Why the Engineering Design Process Is More Important Than Ever.

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Article Date: 

April 1st, 2020

Why the Engineering Design Process Is More Important Than Ever.

Teaching has never been easy, but things took a surreal turn a few weeks ago and now we’re all looking for ways to engage our students remotely. The list of challenges is long—from unequal access to the internet and technology, to worksheet overload, to understandably anxious and unmotivated students and beyond.

But as this post on Facebook demonstrates, give a teacher a challenge and she or he will rise to it: “We gave educators almost no notice. We asked them to completely redesign what school looks like and in about 24 hours local administrators and teachers ‘Apollo 13ed’ the problem. Kids learning, children being fed, needs being met in the midst of a global crisis.”

Now we all know it’s not perfect, but as we adjust to this new reality, we are seeing creative and inspiring teaching happening all around us. We at DiscoverE believe it’s never been a better time to use the engineering design process in your teaching. Here’s why:

1. The engineer design process is principally a student-led learning experience.

Each step along the way is an opportunity for a child to direct their own learning. With limited guidance from you (in the form of leading questions and examples), students can:

  • Identify the problem
  •  Brainstorm solutions (I call this brain-drizzlingly when I work alone)
  • Design and build
  • Test, make improvements, test again
  • Share their results.

2. Many engineering activities use readily available materials.

Meaning lots of students will already have the materials in their homes. And, if they don’t have a few of them, part of the engineering design process is designing solutions within the design specifications and constraints. This is a great opportunity to explore constraints and ask your students to get creative with substitutions. For example, our Keep A Cube activity challenges students to design a container that keeps an ice cube from melting. The suggested materials are a cardboard box, tinfoil, wax paper, paper and tape. Don’t have a cardboard box? What about a take-out container? No tinfoil? Rags were often used as insulation back in the 1800s and early 1900s.

3. Engineering activities are compatible with many different instructional delivery options.

Equal access to technology is a big challenge many of us face right now. Because engineering activities are so open ended, you can send instructions, materials, and questions for exploration over text messages, in a set of printed instructions mailed to your students, or via google docs – or a combination of ways to accommodate different learning styles and technology access.

DiscoverE is mining our activity library and those of our partners at ScienceBuddies,  Xplorlabs, and others and adapting them for distance learning. We will be making these available on our website – DiscoverE.org. And like all that we do, they will remain free.

In the meantime, to get you and your students started, here is a link to the distance learning notes for one of my favorite activities: Keep A Cube.

Let’s engineer this!


Author: Thea Sahr, Director of Communications and Programs, DiscoverE