Practice of Engineering

Nature of Science & Engineering
The Practice of Engineering

Engineering design is the process of devising products, processes and systems that address a need, capitalize on an opportunity, or solve a specific problem.

Benchmark: Applying a Design Process

Apply and document an engineering design process that includes identifying criteria and constraints, making representations, testing and evaluation, and refining the design as needed to construct a product or system that solves a problem.

For example: Investigate how energy changes from one form to another by designing and constructing a simple roller coaster for a marble.


Standard in Lay Terms 

Engineering design is a process with steps that include identifying criteria and constraints, making models or drawings, testing and evaluating, and improving the design that results in a new product or system that solves a problem.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea:

Design process -- a series of steps used in the the development of an object or system

Physical Constraints -- physical limitations on the conditions for development of an object or system

Social Constraints -- limitations that society puts on conditions for the development of an object or system.

Feedback and Control -- Within a closed system, a mechanism monitors conditions and controls the processes of the output of the system.

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks  Apply and document an engineering design process that includes identifying   criteria and constraints, making representations, testing and evaluation, and                    refining the design as needed to construct a product or system that solves a              problem.


A quote, cartoon or video clip link directly related to the standard.

"Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better. When it does not exist, design it."

-Sir Henry Royce

  • NSES Standards:

Science and Technology, Content Standard E

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop

  • IDENTIFY APPROPRIATE PROBLEMS FOR TECHNOLOGICAL DESIGN.Students should develop their abilities by identifying a specified need, considering its various aspects, and talking to different potential users or beneficiaries. They should appreciate that for some needs, the cultural backgrounds and beliefs of different groups can affect the criteria for a suitable product.
  • DESIGN A SOLUTION OR PRODUCT. Students should make and compare different proposals in the light of the criteria they have selected. They must consider constraints-such as cost, time, trade-offs, and materials needed-and communicate ideas with drawings and simple models.
  • IMPLEMENT A PROPOSED DESIGN. Students should organize materials and other resources, plan their work, make good use of group collaboration where appropriate, choose suitable tools and techniques, and work with appropriate measurement methods to ensure adequate accuracy.
  • EVALUATE COMPLETED TECHNOLOGICAL DESIGNS OR PRODUCTS.Students should use criteria relevant to the original purpose or need, consider a variety of factors that might affect acceptability and suitability for intended users or beneficiaries, and develop measures of quality with respect to such criteria and factors; they should also suggest
  • COMMUNICATE THE PROCESS OF TECHNOLOGICAL DESIGN. Students should review and describe any completed piece of work and identify the stages of problem identification, solution design, implementation, and evaluation.


Scientific inquiry and technological design have similarities and differences. Scientists propose explanations for questions about the natural world, and engineers propose solutions relating to human problems, needs, and aspirations. Technological solutions are temporary; technologies exist within nature and so they cannot contravene physical or biological principles; technological solutions have side effects; and technologies cost, carry risks, and provide benefits.

Many different people in different cultures have made and continue to make contributions to science and technology.

Science and technology are reciprocal. Science helps drive technology, as it addresses questions that demand more sophisticated instruments and provides principles for better instrumentation and technique. Technology is essential to science, because it provides instruments and techniques that enable observations of objects and phenomena that are otherwise unobservable due to factors such as quantity, distance, location, size, and speed. Technology also provides tools for investigations, inquiry, and analysis.

Perfectly designed solutions do not exist. All technological solutions have trade-offs, such as safety, cost, efficiency, and appearance. Engineers often build in back-up systems to provide safety. Risk is part of living in a highly technological world. Reducing risk often results in new technology.

Technological designs have constraints. Some constraints are unavoidable, for example, properties of materials, or effects of weather and friction; other constraints limit choices in the design, for example, environmental protection, human safety, and aesthetics.

Technological solutions have intended benefits and unintended consequences. Some consequences can be predicted, others cannot.


In Grades 6-8, students are restless, energetic learners who enjoy active, hands-on experiences. The benchmarks at this level call for students to apply a design process that will enable them to

develop their ideas in greater detail and to create their design solutions on a larger, more complex scale. They need to recognize that multiple ideas may solve a problem. Before designing a solution, students must specify goals that will establish the desired results for the problem. These goals will then be used to guide the design process, and ultimately, they will be used to evaluate the final product or system.

After establishing the design requirements, students should develop a proposal, which should detail the size, shape, resources, and specifications for making the design. It can include sketches and drawings that incorporate symbols and clarifying notes. Over time, symbols used in the design proposal have become standardized and have come to represent specific components.

At the middle-school level, models are formally introduced. Using a model is an effective way to simulate what the design will look like. Models can take many forms, such as physical replicas of artifacts, computer programs, conceptual and mathematical modeling, and simulated products. For example, a model of a building is often created by an architect to show clients how it will ultimately look.

After the design proposal has been finalized and the model has been created, it is important to perform tests and evaluate the results as they relate to the pre-established criteria and constraints. This testing and evaluating allows students to refine the

design proposal before it becomes a reality. Once they begin the process of making their designs, students should continue to evaluate their ideas in hopes that the final solution will be the best one possible.

