Engineering Design Process

The engineering design process emphasizes open-ended problem solving and encourages students to learn from failure. This process nurtures students’ abilities to create innovative solutions to challenges in any subject!

The engineering design process is a series of steps that guides engineering teams as we solve problems. The design process is iterative, meaning that we repeat the steps as many times as needed, making improvements along the way as we learn from failure and uncover new design possibilities to arrive at great solutions.

Overarching themes of the engineering design process are teamwork and design. Strengthen your students’ understanding of open-ended design as you encourage them to work together to brainstorm new ideas, apply science and math concepts, test prototypes and analyze data—and aim for creativity and practicality in their solutions. Project-based learning engages learners of all ages—and fosters STEM literacy.

Browse all K-12 engineering design process curriculum

Engineers ask critical questions about what they want to create, whether it be a skyscraper, amusement park ride, bicycle or smartphone. These questions include: What is the problem to solve? What do we want to design? Who is it for? What do we want to accomplish? What are the project requirements? What are the limitations? What is our goal?

This includes talking to people from many different backgrounds and specialties to assist with researching what products or solutions already exist, or what technologies might be adaptable to your needs.

You work with a team to brainstorm ideas and develop as many solutions as possible. This is the time to encourage wild ideas and defer judgment! Build on the ideas of others! Stay focused on topic, and have one conversation at a time! Remember: good design is all about teamwork! Help students understand the brainstorming guidelines by using the TE handout and two sizes of classroom posters.

For many teams this is the hardest step! Revisit the needs, constraints and research from the earlier steps, compare your best ideas, select one solution and make a plan to move forward with it.

Building a prototype makes your ideas real! These early versions of the design solution help your team verify whether the design meets the original challenge objectives. Push yourself for creativity, imagination and excellence in design.

Does it work? Does it solve the need? Communicate the results and get feedback. Analyze and talk about what works, what doesn't and what could be improved.

Discuss how you could improve your solution. Make revisions. Draw new designs. Iterate your design to make your product the best it can be.
And now, REPEAT!

Ask Research Imagine Plan Create Test Improve

Engineering Design-Aligned Curriculum

The TeachEngineering hands-on activities featured here, by grade band, exemplify the engineering design process.

Grades K-2

  • Be “Cool” with Popsicle Engineering
    Be “Cool” with Popsicle Engineering

    preview of 'Be “Cool” with Popsicle Engineering' Activity

    Create popsicles using the engineering design process! In this activity, students work to solve the problems of a local popsicle shop while learning how scientific and engineering concepts play a part in behind-the-scenes design.

  • Invent a Backscratcher from Everyday Materials
    Invent a Backscratcher from Everyday Materials

    preview of 'Invent a Backscratcher from Everyday Materials' Activity

    Given scrap cardboard, paper towel tubes, scissors, and glue, how could a student invent their own backscratcher? Engage in the process of how real engineers design products to meet a desired function.

  • Naturally Organized
    Naturally Organized

    preview of 'Naturally Organized ' Activity

    Design a customized table top supply organizer inspired by the natural home of a ladybug—or any other insect of a student's choosing—to hold all of their classroom supplies! By the end of this activity, students will understand the properties of biomimicry and the engineering design process.

  • Straw Towers to the Moon
    Straw Towers to the Moon

    preview of 'Straw Towers to the Moon' Activity

    Students learn about civil engineers and work through each step of the engineering design process in two mini-activities that prepare them for a culminating challenge to design and build the tallest straw tower possible, given limited time and resources. In the culminating challenge (tallest straw t...

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Grades 3-5

  • Engineering a Mountain Rescue Litter
    Engineering a Mountain Rescue Litter

    preview of 'Engineering a Mountain Rescue Litter	' Activity

    When a person gets injured in the wilderness and needs medical attention, rescuers might use a device called a mountain rescue litter specifically designed for difficult evacuations. Design and build a small-sized prototype to save some (potatoes’) lives!

