Hands-on Activity Grand Challenge Journaling and Brainstorming

Quick Look

Grade Level: 10 (9-11)

Time Required: 15 minutes

Expendable Cost/Group: US $0.00

Group Size: 0

Activity Dependency:

Subject Areas: Algebra, Biology, Chemistry, Data Analysis and Probability, Life Science, Measurement, Problem Solving, Reasoning and Proof, Science and Technology

Two-part drawing shows a man with head thrown back, gargling, and then spitting into a sink.
Does gargling work?
Copyright © Alberta Health http://www.health.alberta.ca/health-info/influenza-what-can-you-do-7.html


Students journal their thoughts and responses to the questions associated with the grand challenge question presented in the associated lesson. For the Generate Ideas" step, they answer the questions: "What are your initial ideas about how this challenge can be answered? What background knowledge is needed? Have you tried this before?" After students have individually written responses to these questions, the class brainstorms together to reach consensus on the main ideas that need to be explored to solve the challenge question.

Engineering Connection

This activity follows the engineering design process at a very basic level, as students brainstorm, research and work together to gather information and better understand all aspects of a problem. Once several ideas have been investigated, enginees examine what they have learned as a group and develop potential solutions to reach a common goal. This often engages several engineers from different fields who come together to develop a solution.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Compose and write response to a challenge.
  • Brainstorm and use cooperative learning to evaluate plans of action regarding a challenge.

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.

  • Identify the design problem to solve and decide whether or not to address it. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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  • Optimize a design by addressing desired qualities within criteria and constraints. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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Materials List

Each group needs a pencil and a copy of the Journal Worksheet (or else their own writing journals.)

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/activities/view/van_membrane_activity1] to print or download.


It is always inviting to have the time to reflect and contemplate a question that has personal relevance to you. Almost everyone has experienced a sore throat. Have you? What does it feel like? (Listen to student descriptions.)

Who is familiar with the prescribed "old" method of alleviating a sore throat by gargling with salt water? Have you tried this? Does it work? (Listen to student answers and experiences.) If it does, why does it work? What is the scientific basis for its success? Is there a better way to cure a sore throat?

The first step in solving a problem the way engineers do it is to brainstorm possible ideas and sollutions. So, following the same process engineers use, it will be up to you to determine a way to explain why salt water can help your sore throat and pose some possible better solutions. (This activity constitutes the Generate Ideas phase of the legacy cycle.)


Before the Activity

With the Students

  1. Read aloud the Grand Challenge (also on the worksheet): You are spending the night with your grandmother when your throat starts to feel sore. Your grandma tells you to gargle with salt water and it will feel much better. Thinking this is an old wive's tale, you scoff, but when you try it later that night it works! Why?"
  2. Give students time to individually reflect and write responses on their worksheets.
  3. Then involve each student in responding to the questions by having them share their responses with the class. Write the ideas generated on the classroom board so students can see all of them.
  4. As a class, brainstorm, discuss and come to a consensus about how to study this particular problem. Ask the students: Based on what you already know, what other information would you need to find out in order to better understand how salt water helps a sore throat? How might nanoscience and nanotechnology help you understand this better?


Generating Ideas: Have students share their ideas. While there are no correct answers, the ideas should relate to the topic. Also have students share their journal entries from the worksheets.


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Students design a lab that answers the challenge question: "You are spending the night with your grandmother when your throat starts to feel sore. Your grandma tells you to gargle with salt water and it will feel much better. Thinking this is an old wive's tale, you scoff, but when you try it later ...


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


Melinda M. Higgins

Supporting Program

VU Bioengineering RET Program, Vanderbilt University School of Engineering


The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under National Science Foundation RET grant nos. 0338092 and 0742871. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the NSF, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: March 17, 2018

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