Students become familiar with the engineering design process as they design, build and test chair prototypes. The miniature chairs must be sturdy and functional enough to hold a wooden, hinged artist model or a floppy stuffed animal. They use their prototypes to assess design strengths and weaknesses.
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- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- K. Test and evaluate the design in relation to pre-established requirements, such as criteria and constraints, and refine as needed. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Massachusetts: Science
- 2.2 Demonstrate methods of representing solutions to a design problem, e.g., sketches, orthographic projections, multiview drawings. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 2.4 Identify appropriate materials, tools, and machines needed to construct a prototype of a given engineering design. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 2.3 Describe and explain the purpose of a given prototype. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- 2.1 Identify and explain the steps of the engineering design process, i.e., identify the need or problem, research the problem, develop possible solutions, select the best possible solution(s), construct a prototype, test and evaluate, communicate the solution(s), and redesign. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (Grades 6 - 8)  ...show
- Describe and follow the steps of the engineering design process.
- Assess prototypes for strengths and weaknesses.
Each group needs:
- 10 meters of 18-gauge wire for each prototype (jewelry wire seems to be the least expensive, available at craft and bead stores or online)
- My Chair Design Journal, one per student
To share with the entire class:
- measuring tape
- soldering iron (or wire finer than 18-gauge to secure main chair wire structure)
- wooden artist model or floppy stuffed animal
- What will the box be holding?
- Will the box be shipped?
- Is the cargo delicate?
- Can it spoil?
- How high will the boxes be stored? How much weight must each box need to hold?
- What could happen if the boxes are not tested before being used?
- The cargo could become ruined.
- The company shipping the cargo could lose money.
- If liquid, the cargo could leak and pollute the surrounding environment.
- If the cargo is ruined or unable to make the trip, trouble could arise for the person who ordered it.
- Where will the chair be located? (kitchen/doctor's office)
- How often will the chair be used? (3 x day/all day)
- Will people be doing anything else as they sit in the chair? (eating/reading)
- Will this chair get dirty often? (yes/hopefully not)
- Who will use the chair? What are the physical characteristics of the user(s)? (under 30 pounds/possibly hundreds of pounds)
|prototype:||A working model that is used as an example for a later stage version.|
|human factors:||A branch of applied science that is concerned with how products should be designed so that they are most effective and safe for people.|
Before the Activity
- Have examples of chairs of different designs.
- Gather materials and make copies of the My Chair Design Journal.
With the Students
- Guide students through the brainstorming process to learn about brainstorming and start thinking about what really makes a chair. Have students write additional brainstorming ideas in an engineering journal. The final chair must be sturdy enough to be dropped from ankle-height, support a stuffed animal or a hinged, wooden artists model, and appear to be comfortable.
- Discuss the engineering design process with students. Explain that they will be designing a chair and building prototypes of the chair, following the steps of the engineering design process as they work.
- Explain to students that engineers work in teams and that one of the team members practices "human factors" to help them as they design. Human factors experts help engineers to design products and devices that will work for many people. In this case, they help engineers design chairs that are functional for people of differing heights and weights.
- Have students measure their heights and compare to the class mean.
- Students should next design an uncomfortable chair. Draw the chair design in their engineering journals before they build.
- Once they have designed an uncomfortable chair, have them build the chair with the wire. Use either a finer gauge wire to bind the wire or solder the wire.
- After students have built their chairs, bring together the class so each student can present his/her design to the group. This exercise helps to facilitate a discussion about features that make the chairs uncomfortable, which, in turn, helps students focus on what makes chairs comfortable.
- Next, have students redesign the chairs based on the knowledge they gained from their first prototypes.Test the chairs by placing the wooden model or floppy stuffed animal on them; a chair should be able to support the model/stuffed animal.
- Conclude the activity by giving each student time to present his/her redesigned chairs to the class. Require that they describe their chair's strengths and what they would change in the next iteration (next version, for improvement) of the design.
- As necessary, train students on the safe use of soldering irons. Or else, have only teachers use the soldering gun.
- What makes a successful chair?
- How do chairs fail?
- What is important to include into the chair's design?
- Where will your chair be located? Who will be sitting in it at that location?
- What would you change about your design if you were to build a real chair?
- What would happen if you built your chair without a prototype first?
Activity Embedded Assessment
Additional Multimedia Support
Andrew Afram, Erica Wilson, Elissa Milto
© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2006 Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Center for Engineering Educational Outreach, Tufts University
Last modified: April 1, 2015