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What is the Engineering Design Process? [Plus, a Free Worksheet]

This process is a step-by-step method used by teams of engineers to solve engineering problems or challenges.

We all run into issues in our everyday lives. These might involve a gadget that’s not working correctly and needs improvement or could include something we want to make “from scratch.” Using math, engineering, and science concepts, we consider workable solutions, make plans, and try an idea we think could work.

Sometimes we might see the Engineering Design Process explained in even more stages than listed below. When you get right down to it, however, they can all fit into the following 5 steps:

  1.  ASK
  2.  IMAGINE
  3.  PLAN
  4. CREATE
  5. IMPROVE

Look at this as a circle, where after the process, you look to improve and begin the process again.

Let’s look at each step in the Engineering Design Process in a common situation we encounter every day — preparing a meal.

But, first, you can also download our free worksheet to accompany a lesson and have kids work through the design process themselves with the below example or another

Free Engineering Design Worksheet

Step 1: Ask

Everyone in your home is busy with their chores or with work for jobs and school. Did anyone remember to shop and plan for dinner? At a rushed family meeting in the kitchen, parents and kids agree they’re all getting hungry. What’s available in the fridge, freezer, or pantry? Let’s continue with the Engineering Design Process to solve this problem.

Step 2: Imagine

After looking over the foods that are handy, your family of six brainstorms what they could prepare that wouldn’t require a long cooking time. Roasted meat? Takes too long, and the oven heats up the house on an already warm day.

Grandma and Grandpa gave you all those vegetables from their garden. You really should eat those soon, so they don’t go to waste. What about vegetable stew? We need to add something like a protein. Let’s research on the internet to see what we could add to protein power.

Step 3: Plan

Your family jots down a list of agreed vegetables to use as ingredients:   potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, turnips, green beans, beets, and peas. You also list dried kidney beans, tofu, or eggs for the protein options.

But the family can’t agree on just one form of protein since everyone likes different things. Let’s make three separate pans of stew, you suggest.

Step 4: Create

The kids shell the peas, snap the ends off the green beans, and cut the softer foods requiring only a table knife. Parents cut the denser vegetables with the sharper knives. The family divides into three teams, with each one taking responsibility for one pan of soup.

Teams add water to each pot, along with dried herb and spice selections. Vegetables and proteins are chosen by each group, with the eggs waiting until later in the cooking process to be added by that team.

Step 5: Improve

As the delicious cooking aromas fill the air, two teams notice issues. The tofu cubes are beginning to look mushy and break apart. In addition, the red beets in another pan are turning the potatoes, turnips, and broth pink! Adjustments are needed.

The beets are removed before any more color escapes and set in a bowl to be used another day. Carrots replace the chunks of beet. A team member fishes tofu from another pot with a slotted spoon, and a parent stir-fries new cubes of that protein source to a golden brown, before adding them later into the soup pan.

Also having waited nearer to the end of the process, a team breaks six eggs into its pot and watches how they quickly turn white and hide the yolks, within.

Taste testers from each group sample a spoonful to determine if their stew is ready. Kidney beans are still too firm, so that pot needs more time. The other teams turn their burners off and leave the pans covered. Finally, the third soup is also ready!

Engineering Design Process vs. Scientific Method

As your family sits around the table and enjoys the hearty soups along with bread, you mention your previous study of the Scientific Method. How is the Engineering Design Process different from the Scientific Method?

Someone points out they both start with a question and involve research. But the Scientific Method then leads into hypothesis forming, experimenting, and testing.

How Does the Work of Scientists and Engineers Compare?

Scientists usually study how things work in nature and in the laboratory. Engineers are known for making new products or fine-tuning things that someone else may have made and tested. In their work, they often apply concepts the scientists have already learned.

After using the Scientific Method, scientists usually write articles or books about their findings to help others understand what they’ve found. On the other hand, after using the Engineering Design Process, engineers share their designs for products or new technologies with the world.

Looking at Beets in Both Engineering and Science!

During your stew project, the Engineering Design Process helped your family determine that beets might not be a fitting choice. If you don’t mind pink potatoes, turnips, and broth, however, beets can be very tasty. In fact, there’s a kind of very red beet soup called “borscht” that many people like.

One team member mentions they’ve read an interesting article in a magazine about the benefits of beet juice. They tell the family how scientists used the Scientific Method to prove that beet juice can be good for our health.

Evidently, our bodies turn elements found in beet juice into molecules that help our blood flow to our brains or muscles and can also lower high blood pressure. You wondered, recently, about a bottle of beet juice on the shelf at the grocery store. Now you understand why someone might want to drink that or even add it to their cooking…pink color, and all!

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