Unit Service-Based Engineering Design Projects

Photo shows five teenagers around a table laden with prototype devices. Text reads: Engineering is essential to our health, happiness & safety.
Students complete service-based engineering design projects


This unit describes a general approach to guiding students to complete service-based engineering design projects, with specific examples provided in detail as associated activities. With your class, brainstorm ideas for engineering designs that benefit your community or a specific person in your community. Then, guided by the steps of the engineering design process, have students research to understand background science and math, meet their client to understand the problem, and create, test and improve prototype devices. Note that service-based projects often take more time to prepare, especially if you arrange for a real client. However, the authors notice that students of both genders and all ethnicities tend to respond with more enthusiasm and interest to altruistic projects.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

The real world is teeming with opportunities for people, including engineers, to apply their expertise to helping others and improving our general and specific quality of life. This is the very nature of engineering. The work of engineers directly impacts the lives of people in their communities (shelters, playgrounds, water treatment plants, heating and cooling devices, bridges, medical devices, etc.). The associated activity examples engage students in designing prototype devices to help the authors' local community members, but the same approach applies more broadly to teams following the steps of the engineering design process as they come up with solutions to service-based engineering challenges that benefit specific people in their communities and/or society at large.

Unit Overview

This project works well as a semester-long project in a high school engineering class or elective course. Arrange for a real-world client, or create a hypothetical service-based opportunity (perhaps using one of the associated activities). Then, have students follow the steps of the engineering design process while they attempt to solve the open-ended problem, with the main objective to build working prototypes.

For further suggestions and support materials, refer to the Tips for Leading Service-Based Engineering Design Projects and other attachments.

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.

See individual lessons and activities for standards alignment.


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Unit Schedule

See a suggested schedule in Figure 1, based on about twenty 50-minute periods.

A "Suggested Project Schedule" table with columns labeled "Day" and "Tasks and Milestones," includes info, such as: "Divide the class into groups and reiterate the project goal. Groups brainstorm ideas." during days 3-4, and "Final product due. Demonstration to client. Group presentations. Personal reflection on project." during days 19-20.
Figure 1. Overview of project milestones during about twenty 50-minute time periods.
Copyright © 2010 Mindy Zarske, ITL Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado at Boulder

Worksheets and Attachments

Visit [www.teachengineering.org/curricularunits/view/cub_service_unit] to print or download.

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Pre/Post Quiz: Personalize the concept inventory, Example Pre/Post Quiz Answers, with topics pertinent to your class' service-based engineering project. Make a blank quiz version without the answers. Before beginning the project, have students complete the quiz. At project completion, have students take the same quiz, comparing their results to their pre-project scores to gauge their knowledge gains.

Other Related Information

Optional: Show students the What Is Engineering? video.

See specifics about implementing the steps of the engineering design process as described in TeachEngineering's Creative Engineering Design unit.

Learn more about the steps of the engineering design process at the Engineering is Elementary website: http://www.mos.org/eie/engineering_design.php

Learn more about the engineering design process at https://www.teachengineering.org/engrdesignprocess.php

For inspiration, see Engineers Without Borders


© 2010 by Regents of the University of Colorado


Eszter Horanyi; Alison Pienciak; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Denise W. Carlson

Supporting Program

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


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.

Last modified: February 25, 2020

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