Practice of Engineering

Nature of Science & Engineering
The Practice of Engineering

Engineering design is the process of identifying a problem and devising a product or process to solve the problem.

Benchmark: Objects to Meet Needs

Identify a need or problem and construct an object that helps to meet the need or solve the problem.

For example: Design and build a tool to show wind direction.

Another example: Design a kite and identify the materials to use.

Benchmark: Materials for Certain Uses

Describe why some materials are better than others for making a particular object and how materials that are better in some ways may be worse in other ways.

For example: Objects made of plastic or glass.

Benchmark: Benefits of Engineered Items

Explain how engineered or designed items from everyday life benefit people.


Standard in Lay Terms 

Science investigates the natural world. The goal of engineering is to solve practical problems through the development or use of technologies, based on the scientific knowledge gained through investigation.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea:

Even before entering grades PreK-2, students are experienced technology users. Their natural curiosity about how things work is clear to any adult who has ever watched a child doggedly work to improve the design of a paper airplane, or to take apart a toy to explore its insides. They are also natural engineers and inventors, builders of sandcastles at the beach and forts under furniture. Most students are fascinated with technology. While learning the safe uses of tools and materials that underlie engineering solutions, students are encouraged to manipulate materials that enhance their three-dimensional visualization skills - an essential component of the ability to design.

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks:

Identify a need or problem and construct an object that helps to meet the need or solve the problem. For example: Design and build a tool to show wind direction. Another example: Design a kite and identify the materials to use.

Describe why some materials are better than others for making a particular object and how materials that are better in some ways may be worse in other ways. For example: Objects made of plastic or glass.

Explain how engineered or designed items from everyday life benefit people.


A Quote:

"Scientists discover the world that exists; engineers discover the world that never was."

Theodore Von Karman, Aerospace Engineer


Ask students: With What Invention Could You?

  1. Be in two places at the same time?
  2. Squeeze an orchestra into even the smallest living room?
  3. Breathe even though there's no air around you?
  4. Have "eyes in the back of your head?"
  5. Hear a tiny kitten's heartbeat?
  6. Write faster than you thought you could?
  7. Hear the softest whisper when you can't possibly hear the loudest shout?
  8. See through walls?

See this page.


Video clip links: How Engineering Affects Your Life

Engineers are the people who design and develop things that you use every day. From the alarm clock that wakes you in the morning to the toothbrush that cleans your teeth before bedtime, many of the things you use have been engineered for you. In this lesson, students identify the engineering that impacts their day-to-day life.

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  • NSES Standards: No direct match
  • AAAS Atlas: No Direct Match
  • Benchmarks of Science Literacy: No Direct Match

Common Core Standards

The K-2 student...learns best by building understanding from their own actions upon objects and by telling stories about what they did and what they found out.

ELA Standards:

As they impose their ideas on the world, trying things out to see what will happen (poking, pushing, feeling, etc...), children see the results of their actions and thus come to understand how part of their world works.  If these experiences are connected with language experiences (e.g. talking with students as they explore instead of having a summary discussion after an exploration), primary students will learn how to express what they have learned in clear and accurate terms.

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Informational Text:

Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.

Explain how specific images (e.g. a diagram showing how a machine works) contribute to and clarify a text.

Writing Benchmarks       

Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply reasons that support the opinion, use linking words (e.g. because, and, also) to connect opinion and reasons, and provide a concluding statement or section.       

Write informative/explanatory texts in which they introduce a topic, use facts and definitions to develop points, and provide a concluding statement or section.                 

Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.

Speaking, Viewing, Listening and Media:

Recount or describe key ideas or details from a text read aloud or information presented orally or through other media.

Social Studies:

US/World History

Historical Thinking

2. Some aspects of people's lives change over time while other aspects stay the same.

Compare and contrast technologies, transportation and buildings from earlier times and today.

4. Economics

1. Fundamental Concepts

2. Because resources are scare, goods and services are limited.

Explain that producing any good or service requires resources and describe the resources needed to produce a good or service.

For example: Producing bread requires wheat, a baker, an oven; producing a haircut requires water, a barber, scissors or clippers; producing a car requires aluminum, rubber, designers, autoworkers, an assembly line, computers.


