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Teaching Engineering Design to K-5

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Teaching engineering design to K-5

Engineering is the appliance of science. What use is teaching our children the core ideas of science unless we also teach them how to use them? If you take a moment to reflect on the many ways that scientific development has helped our lives you will see that engineering principles underpin many, if not all of them: the generation of electricity, the internal combustion engine, methods of cleaning water and the prevention of diseases. Providing children a foundation in engineering and design will supply them with the tools to solve the environmental and social challenges they will face in the future. This is why the NGSS has placed such importance on teaching engineering design and decided to integrate it so fully into the new framework.

All students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 will be expected to learn about engineering design practices and, as this is new to the science standards, in this blog post we will look at what this means at K-5 and provide you with some ideas on how to teach them.

Engineering Design in the NGSS

The first important point to make is that engineering design is integrated into the whole framework in two ways; both as part of the Practices and as individual Core Ideas. This means that in almost every science lesson children will be learning some aspect of engineering design.

The engineering and design core ideas are:

ETS1A: Defining and delimiting an engineering problem

ETS1B: Developing possible solutions

ETS1C: Optimizing the design solution

When teaching the Science and Engineering Practices, a few of the skills that students will learn and apply are: asking questions and defining problems; using models; carrying out investigations; using mathematics and computational thinking and interpreting data.

Let's have a closer look at the skills children in different grades will be expected to master:

Grades K-2

In these early grades, children will be introduced to engineering design as situations that people want to change. They will use tools and materials to solve simple problems, present their solutions and compare different solutions to the same problem to decide which is best. Younger children will not be expected to come up with original solutions but they will be expected to evaluate ones they are given.

Grades 3-5

Children are engaged in more formalized problem solving. They define a problem and specify criteria and constraints that a possible solution must meet. They then use these criteria to develop possible solutions and test them; and are then encouraged to evaluate their results and suggest improvements before revising and repeating the testing.

Using SciTT Kits to teach engineering design

The essence of engineering is about hands-on learning and, as this principle also underpins SciTT Kits, there are a number of the Kits that can be used with children in various grades to teach aspects of engineering design. Below we have chosen just a few and highlighted how they can be used in a lesson.


This SciTT Kit explores arguably our greatest engineering achievement - the wheel and is an ideal introduction to Engineering for Kindergarten children. In this fun activity students discover how wheels make things move more easily. They can solve problems on how to move objects more easily by building their own wheeled vehicle.

Electric pathways: Conductors/non-conductorsThis SciTT Kit is ideal for grade 3 students and contains everything you need for your class to explore conductors and non-conductors of electricity. Children can be set the problem of designing a circuit - what materials would they use for the wires and which for the insulation around them? They can then use the pieces of the circuit supplied to figure out a way of testing each material.

Electric Switch And Electromagnet

An ideal Kit to promote deeper understanding about electricity and magnetism for older elementary students. After using the equipment to engineer their own electromagnet, students can be set problems such as how to test the strength of the magnet and what changes they could carry out to make it stronger. These activities will not only test their problem-solving skills but requires them to also carry out investigations and interpret data. After using the Kit to see how a simple electromagnet works, they can then go onto looking at real-world applications and how electromagnets are used in a variety of engineering designs.

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