  • Biodomes Engineering Design Project: Lessons 2-6
    Biodomes Engineering Design Project: Lessons 2-6

    preview of 'Biodomes Engineering Design Project: Lessons 2-6' Activity

    In this multi-day activity, students explore environments, ecosystems, energy flow and organism interactions by creating a scale model biodome, following the steps of the engineering design process.

  • Exploring Variables While Testing & Improving Mint-Mobiles (for Elementary School)
    Exploring Variables While Testing & Improving Mint-Mobiles (for Elementary School)

    preview of 'Exploring Variables While Testing & Improving Mint-Mobiles (for Elementary School)' Activity

    Build a model race car out of lifesaver candies, popsicle sticks, straws, and other fun materials! Have students learn about independent, dependent, and control variables, and find out who can make the fastest car given their new knowledge.

  • Water Bottle Rockets
    Water Bottle Rockets

    preview of 'Water Bottle Rockets' Activity

    Students are challenged to design and build rockets from two-liter plastic soda bottles that travel as far and straight as possible or stay aloft as long as possible. Guided by the steps of the engineering design process, students first watch a video that shows rocket launch failures and then partic...

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Grades 6-8

  • Saving a Life: Heart Valve Replacement
    Saving a Life: Heart Valve Replacement

    preview of 'Saving a Life: Heart Valve Replacement' Activity

    Students use their knowledge about how healthy heart valves function to design, construct and implant prototype replacement mitral valves for hypothetical patients' hearts. Building on what they learned in the associated lesson about artificial heart valves, combined with the testing and scoring of ...

  • Clay Boats
    Clay Boats

    preview of 'Clay Boats' Activity

    Students use a small quantity of modeling clay to make boats that float in a tub of water. The object is to build boats that hold as much weight as possible without sinking. In the process of designing and testing their prototype creations, students discover some of the basic principles of boat desi...

  • Amusement Park Ride: Ups and Downs in Design
    Amusement Park Ride: Ups and Downs in Design

    preview of 'Amusement Park Ride: Ups and Downs in Design' Activity

    Students design, build and test looping model roller coasters using foam pipe insulation tubing. They learn about potential and kinetic energy as they test and evaluate designs, addressing the task as if they are engineers. Winning designs have the lowest cost and best aesthetics. Three student work...

  • Creative Crash Test Cars
    Creative Crash Test Cars

    preview of 'Creative Crash Test Cars' Maker Challenge

    Students explore how mass affects momentum in head-on collisions and experience the engineering design process as if they are engineers working on the next big safety feature for passenger cars. They design, create and redesign impact-resistant passenger vehicle compartments for small-size model car...

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Grades 9-12

  • Convertible Shoes: Function, Fashion and Design
    Convertible Shoes: Function, Fashion and Design

    preview of 'Convertible Shoes: Function, Fashion and Design' Activity

    Student teams design and build shoe prototypes that convert between high heels and athletic shoes. They apply their knowledge about the mechanics of walking and running as well as shoe design (as learned in the associated lesson) to design a multifunctional shoe that is both fashionable and function...

  • Building Arduino Light Sculptures
    Building Arduino Light Sculptures

    preview of 'Building Arduino Light Sculptures' Maker Challenge

    Students gain practice in Arduino fundamentals as they design their own small-sized prototype light sculptures to light up a hypothetical courtyard. They program Arduino microcontrollers to control the lighting behavior of at least three light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to create imaginative light displ...

  • Solar Water: Heat it Up!
    Solar Water: Heat it Up!

    preview of 'Solar Water: Heat it Up!' Activity

    Students explore energy efficiency, focusing on renewable energy, by designing and building flat-plate solar water heaters. They calculate the efficiency of the solar water heaters during initial and final tests and compare the efficiencies to those of models currently sold on the market (requiring ...

  • Boom Construction
    Boom Construction

    preview of 'Boom Construction' Activity

    Student teams design their own booms (bridges) and engage in a friendly competition with other teams to test their designs. Each team strives to design a boom that is light, can hold a certain amount of weight, and is affordable to build.

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