Student Misconceptions 

When asked to choose what kinds of work engineers do, over half of the students indicated that they thought engineers repair cars (78.4%), install wiring (75.2%), drive machines (70.7%), construct buildings (69.7%), set up factories (67.1%), and improve machines (63.5%).

These data support DAET data that students perceive that engineers are auto mechanics and construction workers. Fewer students thought that engineers supervised construction (48.7%), designed things (32.1%), and worked as a team (26.9%).

Students were more likely to associate any of these tasks with engineering than the least cited responses: clean teeth (17.7%), design ways to clean water (14.4%), teach children (14.0%), read about inventions (12.2%), make pizza (10.6%), sell food (10.4%), or arrange flowers (4.6%). Graph 1 displays these results.

See this page.


On Monday, Mrs. N. invited her students to gather around her as she read to them Goldilocks and the Three Bears. When she had finished the story, she went to the back of the room and produced baby bear's chair (that she had previously made): the frame was made of cardboard and the seat was made of single strands of thread. She showed it to the class and they identified reasons as to why the chair broke (for example, the cardboard or thread are not strong enough). She then had the students brainstorm ways to make the chair stronger.  They shared their ideas with the class and wrote them in their Science Notebooks.

The next day Mrs. N. told them their new job was going to be to work in small groups and select another fairy tale creature.  They then would design and build a furniture piece that would aid that fairy tale character in some way. They would be following this design process:

1.     Identify a need

2.     Research information

3.     Think of solutions

4.     Model best ideas

5.     Test and evaluate

6.     Redesign

The next several days were spent researching and identifying a need for their characters. (One example that could be used would be to how to wake up Sleeping Beauty: Solution - design a bed with a built in alarm clock.)

Mrs. N. sent a letter home to parents asking them to send in a variety of recycled and scrap materials: styrofoam cups, paper towel rolls, cardboard, straws, aluminum foil, and cereal or other small boxes.

Once the children had decided on their idea, they began to think of solutions using the provided materials and then began to create their designs.

After several days, the students were finished and began to present their creations to the class. (The Sleeping Beauty group explained how the furniture piece solved a problem for the character; how the alarm clock on Sleeping Beauty's bed will wake her if the prince does not arrive.)

Modified from Goldilocks and the Broken Chair: See this page.


Instructional Notes 

Instructional suggestions Build A Better Pencil

Students develop awareness of constraints. In the early grades, children may be inclined to go with their first idea with little testing. Therefore, students should be encouraged to reflect on the practicality of their designs. However, care must be given in evaluating designs, since students must plan and build many designs in order to develop confidence.

See this page. Engineering is Elementary, Museum of Science, Boston:

The Engineering is Elementary project aims to promote the learning and teaching of engineering and technology by elementary school students and teachers.

See this page. Goldilocks and the Broken Chair

Students review the story Goldilocks and the Three Bears. They examine a broken model of Baby Bear's chair and, after viewing possible construction materials, suggest ways to make the chair sturdier. Students then work in small groups using Internet research skills to select another fairy tale character.

See this page. The Three Billy Goats Gruff

SEDL offers a problem-solving lesson plan in which kids imagine that they have been hired by the billy goats' parents to come up with an invention that will allow them to get safely across the bridge.

Selected activities

Background Information:

Usually, engineers do not literally construct artifacts. They develop plans and directions for how artifacts are to be constructed. Some artifacts are small - a hand calculator, for example, or a computer chip - and some are large - a bridge, for example, or an aircraft carrier. Engineers also design processes, ranging from the manufacturing processes used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries to create chemicals and drugs, to procedures for putting components together on an assembly line. Anyone can be an Engineer!

Let students know that anyone can be a design engineer. Designing and building things that help people is interesting and fun. Then show them the Kid Inventor: The Collapsible Lacrosse Stick video and the Telescope Girl video. Discuss how these kids did engineering to help them enjoy their hobbies even more.

See this page.  Testing Ideas

Part of engineering is testing ideas to make sure they work. Show the Balloon Brain: Designing a Helmet video and ask the following:

  • What kinds of safety devices do you use? (helmets, seat belts, etc.)
  • Why is it important for engineers to test their ideas?