Students should actually build the solution(s) as a final activity. If any problems with the proposed solution surface, some of the steps in the design process can be repeated (not necessarily in the same order) to obtain the optimum solution. It is important for students to document procedures and results as they go through each step of the design process. They should communicate their successes, as well as their disappointments. Through this process, students will gain valuable insights from one another. Various techniques for documentation include design portfolios, sketches, journals, schematics, and World Wide Web pages.

Standards for Technological Literacy

  • AAAS Atlas:

AAAS Strand Map

Volume 1, page 32-33, Design and Systems:  Design Constraints

Volume 1, page 34-35, Design and Systems:  Design Systems

Benchmarks of Science Literacy

The Nature of Technology: Design and Systems

By the end of the 8th grade, students should know that

Design usually requires taking into account not only physical and biological constraints, but also economic, political, social, ethical, and aesthetic ones. 3B/M1*

All technologies have effects other than those intended by the design, some of which may have been predictable and some not. 3B/M2a

Almost all control systems have inputs, outputs, and feedback. 3B/M3a

The essence of control is comparing information about what is happening to what people want to happen and then making appropriate adjustments. This procedure requires sensing information, processing it, and making changes. 3B/M3bc

Systems fail because they have faulty or poorly matched parts, are used in ways that exceed what was intended by the design, or were poorly designed to begin with. 3B/M4a

The most common ways to prevent failure are pretesting of parts and procedures, over-design, and redundancy. 3B/M4b


Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, surface area, and volume.

Language Arts:

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, distinguishing claims that are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.

Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.


Student Misconceptions 

Students believe that design is coming up with good ideas.  And that's it.  They forget about the rest of it - how to realize these ideas and evaluate them.

Students forget the constraints of the environment in which the design will reside.  They "arrogantly" ignore the constraints of the user.

Students tend to focus on the first solution that comes to mind.  They stop considering alternatives.

Students focus only on the very high level (function) or the very low level (structure), without moving between them in a formal manner and considering the giant gulf between the two levels.

Students belief that design is a serial/linear process, ignoring iterative cycles, revisiting past decisions, and evaluating alternatives."

Holton, Doug. (2010, January 10). Misconceptions about design [Web log message].                    

Retrieved from edtechdev


After learning about the basics of materials and the design process, students were given the task of designing an appreciation gift for all the teachers in their middle school. The students outlined the design criteria and constraints, which included: the cost for each item must be less than $1.50; gifts must be designed and made in the technology laboratory; and the gift should be useful.

The class began by brainstorming possible design ideas as a group. They came up with note centers, penholders, marker racks, computer disk bins, and other gift ideas. After selecting the computer disk bins, they dis- cussed different materials to use. Next, each student worked individually researching different materials, sketching ideas, and developing a model. To estimate the cost of the various ideas, students used recent catalogs with material prices, called local dealers, and accessed information on the World Wide Web. They developed spreadsheets to calculate various combinations of costs depending on the idea.

Each student presented a model to the class. Class members evaluated the models according to the design constraints. After discussing each of the constraints, such as costs, usefulness, and aesthetic appearance, the class selected the model that would be based on their design constraints. The model was then manufactured in quantity in the technology laboratory for all teachers in the school. ITEA Connect  (p. 96)


Instructional Notes 

Instructional suggestions/options:

"Students in grades 5-8 can begin to differentiate between science and technology, although the distinction is not easy to make early in this level. One basis for understanding the similarities, differences, and relationships between science and technology should be experiences with design and problem solving in which students can further develop some of the abilities introduced in grades K-4. The understanding of technology can be developed by tasks in which students have to design something and also by studying technological products and systems.

In the middle-school years, students' work with scientific investigations can be complemented by activities in which the purpose is to meet a human need, solve a human problem, or develop a product rather than to explore ideas about the natural world. The tasks chosen should involve the use of science concepts already familiar to students or should motivate them to learn new concepts needed to use or understand the technology. Students should also, through the experience of trying to meet a need in the best possible way, begin to appreciate that technological design and problem solving involve many other factors besides the scientific issues.

Suitable design tasks for students at these grades should be well-defined, so that the purposes of the tasks are not confusing. Tasks should be based on contexts that are immediately familiar in the homes, school, and immediate community of the students. The activities should be straightforward with only a few well-defined ways to solve the problems involved. The criteria for success and the constraints for design should be limited. Only one or two science ideas should be involved in any particular task. Any construction involved should be readily accomplished by the students and should not involve lengthy learning of new physical skills or time-consuming preparation and assembly operations.

During the middle-school years, the design tasks should cover a range of needs, materials, and aspects of science. Suitable experiences could include making electrical circuits for a warning device, designing a meal to meet nutritional criteria, choosing a material to combine strength with insulation, selecting plants for an area of a school, or designing a system to move dishes in a restaurant or in a production line.

