Engineering Design Process

The engineering design process encompasses a mindset that emphasizes open-ended problem solving and encourages students to learn from failure.
Experiencing the engineering design process nurtures students' abilities to create innovative solutions to challenges in any subject!

Engineering Design-Aligned Curriculum

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

Grades K-2

  • Cars: Engineering for Efficiency
    Cars: Engineering for Efficiency

    Students learn how the aerodynamics and rolling resistance of a car affect its energy efficiency through designing and constructing model cars out of simple materials. As the little cars are raced down a tilted track (powered by gravity) and propelled off a ramp, students come to understand the need...

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

    In this activity, students create devices to get "that pesky itch in the center of your back." Once the idea is thought through, students produce design schematics (sketches).

  • Clean Enough to Drink: Making Devices to Filter Dirty Water
    Clean Enough to Drink: Making Devices to Filter Dirty Water

    Students act as engineers contracted by NASA to create water filtration devices that clean visible particulates from teacher-prepared "dirty water." Working in groups, students experience the entire engineering design process, including a read-aloud book about the water cycle; a visiting water engin...

  • Straw Towers to the Moon
    Straw Towers to the Moon

    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...

Grades 3-5

  • Engineering a Mountain Rescue Litter
    Engineering a Mountain Rescue Litter

    Students build small-sized prototypes of mountain rescue litters—rescue baskets for use in hard-to-get-to places, such as mountainous terrain—to evacuate an injured person (modeled by a potato) from the backcountry. Groups design their litters within constraints: they must be stable, lightweight, lo...

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

    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
    Exploring Variables While Testing & Improving Mint-Mobiles

    Students design, build and test model race cars made from simple materials—lifesaver-shaped candies, plastic drinking straws, Popsicle sticks, index cards, tape—as a way to explore independent, dependent and control variables.

  • Water Bottle Rockets
    Water Bottle Rockets

    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...

Grades 6-8

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

    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

    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

    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

    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...

Grades 9-12

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

    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

    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!

    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

    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.

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.

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!

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.

The design process applies to problems big and small—global, local and personal. Help your students practice the engineering design process with the TE Engineering Design Process handout, 11x17 poster and 24x36 poster. Download the PDF files, print and use!

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Engineering Design Process
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