See this page. Engineered Structures

Have them view the Triangles and Arches in Architecture still collage and encourage them to discuss the types of structures they see. Ask:

  • Why do you think different designs were used for different structures?
  • What kinds of materials were used in their construction?
  • How do people build houses?

See this page.  The Discover Engineering

This site features information on what engineering is and what engineers do, as well as interesting facts, games, and online demonstrations of how everyday objects work. Inventions: The Impact

Students understand that inventions fulfill a need. In this inventions lesson, students create simple designs of inventions that fill a need and understand the value of how inventions help society.

See this page. Do Different Colors Absorb Heat Better?

Students test whether the color of a material affects how much heat it absorbs. Students will place an ice cube in a box made of colored paper (one box per color; white, yellow, red, and black), which they will place in the sun. The students will make prediction as to which color will melt the ice cube first. They will record the order and time required for the ice cubes to melt.

Engineering Connection: The study of light and its behavior is a major component in design of optical instruments. The performance and characteristics of light are what guide engineers to come up with different forms of light detection for lenses in cameras, microscopes, CD players and medical systems. Different sources of light carry different quantities of energy. For example, lasers are very powerful and can cut through stone or even metal. Using this information, engineers can improve existing equipment designs.

See this page. Heave Ho!

Students will discover the scientific basis for the use of inclined planes. They will explore, using a spring scale, a bag of rocks and an inclined plane, how dragging objects up a slope is easier than lifting them straight up into the air. Also, students are introduced to the scientific method and basic principles of experimentation. Finally, students design their own use for an inclined plane.

Engineering Connection: Engineers are constantly looking for and designing new tools to make life easier. Students are introduced to this idea by exploring tools that they know and see everyday, in particular the inclined plane. Each student then must play the role of an engineer and design a tool or machine using an inclined plane that would simplify their life.

See this page. Invent a Backscratcher from Everyday Materials

Being able to recognize a problem and design a potential solution is the first step in the development of new and useful products. In this activity, students create a device to get "that pesky itch in the center of your back." Once the idea is thought through, students produce design schematics (sketches). They are given a variety of everyday materials and recyclables, from which they create back-scratching devices.

Engineering Connection: When engineers design a product, they must make sure that it meets the desired function, as well as consider other important aspects of the design for the user. Beyond being functional, in many cases the product should also be easy or comfortable to use, and aesthetically pleasing. Engineers also must take into consideration the cost of materials and labor, durability to withstand its intended use, and use as little material as necessary for the product.

See this page. Which Roof is Tops?

When you walk or drive around your neighborhood, what do the roofs look like? What if you lived in an area with a different climate, how would that affect the style of roof that you might find? This is an introductory activity to explore the advantages of different roof shapes for different climates or situations.

Engineering Connection: Civil engineers must always consider the climate of the area where they plan to build their structures. The design and material chosen for the roof of a building can help maintain the appropriate temperature within the building and provide a stable structure that protects against the weather.

See this page. How Technology Affects Your Life

Show this still collage and have students describe or list the things they see that were designed by engineers.This collection of still images reminds us that technology is all around us. All of these things -- the instruments we write or communicate with, the tools we use for repairs, and the equipment through which we see or hear objects more clearly -- were designed by engineers and help us in our daily lives.

See this page. A House for Teddy Bear

Teddy bears may not speak much, but most teddy bear owners could probably guess what their favorite stuffed animal would want in a home. With this knowledge, how should one go about designing and building a teddy bear's dream home? In this video segment, children take an experimental approach to creating a new house for a teddy bear, and learn some important engineering techniques.

See this page. Tennis Ball Picker-upper

The tennis ball picker-upper featured in this video segment from ZOOM is a very simple yet clever invention. Its young inventor explains what inspired him to create it and then takes viewers step-by-step through its construction. The video effectively demonstrates many of the steps of the engineering design process: identify a problem, need, or want; brainstorm; design a solution; then build the device, test it, and refine it as needed.

See this page. Design a Windmill

In this activity, students review the engineering design process and discuss how wind can be used to help get work done. They look at a variety of windmills, focusing on the different materials used in the construction of windmills and the type of work each windmill is designed to do. Finally, they use simple materials to build their own windmills to do work.

See this page.

