What one thing can make a football helmet, the International Space Station, and a taco party all even better than they already are?
The engineering design process.
How do we know this? Because we found the videos to prove it, in all three cases. Along with a selection of five more that showcase the versatility and power of the engineering design process across a range of other uses. The videos are fun, informative, and suitable for introducing the engineering design process to students ranging in age from late elementary school to college. The longest clocks in at 5:16, and most are closer to two or three minutes to watch, easy to squeeze into almost any available teaching window.
The differences among a football helmet, the space station, and tacos point up the versatility and power of the engineering design process as an intellectual tool. The engineering design process moves students through a series of intellectual and practical exercises, starting with a problem and ending with a solution unpredictable at the beginning. It includes asking questions, thinking about users’ needs, researching associated issues and histories, prototyping and testing, gathering and analyzing data, learning from failure, improving, and then releasing the result into users’ hands with instructions and encouragement to use properly.
And the drawback
However, the quality of being applicable and helpful to things of widely disparate natures also suggests one of the challenging features of teaching the engineering design process. As a method or discipline more than a body of knowledge, it lacks an intrinsic substance or identifiable content. It’s abstract and highly malleable. To try and teach the engineering design process unto itself, especially to younger, concrete-minded learners like elementary and even middle school students, can be a will-o'-the-wisp undertaking.
Starting with screens
Even so, one thing nearly all learners — and certainly younger learners — will do is watch something well produced on a screen. Luckily for educators with access to screens, some smart, creative, and funny people have turned their talents in these areas to make smart, creative, and funny videos about the engineering design process. These videos take different approaches and tones, which users themselves can best calibrate to the needs and tastes of the particular audience they are trying to reach. But if the goal is to engage students on the topic of the engineering design process, some one or another of these videos is sure to hit the mark.
The taco party (3:38)
Probably best for teenagers or young adults, this video explores, among other things, how best to solve the problem of having people coming over to eat, only 30 minutes to prepare, and a limited store of provisions in the refrigerator.
Football helmets (2:45)
The San Francisco 49ers have long operated a STEM education program at Levi’s Stadium, where they play their home games. Part of this program, the video explores how engineering and design advances have changed the form and function of football helmets over decades. For mid-elementary school to high school, at least.
International Space Station (2:42)
This short animated NASA video is both an introduction to engineering and an explanation of the engineering design process. It effectively highlights the value of brainstorming freely, sticking to a plan, and learning from setbacks. For elementary to middle school.
“The Engineering Process” (5:16)
From Crash Course Kids, this one is neat because it uses specific, familiar examples to illustrate stages of the process, like the telephone, dynamite, the Eiffel Tower, and air conditioning. The video also encourages patience with and appreciation for failure and persistence. For late elementary to middle school.
The Engineering Design Process (1:46)
From the NSF-funded online engineering learning center, TeachEngineering, this video is brisk and straightforward, featuring college students working and talking about engineering. An emphasis on iteration and learning from failure accompanies messaging about how engineering turns dreams into reality and engineers make the world a better place. For late elementary to high school.
“Design Thinking: the 5 Steps” (2:00)
Lighter on engineering terminology than design, this video ends up on the list because it focuses usefully on understanding users’ needs in devising solutions and the importance of communicating about the solution with the people it’s meant to help. For middle to high school.
“What Is the Engineering Design Process?” (4:50)
A classic example of the PBS ethos, this video is substantive, logical, and comprehensive. It focuses on skyscrapers but extends the discussion to other areas of problem-solving and design. The “PBS-ness” of it might be a bit much for older kids with any tendencies to wiseacring. Watch it, and you’ll see what I mean.
EDP Rhyme (1:50)
The polar opposite of a PBS take, this spoken-word rendering of the engineering design process boils it all down beats and rhymes, white letters on a plain black background. From “not a rapper” Bomani Armah, this oddly engrossing video will have you tapping your fingers on the desk. For all ages.
We sought a variety of approach, intelligent treatment of the issue, and effort to make the watching both fun and educational. It was not actually easy to satisfy these criteria, and you can judge for yourself how well these examples actually fit the bill. And if you know of any other videos that meet these criteria, do share. You’ll be helping us out, too, by passing this along to any interested friends or colleagues.
Eric Iversen is VP for Learning and Communications at Start Engineering. He has written and spoken widely on engineering education in the K-12 arena. You can write to him about this topic, especially when he gets stuff wrong, at email@example.com.
You can also follow along on Twitter @StartEnginNow.
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