NGSS Engineering Design

Making sense of phenomena and solving problems while deepening student engagement through three dimensional learning

NGSS Engineering Design Aligned Curriculum

The TE hands-on activities featured here, by grade, focus on the engineering design component of the NGSS.

Grades K-2
  • Be “Cool” with Popsicle Engineering
    Be “Cool” with Popsicle Engineering

    Students follow five steps of the engineering design process and make a popsicle production line that the class can enjoy. Beginning kindergarteners are introduced to science and engineering concepts and compare and contrast the roles of a scientist and an engineer.

  • Naturally Organized
    Naturally Organized

    Students learn about biomimicry and the engineering design process by designing a tabletop supply organizer inspired by the natural home of an insect species. Their prototype stores the group’s classroom supplies, such as scissors, crayon boxes, pencils, and glue sticks. They must design their suppl...

  • 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).

  • Simple Snow Load Roof Model Demo: Which Roof Is Tops?
    Simple Snow Load Roof Model Demo: Which Roof Is Tops?

    Through this introductory engineering activity, students explore the advantages of different roof shapes for different climates or environmental conditions. During a teacher demo, they observe and and then discuss what happens when a "snow load" (sifted cups of flour) is placed on three different mo...

  • The Benefits of Inclined Planes: Heave Ho!
    The Benefits of Inclined Planes: Heave Ho!

    Students discover the scientific basis for the use of inclined planes. Using a spring scale, a bag of rocks and an inclined plane, student groups explore how dragging objects up a slope is easier than lifting them straight up into the air.

Grades 3-5
  • Test & Improve: Making Tall & Strong Recycled Towers
    Test & Improve: Making Tall & Strong Recycled Towers

    Students learn about material reuse by designing and building the strong and tall towers using only the provided selection recycled materials and meeting given design constraints. They test their model towers in shaking/earthquake and high-wind/hurricane simulations, then redesign for improvement be...

  • 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...

  • Constraints: Pop Rockets on a Shoestring Budget
    Constraints: Pop Rockets on a Shoestring Budget

    Students revisit the Pop Rockets activity from Lesson 3, in which mini paper rockets are powered by the chemical reaction of antacid-tablets and water in plastic film canisters. This time, however, the design of their pop rockets is limited by budgets and supplies. They get a feel for the constraint...

  • 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...

  • 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.

Grades 6-8
  • Small-Scale Modeling of Oil Spill Cleanup Methods
    Small-Scale Modeling of Oil Spill Cleanup Methods

    Student teams create their own oil spills, try different methods for cleaning them up, and then discuss the merits of the methods in terms of effectiveness (cleanliness) and cost.

  • Solving Everyday Problems Using the Engineering Design Cycle
    Solving Everyday Problems Using the Engineering Design Cycle

    Students walk through two real-life at-school “problems” that are solved by using the engineering design process—teacher desk/homework organization and student locker organization. Doing this prepares students to identify and solve their own real-world engineering challenges to everyday problems at ...

  • Operation Build a Bridge and Get Over It
    Operation Build a Bridge and Get Over It

    Students act as structural engineers and learn about forces and load distributions as they follow the steps of the engineering design process to design and build small-scale bridges using wooden tongue depressors and glue. They test their bridges to see how much weight they can hold until they break...

  • A Guide to Rain Garden Construction
    A Guide to Rain Garden Construction

    Student groups create personal rain gardens planted with native species that can be installed on the school campus, within the surrounding community, or at students' homes to provide a green infrastructure and low-impact development technology solution for areas with poor drainage that often flood d...

  • Renewable Energy Design: Wind Turbines
    Renewable Energy Design: Wind Turbines

    Students apply real-world technical tools and techniques to design their own aerodynamic wind turbines that efficiently harvest the most wind energy. Specifically, teams each design a wind turbine propeller attachment

Grades 9-12
  • Engineering Ethics: Evaluating Popular Inventions
    Engineering Ethics: Evaluating Popular Inventions

    Students analyze an assortment of popular inventions to determine whom they are intended to benefit, who has access to them, who might be harmed by them, and who is profiting by them. Then they re-imagine the devices in a way that they believe would do more good for humanity.

