Divide participants into groups of two or three. Tell them to take two minutes to brainstorm answers to the following questions: What comes to mind when you hear the word “technology?” How might your students answer this question?
Ask participants to share their answers and list them in the text box above or on the board or chart paper. Common responses: Anything electronic like cell phones, computers, iPods; anything mechanical like cars, machines; things that are new or high-tech. Give one “mystery bag” to each small group and explain that it contains a technology. Be sure to include one object (i.e., a plastic spoon), one system (i.e., a juice box or glue stick), and one process (i.e., a recipe card).
Give participant groups five to ten minutes to discuss the following questions regarding their technology: What is the technology? What does your technology do? What problem does it solve? How else could you use it? What materials are used to make it? What other materials could be used to make it?
After five to ten minutes, ask three to five groups to share their technologies. While the groups are presenting, ask: How is the shape of the technology important to its function? What are the properties of the materials used to make the technology? How do these properties contribute to its function? What are the benefits of one material over another? Do you think this technology would function differently if it was made of a different material? How so? Be sure to include the object, the system, and the process in the discussion, in order to broaden participants’ thinking about what technology is. You might want to start with the object, then the system, and then the process, as these are increasingly more complex concepts for participants. Once groups have finished presenting, return to the original list of technology examples that participants brainstormed (Slide 2). Ask: Now that you’ve examined and discussed these different examples of technologies, would you like to add anything to this list or remove anything?Common responses: Yes, technology is anything that is human-made and solves a problem; it makes life easier; it doesn’t have to be electronic; tools are technology. Work with participants to come up with a definition of “technology” as a group. Tell participants that EiE has come up with a definition of technology very similar to their descriptions. (NEXT SLIDE)
In EiE, we define technology as: Anything human-made or used to solve a problem or to fulfill a desire. Technology can be an object, a system, or a process. As a quick assessment of participants’ understanding, you might ask the group: Is there anything in this room that is NOT a technology? How do you know? Can you identify a technology in this room that is a system? Can you give an example of a technology that is a process? ( Finally, begin to segue into the “What is Engineering?” (Tower Power) Activity by returning to one of the technologies groups shared earlier. (Choose something that is a very simple object. We suggest a plastic spoon.) Scaffold the connection between technology and engineering with this series of questions (here demonstrated with a disposable, plastic spoon as the technology): What is one of the alternative functions that you mentioned earlier for this plastic spoon? Common responses: a shovel, a catapult, a drumstick to bang on a pot, a prop to dangle from your nose, etc. If you were to think about redesigning this spoon so that it functioned better as a shovel (or use another example that participants came up with), what would you change and why? Common responses: I would make the handle longer for more leverage; I would make it out of metal for more strength; I would make the scoop end larger and broader to move more dirt; I would make the handle more lightweight and slightly curved so it would be comfortable to carry and to use. Briefly summarize participants’ responses. For example, based on the common responses listed above, you might say: From your answers, I hear you using your knowledge of simple machines (leverage), material properties (metal for increased strength), and ergonomics, as well as your shoveling experience (lightweight shovel and curved handle) as you suggest changes to the spoon. Then ask: Who do you think does this kind of work? Who uses their knowledge of science, material properties, and sometimes ergonomics to design technologies? Common response: Engineers.
Continue with the segue from “What is Technology?” (Technology in a Bag) by explaining to participants: Now that we have reached some understanding about the relationship between technology and engineering, it would be useful for all of us to have a common engineering experience so that we can explore the process by which engineers create technologies.
