If you’re teaching a STEM class, the engineering design process will be one of the most important parts of your curriculum. But what exactly is it? And what are the steps of the engineering design process? Read on to find out!
What is the engineering design process?
The engineering design process is a problem solving strategy used in STEM based education and in real-world engineering. The iterative process is used to develop and refine solutions. If you google “engineering design process” you’ll find many different versions, but they are all similar and include the same general flow of actions. One of my favorite versions for middle school is shown below. Click here for a FREE copy!
What are the 6 steps of the engineering design process?
1. Define the Problem
First, engineers discover the problem and they identify the project criteria and constraints. This step may include completing a design brief.
2. Generate Concepts
Next, engineers conduct background research to learn more about the problem and possible solutions. Then they brainstorm how they will solve the problem and select the best idea to develop by comparing their brainstormed solutions to the project requirements. This step may include completing a decision matrix.
3. Develop a Solution
Then engineers create a detailed sketch of the chosen solution and identify the materials needed to bring it to life.
4. Construct and Test Prototype
Next, a testable model of the chosen solution is built. Observations are made and data is collected during the test.
5. Evaluate Solution
Then analyze the data and determine the effectiveness of the solution. Does it solve the problem? Were the criteria and constraints met? This step may include graphing data.
6. Present the Solution
Finally, document the project and communicate the product and process to clients and others. This step may include a project portfolio or formal presentation.
Please note that this process is iterative, meaning parts of it can be repeated as needed until a viable solution is created. For example, if an engineer begins building their solution and then finds that it isn’t possible to build their idea with the given materials, then they may return to “generate concepts” to do more research and brainstorming and develop a better solution. Or an engineer may get to evaluating their solution and find that there is a specific flaw in their prototype. They could return to “construct and test” and fix the problem, retest, and evaluate.
Also, there are times when the steps don’t occur in this exact order, and that’s OK too! This is an approach that guides students from problem to solution, but it isn’t rigid. Different problems may require slightly different approaches or more prototype iterations than others.
If you are looking for more information about STEM-based education and how to structure a STEM class, check out this article.
If you are looking for ready-to-go lesson plans and activities to teach your middle school students the engineering design process, click here!
Do you have lingering questions about the steps of the engineering design process? Leave a comment below, and I’ll get back to you!