Practice of Engineering

Nature of Science & Engineering
The Practice of Engineering

Engineering design is an analytical and creative process of devising a solution to meet a need or solve a specific problem.

Benchmark: Constraints on Designs

Identify a problem and the associated constraints on possible design solutions.

For example: Constraints can include time, money, scientific knowledge and available technology.

Benchmark: Using Models in Designing

Develop possible solutions to an engineering problem and evaluate them using conceptual, physical and mathematical models to determine the extent to which the solutions meet the design specifications.

For example: Develop a prototype to test the quality, efficiency and productivity of a product.


Standard in Lay Terms 

MN Standard in lay terms:

Engineering is a process by which engineers and scientists strive to create products and processes to serve human needs.  Students are asked to create a project design to solve a problem and then to evaluate it.

Big Ideas and Essential Understandings 

Big Idea:

Engineering design is the creative process of solving problems using science and engineering. The problem is identified, an analysis of the possibilities is done and concepts of science are used to design the solutions.

Benchmark Cluster 

MN Standard Benchmarks :  Identify a problem and the associated constraints on possible design solutions.  Develop possible solutions to an engineering problem and evaluate them using conceptual, physical and mathematical models to determine the extent to which the solutions meet the design specifications.


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

See this page.


Identify a problem or design an opportunity

Propose designs and choose between alternative solutions

Implement a proposed solution

evaluate the solution and its consequences

Technological problems and advances often create a demand for new scientific knowledge, and new technologies make it possible for scientists to extend their research in new ways or to undertake entirely new lines of research. The very availability of new technology itself often sparks scientific advance. 3A/H1*

Mathematics, creativity, logic, and originality are all needed to improve technology. 3A/H2

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)

Benchmarks of Science Literacy


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 
  • Engineering only involves computers
  • Engineers are not scientists
  • Cost is the only factor in the design of a product as the goal is to make money.


Students have entered the classroom only to find that they have a very big problem to solve. They have been asked to send a Pringles Potato Chip to a friend in another state.   They are to send the potato chip through the US postal service and  they are to design a package that will get the potato chip safely to it's destination without breaking.

Students are given parameters and constraints of the project based on cost, practicality, size and postage required.  They then develop models of the packing and test the process by various means including launching them over the railing on the second floor.  The final test will be to actually mail the potato chip and see if it arrives at its destination fully intact. They skype with the recipient of the chip and see for themselves whether it survived it's journey.  If not, they analyze the design flaws and try again after discussing it with their receiving partner.  Ideally this project could be done between two schools and students could exchange chips.  It could also be done by having the students mail the chip to the teacher.

This activity makes an engaging introduction to the the physical science standards and  As an introduction students can begin thinking about the problems involved in solving  this problem.  After learning about force and motion, they then refine their design using the science that they have now learned to either support or refute their original ideas.


Instructional Notes 

Selected activities, labs, lessons, problems, etc., for each standard (adhere to copyright!). and   (Can be applied in all Substrands - examples follow)

Biology - Electrophoresis in plastic  also fits

Students are given Tupperware (plastic containers), wire and a salt solution as well as batteries or a power source. They are instructed to design a means of electrophoresis to separate food coloring with a negative charge on a gel in this chamber.   They solve the problem of the chamber by setting it up  in such as way as to create an electric current across the gel and maintaining safe integrity at the same time.

Biology - Seed Dispersal also fits9.

After learning about seed dispersal, students develop a possible solution to the problem plants have with dispersing their children.   Students design a seed type in large scale and then test their designs by throwing them off the railing and timing the amount of time their remain suspended.

Earth Science - Sandbags for Floods   also fits

After learning about the problems associated with flooding and the physical constraints on flood waters and building protection, students develop the perfect sandbag, taking into consideration conceptual, physical and mathematical models for doing so.

Physical Science - Rocket Efficiency  also fits

Students construct a rocket from a balloon propelled along a guide string. They use this model to learn about Newton's three laws of motion, examining the effect of different forces on the motion of the rocket  Action / Reaction Rocket

Physics - Bending Light also fits 9P.

Students design a system in which light rays travel around a room and return to a designated area using the properties of light and mirrors.

Chemistry - Energy (Heats) of Reaction and Solution - also fits 9C. and

Students determine which ionic salt might be best for use to melt snow and ice on roads in the winter.  Students determine the heat of solution of various salts, their cost, their environmental impact and safety hazards to develop a product which melts snow and ice and that can be commercially sold  and marketed to homeowners.

Instructional suggestions

Design activities can be used at the beginning of a "lesson" to gain interest and experiences upon which to build the science concepts. They could also be used after instruction of science concepts to apply and deepen the science concepts. More information available in "Best Practices" section of the Frameworks.  In engineering design as well as in inquiry, it is important that teachers realize that just doing the activity does not mean that the students have learned the concept or skill. There needs to also be discussion and reinforcement of the desired concept or skill.