  • Reverse Engineering Project: Disassemble, Sketch & Recap
    Reverse Engineering Project: Disassemble, Sketch & Recap

    Student pairs reverse engineer objects of their choice, learning what it takes to be an engineer. Groups each make a proposal, create a team work contract, use tools to disassemble a device, and sketch and document their full understanding of how it works.

  • Concentrating on the Sun with Photovoltaic Solar Panels
    Concentrating on the Sun with Photovoltaic Solar Panels

    Students design, build and test reflectors to measure the effect of solar reflectance on the efficiency of solar PV panels. They use a small PV panel, a multimeter, cardboard and foil to build and test their reflectors in preparation for a class competition.

  • Hurricane! Saving Lives via Logical Reasoning & Computer Science
    Hurricane! Saving Lives via Logical Reasoning & Computer Science

    Students use a hurricane tracking map to measure the distance from a specific latitude and longitude location of the eye of a hurricane to a city. Then they use the map's scale factor to convert the distance to miles. They also apply the distance formula by creating an x-y coordinate plane on the ma...

  • Mathematically Designing a Frictional Roller Coaster
    Mathematically Designing a Frictional Roller Coaster

    Students apply high school differential calculus and physics to design 2D roller coasters in which the friction force is taken into consideration. Student teams first mathematically design the coaster path (using what they learned in the associated lesson) and then use foam pipe wrap insulation mate...

Why NGSS Engineering Design for K-12 Youth?

The Next Generation Science Standards provide a foundation in engineering design that allows students to design solutions to problems that arise from phenomena. Anchoring learning in explaining phenomena better prepares K-12 students for college and career expectations.

Engineering design promotes vital problem solving and project-based learning while strengthening critical thinking skills. Engineering design-aligned curricula help develop students’ engineering habits of mind by tying together multiple disciplines, and enabling students to work in teams to solve real-life problems they are passionate about!

Browse NGSS Engineering Design Aligned Curriculum

What is Three Dimensional Learning?

The NGSS are based on three dimensional learning. As outlined in the Framework, students understand phenomena by using Science and Engineering Practices (dimension 1) and applying Crosscutting Concepts (dimension 2), as well as Disciplinary Core Ideas (dimension 3). The integration of these three dimensions illustrates the importance — and interdependence — of content knowledge and practices that engage students both in scientific inquiry and engineering design.

Science and Engineering Practices (SEP) describe the practices that scientists and engineers employ within their field. The SEP help develop students’ knowledge of science and engineering while enhancing their aptitude with related practices.

The SEP practices are comprised of:

  • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  • Developing and Using Models
  • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions
  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
  • Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information

Crosscutting Concepts (CC) connect the various domains of science and allow students to better grasp and explore the interdependence between several science and engineering disciplines. The CC’s provide students with an organizational scheme in which to understand the scientific world.

Crosscutting concepts address the following topics:

  • Patterns
  • Cause and Effect
  • Scale, Proportion and Quantity
  • Systems and System Models
  • Energy and Matter
  • Structure and Function
  • Stability and Change

Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCI) are a collection of ideas in science and engineering aimed to provide students with essential information that can be developed and integrated well beyond a student’s schooling. Thus the DCI help focus K-12 science curriculum.

The DCI are grouped by the following domains:

Physical Sciences

  • PS1: Matter and its Interactions
  • PS2: Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions
  • PS3: Energy
  • PS4: Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer
Life Sciences
  • LS1: From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
  • LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
  • LS3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits
  • LS4: Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
Earth and Space Sciences
  • ESS1: Earth’s Place in the Universe
  • ESS2: Earth’s Systems
  • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
Engineering, Technology, and the Application of Science
  • ETS1: Engineering Design

Free K-12 standards-aligned STEM curriculum for educators everywhere.
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