water in the river at the end of the summer, the lights automatically turn off when you leave a room, or people could travel to or live on other planets.)

Journal Reflection: Ask students to write a paragraph, in their journal or on a sheet of paper, to explain how engineers use the engineering design process to create new inventions that help people do something they have never done before. For extra credit, have students document in their journals a drawing and description of an engineering idea or invention of their own creation.

Class Engineering Presentation: Have the class present their engineering design to another class or the rest of the school with a poster or short skit.

Safety Issues

  • Safety issues depend on the class problem and chosen solution.

Troubleshooting Tips

If the solution does not work, guide the class as to why it does not work and what might make it work. If the class still cannot get a solution that works, explain that some problems are too complicated to find solutions for in a short amount of time, but engineers keep iterating until they find a good design solution. Then, try a less complicated problem with a surefire solution, to cultivate the students' confidence in the helpfulness of a structured design process.

Activity Extensions

Assign students homework to think of a problem at home to which they can apply the design process to find a creative solution.

Ask the students for ideas on how they might re-engineer (iterate!) and improve their design. Have them sketch or test their ideas.

Activity Scaling

  • For lower grades, be sure to choose a problem statement for which it is relatively easy to find a solution. Choosing a problem that is too hard may decrease the students' confidence in their engineering, problem-solving abilities.
  • For upper grades, divide the class into engineering teams of 2-4 students each. As a class, agree upon a problem statement. Then, have each group complete the remaining engineering design process steps independently. For the "Explain" step in the Procedure section, have each team present their design solution to the entire class. Provide class critiques. Decide the best solution, or some combination solution.

References

Abarca, J., Bedard, A.J., Carlson, D.W., Carlson, L.E., Hertzberg, J., Louie, B., Milford, J., Reitsma, R.F., Schwartz, T.L. and Sullivan, J.F. (2000) "Introductory Engineering Design: A Projects-Based Approach," Third Edition, Textbook for GEEN 1400: First-Year Engineering Projects and GEEN 3400: Innovation and Invention, Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Colorado at Boulder. http://itll.colorado.edu/index.php/courses_workshops/geen_1400/resources/textbook/

Contributors

Megan Podlogar; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Denise W. Carlson; Jackie Sullivan

Copyright

© 2006 by Regents of the University of Colorado.

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Acknowledgements

The contents of these digital library curricula were 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.

Last modified: December 21, 2018

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