Science Olympiad Competition. The Science Olympiad competition is a competition between schools in which students compete in several areas of science and engineering.  These activities can be part of classroom activities or run as a competitive team.   Activities that are especially applicable to this standard include the following:

Sumo bots:   Students design robots who compete with each other in a "shoving contest"

Tower building:   Students design and build a tower.   The winner is the lightest tower which can hold the greatest load

Helicopter:   Students design a rubber band helicopter.   The copter that stays in the air the longest, wins.

Sounds of Music:   Students build musical instruments and then compete in tonality, pitch and the physics of sound

Mission Possible:   Creation of a Rube- Goldberg device.  Students earn points              for the number of energy changes verses the speed with which they can                           complete a simple task.

Aqua-Thrusters: In this activity, students construct their own rocket-powered                   boat called an "aqua-thruster." These aqua-thrusters will be made from a film                  canister and will use carbon dioxide gas - produced from a chemical                             reaction between an antacid tablet and water - to propel it.  Aqua-Thrusters

Instructional Resources 

Additional resources or links

Minnesota Science Olympiad web page

New Vocabulary 


  • Analytical Process - To break down or divide a complex whole into its parts or elements.
  • Creative Process - the process of looking at a problem and find a "new" solution.
  • Conceptual Model - using the concepts and ideas of math and science a conceptual model is made - a model that is theoretical in nature
  • Physical Model - a concrete and usually smaller scaled version of a product.
  • Mathematical Model - A model based on mathematical principles.
Technology Connections 

Various pieces of equipment could be incorporated into the design of a variety of designs. Creativity is the only limit to the possibilities.   One outstanding activity is to take a field trip to a home improvement store and wander the isles dreaming up new uses for equipment, building supplies and tools.

Cross Curricular Connections 

Almost every class has an opportunity for engineering design. Art classes construct pottery  pieces, drama classes design and build "sets".  Math classes provide good opportunity for mathematical models.



1.   You have been given a problem involving finding the ideal method of building a mouse tail for the Nutcracker production mouse customer that your school is sponsoring.   It needs to look like a mouse but be practical on stage.   List some of the design constrains you might have on possible design solutions.

Answer possibilities:  Money, Weight, Flexibility, Comfort

3.  You are being asked to develop an efficient product.   What does it mean to be efficient?   Name two products and define efficiency in practical terms for them.


1.  Stem cell research may lead to the answer for many possible medical disorders.   However, there are some difficult obstacles to overcome on both an ethical and medical level.   Describe these obstacles and the objections to them.

Possible Answer:   Stem cell research poses problems in a variety of ways.  First of all is the ethical problems dealing with the use of human embryos.  The argument is that one life is not more important than another life.  Therefore, it is wrong to risk one to benefit another.  On a medical level, the stem cells are non-differentiated.  Therefore, they are similar in many ways to genes that are active in embryos (in cancer we call them oncogenes).  Could this in fact cause tumors in a patient rather than healing them.   What are the risks that they will not differentiate into the intended tissues?

2.  Where would you fit this standard into your curriculum so that it becomes part of the teaching process rather than a separate project that stands alone?

Answers:   Will depend on individual curriculum but all should tie together in the learning of science and engineering concepts.

3.  What are the constraints that a classroom would have to have for students to design products?   What creative ways can you think of that might stretch these parameters?

ANSWERS:    May include new uses for current products and tools.   What is being thrown out?  Could it be recycled and used for a different purpose?   Examples may include milk containers, pop bottles etc.  Is there a company in town who might donate materials or equipment that they no longer use?

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

You may see students designing and building products.  This may be incorporated into a unit on seeds, or light, or genetics, or chemical reactions.   It will however, usually involve a model of some type and a variety of possible solutions for solving the problem.


Struggling Learners 

Struggling and At-Risk:

Building or solving problems used on a daily basis or to make the students life easier has a special draw for these students.   Look for special personal interests that the students have and then plan some activities around them.   Examples may include motorcross, car repair, cooking etc.  

They also may enjoy setting up a small business to market their product.

English Language Learners 

The language involved may pose some problems for ELL students.   Be certain to clearly state definitions and use words in context.

Extending the Learning 


The Science Olympiad team is a nice extension for students who want to extend themselves beyond the classroom.   There are several outstanding opportunities for designing, creating and building a product and then evaluating it afterwards.


Cultural history and solutions to human problems from specific and varied cultures can bring both ownership to multicultural students and intense interest to all.    It is a good opportunity to bring in the contributions of multiple cultures and the contributions, innovations and inventions from a variety of people.

Special Education 

Model building is a process that often intrigues special education students.   Since it is takes into account a non-traditional form of learning with hands instead of always reading, they often excel at this type of learning.



Parents can encourage participation is a variety of activities and/or get involved themselves.    Allowing students to solve problems in the house and/or build things is a wonderful way to encourage engineering skills.    The traditional tree house project provides for many of these opportunities.