Set the context for this quick design challenge with a short story. One example used by EiE is shown below. Feel free to provide your own story for your group; it’s most fun to come up with a scenario that is locally relevant. The Museum of Science is about to open a psychology exhibit and because, cross-culturally, animals often symbolize different personality traits, the museum is planning to display statues of different animals in the main lobby as a way to entice visitors to come to the exhibit. Show participants the statue (the six-inch tall stuffed animal) and place it on the floor. (NEXT SLIDE)
[NOTE: SLIDE IS ANIMATED.] Ask: What is the problem if we leave the statue like this? Common responses: The statue is too small; you can’t see it; visitors might step on it; etc. Record their thoughts in the “What is the problem?” text box above. CLICK SLIDE. Tell participants that it is going to be their job, as engineers, to solve this problem. Ask: In order to solve this problem, what do you want to know? List participants’ questions in the text box above or on chart paper/white board. Common questions include: What materials are available? Can we change the statue? How much time do we have? What is the budget? How much space is available for display? How will we know if we are successful? How long does the structure need to hold the statue? How far off the ground does the statue need to be? Do we have to make our design aesthetically pleasing? Separately address each of the questions raised by participants. As you answer, clearly address the constraints and criteria of the design challenge. Make sure to include and add, if necessary: The materials available will be limited to 100 index cards and 12” of cellophane tape. The scissors are provided as a tool and cannot be used as a component of their design. You will not be able to use the actual statue to test your design until after the deadline, but you are welcome to hold the statue to get an idea of its mass. Aim to elevate the statue at least two feet off the table. Your structure must support the statue for at least 10 seconds. Your deadline is 18 minutes from now. Divide participants into groups of two to four. Have them collect their materials and tools and get to work. As each group is designing and building, circulate and ask: What are you designing? Tell me about the structural elements you decided to use. Why do you think your tower design will be successful?
Once time is up, ask all participants to stand in a large circle so that they can easily see all the different solutions that were created. Debrief with the whole group by asking: What do you notice that is similar about all of these solutions? What do you notice that is different about them?
Allow each team to test their tower structure with the stuffed animal to determine whether their structure can support the “statue.” Before they test, ask some of the groups: Tell us about your design. What are some of the design features your team decided to use? Why did you choose to use those features? If it fits in with your discussion, you might point out that their assumptions and statements may evoke questions that could be answered using inquiry-based science. For example, the common belief that triangles are the strongest structural shape may inspire questions about the orientation of the triangles and what “strong” means.
After all the teams have tested, independent of success or failure, ask: Now that you have had a chance to test your own design and to observe others’ designs, how would you improve your tower structure if given the opportunity? Have participants return to their seats. Ask them to think about what they and their teammates did to create their structural solutions. (NEXT SLIDE)
Ask: What were some of the “action words” that describe what you did during the design process?Common responses: cutting, planning, talking, stressing, taping, folding, collaborating, modifying, testing, etc. (NOTE: While you can list their responses in the text boxes above, we recommend doing this on a white board, if possible, so that you can put all responses in a single column. This will make it easier to facilitate the next piece of the activity.) Explain to participants that they should take a look at the list of “action words” they created and think about the order in which they performed these actions in the engineering of their towers. The “action words” listed will vary from workshop to workshop, but, for example, if two of the words are “folding” and “brainstorming” you might ask: Which did you do first when you were engineering—fold or brainstorm? Continue to prompt the participants with similar types of questions. As you facilitate their reflection, it is likely that they will order the “action words,” into an order similar to the EiE Engineering Design Process. As they do so, notice that most of the words that they chose will naturally be categorized into the five steps of the EDP. Participants may also mention that sometimes the order of their actions wasn’t linear; they sometimes returned to certain actions over and over again in a cyclical manner, such as building, testing, troubleshooting, and redesigning. When they have finished creating their own EDP with the list of “action words,” tell them that the EDP that they produced together is very similar to EiE’s version. (NEXT SLIDE)