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources or links:

Committee on K-12 Engineering Education


Engineering education in K-12 classrooms is a small but growing phenomenon that may have implications for engineering and also for the other "STEM" subjects--science, technology, and mathematics. Specifically, engineering education may improve student learning and achievement in science and mathematics.

See this page.

This PDF is available from the National Academies Press at this site.,,  Engineering for Kids

It doesn't take much money to provide kids with everything they need: scrap lumber salvaged from a lumber yard, an inexpensive hammer, and some nails add up to hours of engineering fun for just a few dollars.

Here is a link for engineering projects big and small: Engineering for Kids


Newspaper Forts


Whirligigs and Tops

Make a Geyser

Tinker Ball

Boxes from greeting cards

Making puzzles

Knot tying

Program a robot

Bird houses

Book Review: Inventing Stuff

Book Review: A Kids' Guide to Building Forts

Book Review: Constructions for Children

Book Review: Battery Science

Book: Amazing DaVinci Inventions

Additional Projects,,

These pages have project ideas and instructions:

Zoom Science Projects (Engineering Category)

Future Scientists and Engineers of America

Hey Kids! (simple projects)

Design Challenges from the Tech Museum

Toys kids can build

Article on how to have a "Take-it-Apart" party

New Vocabulary 


Design: design is the approach engineers use to solve engineering problems-generally, to determine the best way to make a device or process that serves a particular purpose.

Engineering: the process of designing the human-made world.

Technology Connections Engineering Resources

Students can try engineering activities, learn more about various types of engineering and meet some engineers with some cool jobs.

See this page. PBS STEM Engineering Resources

Find a wide variety of online resources to help students practice the multiple disciplines that engineers must master. Guide students to envision the steps they need to take to join this profession.

See this page. Fetch!

These easy, hands-on activities are great for eight- to ten-year olds. It's science, engineering, problem solving, and fun all rolled into one. Sand Tunnels

Building sand tunnels at the beach turns into a lesson in engineering. Kidsites.com Science Sites for Kids

Explores how the laws of physics play a role in the design of amusement park rides. ...Includes five interactive activities for kids...Curious about what makes things tick? How Stuff Works brings you hundreds of articles. August is National Inventors Month

Explore inventors and inventions with your students by using lessons and printables to discover a world of unlimited possibilities. There are plenty of hands-on science activities to encourage creativity and engage students of all ages in learning. From catapults to artificial hearts, you'll find a variety of reading passages about the history and people behind innovations in technology. Additional resources include art activities, puzzles, and timelines.

See this page.

Promethean/Smartboard Activities: Solving Problems

The teachers will use this flip chart to review problem solving.  Students will apply problem solving skills to solve a variety of word and thinking problems. Save Fred!

This is an activity from the Science and Life Issues book allowing students to discover ways to solve a problem. Requires a gummy worm, gummy saver, plastic cup, and four paperclips. Earth Day

An introduction to the ideas behind Earth Day. This lesson will help students come up with ideas to keep the planet in good shape while looking at ideas that are already out there. It was designed with the middle school student in mind, but could easily be used with elementary students as well.



Describe the different engineering design examples from the videos under the Resources tab (collapsible lacrosse stick, homemade telescope, balloon helmet) and the choices the kids made in designing them. How were they engineered?

See this page.

Describe different types of cups (glass, paper, plastic, teacups with handles, "sippy" cups, thermal mugs, etc.). Each of these was designed to meet a real or perceived need, shortcoming, or failure of other solutions. How do the cups differ from one another? What types of engineering design considerations were used to make them?

See this page.

Have students look around their classroom and identify things they see that were probably designed by engineers (chairs, desks, lights, building materials, computers, etc.).

  • What things have you used or seen that were designed by engineers?
  • Why do you think these things are useful?

(Some students may understand that certain objects are only indirectly produced by engineers. For example, the clothes that they are wearing were not designed by engineers, but engineers made the machines that knit, wove, or stitched them.)


1. Discuss what an engineer is and what an engineer does.

As a reference point, engineers are people who use their mathematics and science knowledge to design and create or modify things so they will be useful. Often, engineers make models or prototypes to demonstrate their concepts, but engineers rarely build the things they design. The construction and/or manufacturing is usually carried out by technicians, contractors, builders, and so on.

