Engineering Design and Applications



Engineering and science are similar in that both involve creative processes, and neither uses just one method. And just as scientific investigation has been defined in different ways, engineering design has been described in various ways. However, there is widespread agreement on the broad outlines of the engineering design process, and this is a major new element of the NRC K-12 Science Education Framework and the Next Generation Science Standards.

Engineering Design

The NRC Framework and the NGSS seek to have K-12 students develop an understanding of  both scientific and engineering processes. Like scientific investigations, engineering design is both iterative and systematic. It is iterative in that each new version of the design is tested and then modified, based on what has been learned up to that point. It is systematic in that a number of characteristic steps must be undertaken.

One step is identifying the problem and defining specifications and constraints. Another step is generating ideas for how to solve the problem. A third step is the testing of potential solutions through the building and testing of physical or mathematical models and prototypes, all of which provide valuable data. With data in hand, the engineer can analyze how well the various solutions meet the given specifications and constraints and then evaluate what is needed to improve the leading design or devise a better one.

Links Among Science, Engineering, and Technology

The Framework and the Standards address the interconnections between science, engineering, and technology. They address the fact that the fields of science and engineering are mutually supportive, and scientists and engineers often work together in teams, especially in fields at the borders of science and engineering.

Advances in science offer new capabilities, new materials, or new understanding of processes that can be applied through engineering to produce advances in technology. Advances in technology, in turn, provide scientists with new capabilities to probe the natural world at larger or smaller scales; to record, manage, and analyze data; and to model ever more complex systems with greater precision. In addition, engineers’ efforts to develop or improve technologies often raise new questions for scientists’ investigation.

Engineering in Elementary Education

To promote elementary engineering curriculum development, the National Center for Technology Literacy® (NCTL®) has created Engineering is Elementary® which engages elementary school students through stories about children in different countries who face engineering design problems in their daily lives. Hands-on experiments help students solve the problem. The lessons foster reading skills and social studies awareness as well as science, technology, engineering, and math concepts.

Integrating teaching of engineering in an integrated fashion with science, technology, and mathematics in STEM education is significant and complex undertaking. Engineering in K-12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects (.pdf) summarizes the status of elementary and secondary engineering education in the U.S. and abroad. The report, prepared by the National Academics of Sciences and Engineering, defines engineering design principles, identifies central concepts in engineering, and relates these areas to K-12 education. It provides descriptions of well-respected elementary and engineering curriculum projects developed by a range of organizations over the past decades.

Living with Streams – Engineer and Build Your Own Levee NGSS

Dr. Barbara Munn, California State University, Sacramento, Geology Department
Dr. Kevan Shafizadeh and Dr. Matthew Salveson, California State University, Sacramento, Civil Engineering Department

One way people protect property from flooding is to build levees on either side of a stream to keep the water from overflowing the channel. Levees are earthen structures designed to reduce the risk of flooding by controlling the flow of water during periods of high discharge (FEMA, 2012). No levee is completely flood-proof, but sound engineering can improve a levee’s chances of withstanding a flood.

This activity is split into three parts:

  1. Reading about Flooding in your Local Area
  2. Preliminary Earth Testing Materials
  3. Engineer and Build your own Levee

This three-part lesson addresses Next Generation Science Standards in Earth and Human Activity, Earth Science Disciplinary Core, and Engineering Design

Build Your Own Levee Activity PDF

SIRC: Science in the River City - Next Generation Science StandardsUsing Engineering and Physics to Solve Community Problems

Mr. Chip Armstrong, Part Time Lecturer in Physics & Astronomy, CSU Sacramento
Dr. Dennis Dahlquist, Department of Electrical Engineering, CSU Sacramento
Dr. Lynn Tashiro, Professor of Physics, CSU Sacramento

Resource from the Fall Series of Science Professional Development Workshops for 3rd – 12th Grade Teachers

This group activity description and handout leads students to investigate the real world problem of flood control in the Sacramento area and to identify the components of the problem and the expertise needed to solve it. The activity guides students through hands-on physics experiments illustrating key concepts of the science behind possible technology solutions and presents engineering teams with processes to design, build, and test flood detection devices. Reading materials, diagrams and worksheets are included.

Science in the River City


Engineering in K-12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects (.pdf)

Standards for K-12 Engineering Education (.pdf)

Project Lead the Way: National

Project Lead the Way: California

Engineering is Elementary (Boston Museum of Science)

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