Explain that engineers always begin their deign process with a goal. (CLICK SLIDE) Ask: What was your goal in this activity? Common responses: To design a structure that was at least two feet tall and could support the statue. Tell participants that even though we have already established that the Engineering Design Process is cyclical, many engineers begin working towards their goal by asking questions (CLICK TO REVEAL ASK STEP) Ask: What were some of the questions that you asked before the challenge when I asked you, “In order to solve this problem, what do you want to know?”Common responses: What are the materials? What is the deadline? (Constraints) How high does the structure have to be? How long does it have to display the statue? (Criteria) As they respond, ask them which of their questions were about constraints and criteria. Also, point out that some of their questions were related to the scientific information needed to complete the challenge. (CLICK SLIDE) Then reveal the “Imagine” step of the EDP. Ask: What are the “action words” listed that fit into the “Imagine” category? Repeat the above procedure for each of the remaining EDP steps: “Plan,” “Create,” and “Improve.” Explain that this representation of the EDP, as described by EiE, is a general summary of the cyclic nature of the development of technology. The process may begin with the “Improve” step if the technology is an existing one. Often, engineers move between a few steps many times or follow the steps out of order. Summarize this activity by noting that it flows in the same way as an EiE unit. In an EiE unit, students are introduced to the Engineering Design Process and the challenge through a context-setting story. In addition, the five-step EDP highlighted here is the same process that students use in Lessons 3 and 4 of every EiE unit to guide them as they design and improve a technology. Also be sure to point out that in this activity, the Engineering Design Process was a problem solving process that they used quite instinctively and that this will be true for their students as well. Participants might ask about how the EiE EDP wound up with five steps, especially when several state standards and national frameworks list EDPs with a greater number of steps. If so, explain that the EiE EDP is based on many of these existing EDPs that were primarily designed for middle and high school students. As those EDPs were far too complicated for younger students, EiE simplified the EDP down to five, single-word steps, that still echo those steps in the more complicated processes.
EiE has developed 20 different engineering units that link to the 20 science content topics that are most commonly taught in elementary schools.
Every EiE unit has a common structure: Lesson 1 introduces the field of engineering, the EDP, and the design challenge through a story. Lesson 2 presents a broader view of the field of engineering with an additional activity. Lesson 3 starts the Engineering Design Process (EDP) by prompting students to “Ask “questions about the design challenge and then to collect data to answer some of their questions. This scientific data will then help students to make informed decisions when designing their technology. Lesson 4 continues to have students “Ask” about the design challenge constraints and criteria, and also leads them through the remaining four steps of the EDP: “Imagine,” “Plan,” “Create,” and “Improve,” as they work in groups to design a technology.
Engineering is Elementary: The Bridge to Engineering Partnership with SFSU and CCSF
Engineering is Elementary
Museum of Science, Boston
What comes to mind when you
hear the word “technology”?
Technology in a Bag
• What is the technology?
• What does your technology do?
What problem does it solve?
• How else could you use it?
• What material is it made of?
• What other materials could it be made
• How is the shape of the technology
important to its function?
• How do the properties of the material
contribute to the function?
• What are the benefits of one material over
• Is there anything you would add to or
remove from our original technology list?
• Is there anything in this room that is NOT
In EiE, we define
Anything human-made that is
used to solve a problem or
fulfill a desire.
Technology can be an object, a
system, or a process.
• If we were to think about redesigning the
spoon so that it functioned better as a
shovel, what would you change and why?
• Who uses their knowledge of science and
material properties to design
What is the problem?
You need to solve this problem. What do
you want to know before you start?
Constraints and Criteria
• 100 index cards and 1 foot of tape
• Can uses scissors as a tool, not apart of
• May not test using the actual statue until
after the deadline
• Elevate the statue at least 2 ft. ( no
hanging from ceiling)
• Must support the statue for 10 seconds
• You have 12.5 minutes
Using verbs, describe what you did
during the design process.
The Engineering Design Process
To solve a problem by
developing or improving
Wind & Weather
Balance & Forces
Solids & Liquids
Rocks & Minerals
Floating & Sinking
Chip Factory Design
USA (Af Am)
Sound Representation Ghana
Replicate an Artifact
Oil Spill Remediation USA (Nat Am)
EiE Teacher Guide Structure
• Lesson 1: Engineering Story
• Lesson 2: A Broader View of an
• Lesson 3: Scientific Data
Inform Engineering Design
• Lesson 4: Engineering