Addressing Human Need

Nature of Science & Engineering
The Practice of Engineering

Engineering is a way of addressing human needs by applying science concepts and mathematical techniques to develop new products, tools, processes and systems.

Benchmark: Refinement of Designs

Understand that engineering designs and products are often continually checked and critiqued for alternatives, risks, costs and benefits, so that subsequent designs are refined and improved.

For example: If the price of an essential raw material changes, the product design may need to be changed.

Benchmark: Risk Analysis

Recognize that risk analysis is used to determine the potential positive and negative consequences of using a new technology or design, including the evaluation of causes and effects of failures.  

For example: Risks and benefits associated with using lithium batteries.

Benchmark: Considerations in Devices

Explain and give examples of how, in the design of a device, engineers consider how it is to be manufactured, operated, maintained, replaced and disposed of.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in lay terms:

Engineering designs are continually being assessed, critiqued and modified for possible improvements, risk analysis, costs and benefits.  These assessments create a better product through continual analysis and modification in the manufacture, operation, maintenance and disposal.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea: Critical attributes or essential understanding of the standard.

Engineering by definition is the application of science and math to benefit the needs of humans through the production of things that improve the quality of life for humans.  This process is critiqued on a regular basis and improved and upgraded as much as possible.  Potential risks are taken into consideration when the product is designed and details such as manufacture, maintenance and disposal are considered in its production.

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks  Understand that engineering designs and products must be continually checked and critiqued for alternatives, risks, costs and benefits, so that subsequent designs are refined and improved.  Recognize that risk analysis is used to determine the potential positive and negative consequences of using a new technology or design, including the evaluation of causes and effects of failures.  Explain and give examples of how, in the design of a device or process, engineers consider how it is to be manufactured, operated, maintained replaced and disposed of.


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

See this page


Abilities of technological design

Identify a Problem or Design an Opportunity

Propose Designs and Choose between Alternative Solutions

Implement a proposed solution

Evaluate the Solution and its consequences

Communicate the problem, Process, and Solution

Engineers use knowledge of science and technology, together with strategies of design, to solve practical problems. Scientific knowledge provides a means of estimating what the behavior of things will be even before they are made. Moreover, science often suggests new kinds of behavior that had not even been imagined before, and so leads to new technologies. 3A/H4** (SFAA)

In designing a device or process, thought should be given to how it will be manufactured, operated, maintained, replaced, and disposed of and who will sell, operate, and take care of it. The costs associated with these functions may introduce yet more constraints on the design. 3B/H1

Risk analysis is used to minimize the likelihood of unwanted side effects of a new technology. The public perception of risk may depend, however, on psychological factors as well as scientific ones. 3B/H4

Human inventiveness has brought new risks as well as improvements to human existence. 3C/H5

Benchmarks of Science Literacy


NAEP (optional)

Common Core Standards (i.e. connections with Math, Social Studies or Language Arts Standards):

Math  S-MD  7   Analyze decisions and strategies using probability concepts (eg, product testing, medical testing, pulling a hockey goalie at the end of the game)

Reading standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects

Grade 9-10  8   Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author's claim or a recommendation for solving a scientific or technical problem.

Writing standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects

Write arguments focused on discipline specific content  (9-10 - 1)

Introduce precise claims . . . .

Develop claims . . . .

Use words, phrases and clauses to link the major sections. . . . .

Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone . . .

Provide a concluding statment or section that follows from or supports the argument presented.


Student Misconceptions 

Preliminary research gives some indication of two student perspectives on risk resulting from the failure of technological systems.   In the first perspective, if the risk of failure involves the possibility of widespread harm, it is unacceptable: however, if the risk of failure is to oneself and voluntary, it is considered a part of life and hardly worthy of concern by others.   In the second perspective, if the risk of failure involves harm to oneself and benefits to oneself, then it is of primary interest.  Harm to others is simply ignored in this perspective (Fleming, 1986, Atlas, Project 2061)

Some high school students believe scientists and engineers are more capable of making decisions about public issues related to science and technology than the general public.  Students believe that scientists and engineers know all the facts and are not influenced by personal motives and interests (Fleming, 1987, Aikenhead, 1987, Atlas 2061)


The students are learning about the process of bio-engineering.   Yesterday they set up a laboratory (Bio-rad pglo laboratory) in which they took an E. coli bacteria and placed through a process involving calcium chloride and heat shock, a tiny piece of DNA in it called a plasmid.                                   