2. List the six steps of the design process and discuss the importance of each step.

  • Identify a need
  • Research information
  • Think of solutions
  • Model best ideas
  • Test and evaluate
  • Redesign

3. Why is it so important to include engineering concepts in the elementary classroom?

Engineering applies scientific solutions to everyday problems. Because young children are still developing cognitive and physical aptitudes, it's important to provide them a well-balanced curriculum of the sciences, humanities, history, languages, and mathematics. In the long term, integrating engineering into the elementary classroom will also help students consider a career in engineering. This fact will ultimately contribute not just to their individual career choices, but also to national interests. Insofar as teaching engineering at early educational stages channels more students into engineering fields, it will help Americans compete in a global economy by strengthening student success in applied science fields.

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Struggling Learners 

This series of science info briefs, Using Technology to Support Struggling Students in Science, examines five different dimensions of science learning, the areas that may be challenging for struggling students, and how technology tools may help.

Using Technology to  Support Struggling Students in Science also discusses how struggling students can be supported in science education...in the general classroom and curriculum. One way to meet that goal is...learning can look very different from that in traditional classrooms. 

English Language Learners 

Gingerbread traps

Use this fun activity for introducing the engineering concepts on a more basic level. Vocabulary will be easily introduced along with the process.

Extending the Learning 

Student Inventions/Contest

Many interesting inventions spring from the creative minds of kids when they are challenged to create a new tool. And kid inventors, just like their adult counterparts, must go through the design process to make their invention a reality. Watch this stills collage featuring inventions from the National Science Teachers Association/Craftsman Young Inventors Awards. See this page.

PBS Building Big

Building Big is a five-part miniseries on megastructures from PBS. Hosted by David Macaulay, award-winning author-illustrator of The Way Things Work, each one-hour program focuses on a different type of structure: bridges, domes, skyscrapers, dams, and tunnels.

Solving Day to Day Problems

There are a multitude of classroom problems that students encounter each day - for instance, problems created by being too short (can't erase the top of the blackboard), by wobbly chairs, jackets falling out of cubbies, sandwiches getting squished in lunchbags, shoes coming untied, etc.

Have students brainstorm an everyday problem that they would like to solve. Students should record this problem in pictures and/or words, as well as a possible solution to the problem. Students may need some help identifying those problems that are both interesting to them and within their capabilities.


Engineering and Technology Lessons

These storybooks, featuring children from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, introduce students to an engineering problem. Students are then challenged to solve a problem similar to that faced by the storybook character. Through a hands-on engineering design challenge, students work in teams to apply their knowledge of science and mathematics; use their inquiry and problem-solving skills; and tap their creativity as they design, create, and improve possible solutions. In the end, students realize that everyone can engineer.

See this page.

Special Education 

Sparky's Engineer: A Story Book Introduction to Engineering

Students investigate what an engineer does. In this engineering lesson, students read the book Sparky's Engineer and analyze the different types of engineers that are referenced in the book. The students identify tools and machines used by engineers as well.


Classroom Observation 


An administrator observing a lesson on this standard might see active groups of students examining the properties of materials for windmills. The students would be talking and working together to discern which materials would be best for building their windmill. They might be sketching their designs in their science notebooks. They would be following the Design Procedure listed on the board. On another day, the students would be actually building their windmills.


Kid-friendly activities with real engineers!

A joint project of ZOOM and National Engineers Week, ZOOM has created materials for engineers to use with kids in classrooms, after-school programs, libraries, and even malls!

Discover the world of civil engineering. See engineers whose work is inspiring the next generation. Be an engineer and shape the future!

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Family Scavenger Hunt

Students fill in as many categories as possible. They talk to people in the room and get them to sign their initial next to the appropriate item. Students find someone who they know knows someone who has worked in a mine. They find someone who has designed and built their own deck.

What Did You Invent?

The program "Songs Jumping in My Mouth" wants ink drawings and color paintings o f children's inventions. Every child who sends a drawing or painting will receive a "Songs" Listener Club kit and more!

The Discover Engineering

This site features information on what engineering is and what engineers do, as well as interesting facts, games, and online resources.