The Engineering Design Process is used to solve countless problems and create innovative, cutting-edge solutions. Solutions we use in our everyday lives. From bicycles to cars to yes, even our smartphones. The process isn’t exclusive to complex problems, technology, or engineers. In fact, it can be used to tackle almost any task! Whether it is planning a vacation, a DIY project, or even creating art.
Why should kids learn it though? Besides the obvious academic benefit, it gives them a framework to harness and improve on critical skills from problem-solving, creative thinking, to collaboration. Kids are natural inventors. Give them a specific object and watch them come up with a dozen uses for it. All they need is a process to follow.
As a Software Engineer, I’ve used it to develop many solutions in my career. I can tell you first-hand the many benefits of the Engineering Design Process.
But that alone will do you no good. So I dug around for a full day to find the best resources to teach your kids the Engineering Design Process. Along the way, we will also learn what the entire process is about, how we can apply it, and its many benefits. So let’s jump right in!
No solution is ever spontaneously discovered. Rather, it is found through an iterative approach of research, trials, and tests.
The beauty of the Engineering Design Process is that it can be applied to any problem to come to a solution. Notice that I said “a solution” and not “the solution”. This is because, with the Engineering Design Process, multiple solutions are inevitable. This leaves us with the luxury of selecting the most suitable solution.
In my humble opinion, the Engineering Design Process is a major contributor to STEM education - more on this later. It ties in perfectly by giving kids a platform on which they can harness their imagination with a supportive thought process.
It teaches kids a plethora of hard and soft skills. We will discover all the exciting ways a child can benefit from this super useful process. It’s a process that applies in an educational setting or even everyday activities.
For the sake of completion, I have listed out the complete 7 steps of the Engineering Design Process. You will see varying numbers of steps from other resources, but the primary essence of the process is present regardless of the number of steps.
If you prefer a simpler approach for introducing to kids, check out the engineering design process for kids as laid out by the Museum of Science in Boston at eie.org/why-eie.
With that in mind, let’s review the 7 steps and what each step requires of us.
Remember, the key with the Engineering Design Process is to cycle through as many times as needed. How do you know when you’re done? It all depends on what you come back within the ‘Test’ step. That’s your litmus test on the viability of your solution.
The Engineering Design Process is a gift that keeps on giving.
From an educator’s perspective, we are better able to engage students in problem-solving activities. The Engineering Design Process gives us a concrete step-by-step framework for kids to follow - no vagueness, no doubts.
Each step allows them to practice different skills. All the while opening up the gates to many other STEM topics. Whether that be in the science/technology realm where we are developing computer programs or in the creative realm where we are writing a paper.
From a child’s perspective, the benefits are many! Here are just a few.
Let’s get one thing clear, you do not have to be an engineer to teach it. The “engineering” is there simply because that’s how engineers solve problems. All you need is to learn the structure of the engineering design process and what each step entails. Then you can take and apply it to just about any problem.
Let’s look at some creative hands-on ways of teaching the engineering design process for kids. These can be used for pre-school or elementary school kids at home or in a classroom.
Kids will frown when asked to read a small article. Tell them to watch a video, their eyes will light up!
Here are a couple of simple and engaging explainer videos you can show them to get started.
A quick 5-min explainer for kids by CrashCourseKids.
Explainer with a real-world example by PBS - Taco Party (my personal favorite!).
Once they have a decent understanding of the Engineering Design Process, let’s get them practicing the steps. Let's get them creating!
Science Buddies have a couple of great activities for just that.
PBS Kids has an engineering challenge with an interactive group activity for grade levels 3-8
Teachers Pay Teachers have good engineering learning materials available for purchase at reasonable prices.
Some notable ones...
You can also search for more teaching material on their website.
The Institute of Education Science has an in-depth article on teaching the Engineering Design Process.
The World Economic Forum compiled a list of 5 children’s books teaching engineering principles.
I’m a firm believer in the always-learning approach. Here are a few ways you can incorporate the Engineering Design Process into your kids’ daily lives.
I hope this article gave you some ideas on how to apply the Engineering Design Process for kids. The cool part about it all is the process applies to truly any problem, be it big or small, educational or personal.
The benefits are plenty and it will serve as a solid foundation to further STEM-related exercises and learning.
So check out the resources above, and build on them with your own research. You will find plenty of exercises and problems for your kids to solve!