This methodology is used in a variety of biotechnology and bioengineering scenarios.   A recent use for a transgenic organism was the introduction of the BT gene into corn embryos which involved introducing a gene (found in bacteria) which is toxic to corn bores.  The idea  looked to be an excellent one.  Now when the destructive corn bore (a moth larva) bit into the corn plant, it would drop over dead.   No pesticides were needed and the problem is solved! (or is it?).

The students were instructed to do a "web quest" with their laboratory groups of 4.  They could use school computers, i-phones or whatever else they had at their disposal to search any and all data bases they could find and make a list of the benefits and risks of introducing the BT gene into corn embryos.  At the end of the search (15-20 minutes if adequate technology is available - next day if not), the students reported their findings.   The benefits often include such things as "no more pesticides needed to destroy corn bores thereby helping to preserve the environment".   The risks include such things as "Monarch butterflies are also affected as the corn pollen blows onto the milkweed and then the larva eat the pollen containing the BT gene and consequently BT protein".   This protein affects them in the same manner that it affects the corn bore larva and they are destroyed". A lively discussion then ensues on the importance of our various environmental needs and students complete a risk/benefit analysis of the BT gene as a representative case of bio-engineering and transgenic organism.


Instructional Notes 

Instructional suggestions/options; examples of best practices with a focus on active engagement practices.

As students are introduced to equipment, whether it is a pipetter or a hotplate, they can think about the cost, benefits and problems associated with the manufacture, use and disposal.   Often this can be tied to knowledge of operation and the safety involved in      using it.  This may be an especially interesting discussion on disposable pipettes.

Tying this Standard to Current events can be a powerful of started a discussion on a variety of items.  One effective way to manage this is to set up a "current events" bulletin board which documents local articles and issues.

Medical procedures are done based on the cost verses benefit or risk verses benefit of the procedure.   Examples include everything from removing a mole to performing an amniocentesis to removing an appendix.  When the risk involved in the procedure is greater than the benefit, it is not an appropriate procedure.  Students are often very interested in these types of assessments especially as they relate to their own health and experiences.

Selected activities, labs, lessons, problems, etc., for each standard (adhere to copyright!).   (Chemistry 9C.    

Students explain the political, societal, economic and environmental impact of such materials as petroleum products  They may discuss the production of ethanol and other biofuels and the risks and benefits associated with them.   Are they truly energy                efficient?    Are there other concerns?  What is the total energy outcome from a chemical bond standpoint?  See vignette  (Biology 

BT gene scenario including the risks and benefits to society of making a transgenic corn plant which resist corn bore infestation.  (Physical Science and

Students analyze the risks and benefits of different types of sources of energy for             generating electricity.   For example:   Fossil fuels, nuclear fission, wind, sun or tidal energy. They research or learn about several of the types of energy and then choose        sides in a debate format or a "fishbowl" discussion in order to look at all sides of the         argument.   (Any Strand)

Do a cost analysis on a piece of common equipment such as an electronic balance or different qualities of glass for beakers  This could fit in well with the introduction of a new piece of equipment as students are learning how to use it.  It could also be incorporated into the "safety" lecture given at the beginning of most science courses.  This may include an battery, a new car, a piece of clothing, disposable diapers and more.   What is the initial cost?   What is the life expectancy?   How is it disposed of?    Students propose solutions to the problems and look at various possibilities for biodegradation and/or recycling.

