Curricular Unit: Creative Engineering Design

Quick Look

Grade Level: 9 (9-12)

Choose From: 0 lessons and 6 activities

Subject Areas: Science and Technology

Circular diagram shows steps of the engineering design loop: identify the need, research the problem, develop possible solutions, select the most promising solution, construct a prototype, test and evaluate the prototype and redesign.
The Engineering Design Process remains an important part of an engineering project


Students are introduced to the world of creative engineering product design. Through six activities, teams work through the steps of the engineering design process (or loop) by completing an actual design challenge presented in seven steps. The project challenge is left up to the teacher or class to determine; it might be one decided by the teacher, brainstormed with the class, or the example provided (to design a prosthetic arm that can perform a mechanical function). As students begin by defining the problem, they learn to recognize the need, identify a target population, relate to the project, and identify its requirements and constraints. Then they conduct research, brainstorm alternative solutions, evaluate possible solutions, create and test prototypes, and improve and redesign before manufacturing. See the Unit Schedule section for a list of example design project topics.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

The field of engineering is all encompassing in its subject matter and real-world challenges. Yet, engineers of all disciplines have in common certain approaches—teamwork, brainstorming, problem defining with requirements and constraints, the iterative steps of the design process, testing and analysis, prototyping, production and communication. All engineers use some form of the steps of the engineering design process to organize their ideas, and test and refine potential solutions to real-life challenges. Engineers must gain an understanding of all the contextual factors of a particular design challenge—need for the project, relevant social, ethical, environmental and economic conditions of the target population, system integration, and project needs and limitations. Working through all the technical and non-technical issues helps engineers generate useful, appropriate and successful design solutions.

Unit Overview

Students learn about the cycle of product design through six activities that follow the seven steps of a simplified engineering design process. The activity topics are: 1) identify the need and define the problem; 2) conduct background research, such as an idea web, internet patent search, standards and codes search, reverse engineering, and user interviews; 3) brainstorm and develop ideas and possible solutions; 4) evaluate alternatives and select the most promising solution using engineering analysis; 5) construct and test prototypes; and 6) improve and redesign as well as manufacture final products.

Two teens hold a poster they made that says, "Engineering – the power to create." 
Copyright © 2009 Megan Schroeder, ITL Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder 

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 (

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

HS-ETS1-2. Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering. (Grades 9 - 12)

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This unit focuses on the following Three Dimensional Learning aspects of NGSS:
Science & Engineering Practices Disciplinary Core Ideas Crosscutting Concepts
Design a solution to a complex real-world problem, based on scientific knowledge, student-generated sources of evidence, prioritized criteria, and tradeoff considerations.

Alignment agreement:

Criteria may need to be broken down into simpler ones that can be approached systematically, and decisions about the priority of certain criteria over others (trade-offs) may be needed.

Alignment agreement:

  • Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop an understanding of engineering design. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • Students will develop abilities to apply the design process. (Grades K - 12) More Details

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  • The design process includes defining a problem, brainstorming, researching and generating ideas, identifying criteria and specifying constraints, exploring possibilities, selecting an approach, developing a design proposal, making a model or prototype, testing and evaluating the design using specifications, refining the design, creating or making it, and communicating processes and results. (Grades 9 - 12) More Details

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Worksheets and Attachments

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More Curriculum Like This

Design Step 1: Identify the Need

Students practice the initial steps involved in an engineering design challenge. They review the steps of the engineering design loop, discuss the client need for the project, identify a relevant context, define the problem within their design teams, and examine the project's requirements and const...

preview of 'Design Step 1: Identify the Need' Activity
High School Activity
Time for Design

Students are introduced to the engineering design process, focusing on the concept of brainstorming design alternatives. They learn that engineering is about designing creative ways to improve existing artifacts, technologies or processes, or developing new inventions that benefit society.

preview of 'Time for Design' Lesson
Elementary Lesson
Do You See What I See?

Students explore the concept of optical character recognition (OCR) in a problem-solving environment. They research OCR and OCR techniques and then apply those methods to the design challenge by developing algorithms capable of correctly "reading" a number on a typical high school sports scoreboard....

preview of 'Do You See What I See?' Lesson
High School Lesson
Design Step 2: Research the Problem

Through Internet research, patent research, standards and codes research, user interviews (if possible) and other techniques (idea web, reverse engineering), students further develop the context for their design challenge. In subsequent activities, the design teams use this body of knowledge about t...

Unit Schedule

The structure of this unit has been successfully taught to high school students by various instructors with various design challenge topics. For example, the unit has been scaled as a 13-week high school technical elective, concluding with a Design Expo attended by student families and peers, and as a high school summer camp and a high school/college bridge program, condensed into five days and five weeks, respectively.

Example design project topics taught with this unit structure include:

  • house design with elements inspired by nature (biomimicry)
  • assistive technology devices
  • towers (tested in a university smash lab)
  • amusement park rides
  • daylighting modifications to existing interior spaces
  • interactive table-top educational exhibits
  • various solar and water technologies for use by a hypothetical developing community


Pre/Post Unit Quiz: To conduct an overall pre/post assessment of the unit (six activities), administer the Engineering Design Quiz to the class before beginning any discussion about engineering design. Then, after completion of activity 6, administer the same quiz to the same students and compare pre- to post- scores to gauge the impact of the curricular unit on students' learning.

Other Related Information

Optional: Show students the What Is Engineering? video.


© 2009 by Regents of the University of Colorado


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Supporting Program

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


The contents of these digital library curriculum were developed by the Integrated Teaching and Learning Program in the College of Engineering 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: February 25, 2020


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