Such work should be complemented by the study of technology in the students' everyday world. This could be achieved by investigating simple, familiar objects through which students can develop powers of observation and analysis-for example, by comparing the various characteristics of competing consumer products, including cost, convenience, durability, and suitability for different modes of use. Regardless of the product used, students need to understand the science behind it. There should be a balance over the years, with the products studied coming from the areas of clothing, food, structures, and simple mechanical and electrical devices. The inclusion of some nonproduct-oriented problems is important to help students understand that technological solutions include the design of systems and can involve communication, ideas, and rules."

Selected activities Resource:

Dance Pad Mania:  Build a dance pad that lets you use your feet to sound a buzzer or flash a light.

PBS Kids Resource:

Lunar Plant Growth Chamber

In this activity, students utilize the engineering design process as they conduct an experiment involving plant growth on the moon. Resource:

Spacecraft Structures

In this activity, students construct a launcher that can repeatedly launch a 1 kg bottle of water one meter in the air, using the engineering design method.

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources or links  The Works Museum provides professional development, resources, and field trip opportunities to enhance student understanding of engineering concepts.

The Works The Design Squad Nation Website contains labs, lesson plans, video clips, and engineering challenges for students.

Design Squad  Engineering - Go For It: Dream Up the Future Website contains activities, resources, and teacher information for supporting students with the engineering and design process.

Engineering-Go For It

New Vocabulary 


Criteria:  A standard for judging our work or design.

Constraints:  Limits that impact how a design can operate.

Refine:  Improve, simplify, to make more efficient

Product:  The final design.

Representations:  A 2 or 3 dimensional model of a final product

Testing:  A trial to determine if the design performs the intended job.

Evaluation:  The process of determining the level of quality of a design.

Feedback:  Thoughts and opinions provided by others about the design.

Technology Connections

Design Squad has examples of engineering videos, animations, and activities that can be found at this site:

PBS Kids

In this Ed Heads simulation, students construct a cell phone that is appropriate for senior citizens.

Cross Curricular Connections 

The benchmark attached to the standard at this grade level calls on the student to "apply and document an engineering design process that includes identifying criteria and constraints, making representations, testing and evaluation, and refining the design as needed..."  This lends itself to teaching students how to write up a proposal and report for a project that not only guides them in their work of solving a problem, but also communicates to others the thoughts and process that went into the final product so that others can improve on it in the future.  Procedural writing techniques should be reinforced during the implementation of this standard.

Students could also research famous inventions by others in history and present to each other drawings and designs the inventor used, constraints they had, and revisions they went through in their design process.



Formative:  How can you determine if a design is reliable?

Summative:  Review the design you recently produced in response to the engineering challenge.  Identify the constraints that impacted your design.  Identify the qualities that make your design reliable. 

Teachers: Questions could be used as self-reflection or in professional development sessions.

How is the design process similar to the scientific method? How is it different?

What strategies can you use to ensure that every member of the design team appropriately contributes to the design?

Engineers often consult with one another throughout the design process.  How can you best determine when it is appropriate for your student groups to consult with others?  How will you manage the consultation time so that it is meaningful to the design process?

Administrators: If observing a lesson on this standard what might they expect to see.

Look for: 

  • real problems being solved,
  • a process guiding the students,
  • criteria and constraints being clearly identified and held to,
  • a mixture of individual and group work,
  • an emphasis on solving the problem, not the "perfect" solution
  • two-and three-dimensional representations of solutions being created
  • students testing and evaluating their own and others' solutions


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk:

Provide students with multiple opportunities to test and retest their designs.  If students seem "stuck" on a particular design that does not work, elicit ideas about improving the design by asking leading questions.  Show students other designs and ask them to explain how/why they work, and how they could apply components of the design to their own.

English Language Learners 

While developing design skills with ELL students make sure to Digital Commons

Illustrate and diagram concepts with vocabulary on the board during discussion

Give step-by-step directions for labs

Prepare word walls or glossary sheets with illustrated vocabulary for students to easily access

Summarize discussion and learning more frequently

In setting up groups, pair non-native with native speakers.

Make connections to the students' out of school experience

Extending the Learning 


Start a group of students working on projects to enter in the Young Inventor's Fair. 

Information at Success Beyond


In the multicultural classroom, teacher and students alike would benefit from a discussion of how problem solving looks in various households and cultures.  What is similar and what is different in the approaches?

Special Education 

Be clear in a design process that you will be using in your lab.  Make sure the steps are understood clearly by students.  Use graphic organizers that allow them to work through each step sequentially and be clear on expectations for each step.  Some students may be overwhelmed by the idea of designing something, make sure that things are broken down into careful steps with small goals over time. 



Encourage your students to design solutions to simple problems or limitations encountered with toys, bedroom, kitchen, pets, etc. using a design process.  Examples might be designing an alarm that lets you know when your sibling is entering your room, a better litter box, or a simple device to assist an aging dog in getting into its bed.  Many students do not persevere with working out their own solutions to problems like these because they do not have a process to guide them (Examples of process outlines can be found at The Works). 

Agree to purchase needed materials (within a negotiated budgeted amount) if a proper plan is submitted to you with planned steps, drawings, and materials.