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources or links

An excellent source for creative ideas, inventions and investigations   Museum Exploratorium

New Vocabulary 


  • Engineering - The process of using science, mathematics and technology in order to develop new products, tools, processes and systems in response to human needs and wants.
  • Science - the search to understand and explain the natural world
  • Design - A plan for an engineering process which takes into account the project type, need for the project, materials needed and cost of the project as well as the risks and benefits associated with it.
  • Product - The final outcome of the engineering process.
  • Risk Analysis - A systematic assessment of the benefits and risks of the project.   Unless the benefits outweigh the risks, the project should not be undertaken.
  • Technology - the products and processes that result from engineering design.
Technology Connections 

A variety of equipment and kits for bio-engineering can be purchased.   Due to the life limitations of various chemicals and the large quantities that must be purchased it is often advisable to buy the kits and the refills from Bio-rad or Carolina.   Home-made versions can be made for such things as gel electrophosresis and DNA isolation.   PCR can be done by hand with water baths but it is very time consuming.  (See Biology Standards)

Cross Curricular Connections 

A recycling program involving the whole school would be a nice connection to this standard. Paper recycling has involved the science classes as well as the DCD or special education  students.  It can make a nice project for a club or organization or as a way to unite the whole  school in a clean-up and recycling project.

Social studies and Economic classes can look at cost assessments related to product use, including manufactor, foreign policy on imports, quality control etc.



Include questions designed to probe student understanding of concepts, both formative and summative.   Identify taxonomic level of questions.

            1.   (Formative)  What do companies consider when they package products?   What should they consider?

Possible Answers:   Cost, Weight, Durability.   What should they consider?   Recycling, Disposal

            2.   (Summative)  The newest compact fluorescent light bulbs are energy efficient, have a long life expectancy but are expensive compared to regular light bulbs.    Do a risk-benefit analysis on the light bulbs.   Include the cost, safety and availability of disposal.

Answers will vary

            3.   (Summative)  Disposal diapers are a wonderful invention.   However, they have some down   sides.   Compare the use of disposable diapers to cloth diapers in regards to how it is manufactured, used, maintained, replaced and disposed of.   Include the total energy required to use either disposable diapers or cloth.

Answers will vary


3 questions designed to probe teachers understanding of concepts. Questions could be used as self-reflection or in professional development sessions.

            1.  Medical procedures often include the cost verses benefit and risk verses benefit of the procedure. Relate this to ethics. Where do we draw the line with human health?  When is the cost too high?   When is the risk too high?

            2.   How can you fit this standard into your curriculum without taking an extreme amount of time and teaching it as a separate project an/or unit?  Can it be fit into curriculum as a natural part of the teaching of that curriculum.

3.   Next time you order supplies, consider the cost verses benefit and the risks involved in pieces of laboratory equipment and perishables.  Is the cheapest product really the least expensive?

ANSWER:   Sometimes it is more cost effective to spend more up front.


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

Administrators may see students analyzing a variety of products to determine their recylability, cost, effectiveness and design.  They may see students debating the wisdom of using one product verses another and talking about the recycling and disposal characteristics of the products they are dealing with.


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk:

Tying this standard to practical problems in the students lives will have more impact than things that are far removed from their lives.

English Language Learners 

Language acquisition should not be as great a concern in this standard as long as students understand the "rules" of the game.   Cost verses benefit is generally a universal idea.

Extending the Learning 


Students may wish to design a product of their own in which they consider the risks and benefits of the product prior to manufacture.   They may try to design a better diaper, or design a better lightbulb.  


Products from other cultures can add interest to this standard not only for native students but also for students from different cultures.   It would be interesting to compare products and packaging from one area to another in our world.   Which is the most ecologically sound.  Example:   An open air market where vegetables are displayed verses packaged vegetables in a super market.

Special Education 

Special education students may enjoy a variety learning styles as they think about a practical problem and try to solve that problem buy building "a better mousetrap".  



Parents can discuss how they choose products in the store and then how they recycle products when they wear out.    What do they do with batteries?   What do they do with electronics?    Old paint?   Tin cans?   If they don't have their own recycling program this would be an opportune time to start one with their students.


Risk Analysis w/ Biology

www.teachersdomain.org has a great debate lesson (Babies By Design) about genetic modification and biotechnological advances which can be used to include risk analysis.