The Engineering Design Process--it really is like the scientific method! The five simple steps walk us from a question to a solution, just like the scientific method. The words along the way are a little different though, so let's take a moment to go over those before we go any further...
Part 1: Asking Questions
Every engineering challenge begins with a question--and guess what? Children are natural questioners! That means you can create engineering challenges out of just about any situation during the day.
As a parent, there's a few things you want to keep in mind while formulating engineering questions. First of all, you want to make sure that the question can't be answered with one word. Complex questions encourage deeper thinking right from the start!
Imagine the different responses you might get from the following questions:
While one question could be answered with some simple research, the other requires exploration and imagination. It encourages children to think of the answer as a process, rather than an abstract concept.
This phase of the Engineering Design Process is often referred to as "defining the problem." A crucial aspect of the problem that needs to be defined is the scope; this means addressing the needs, rules, and limitations of the problem (the "constraints").
In the case of our solar s'mores above, the constraints outlined in the question are:
Specificity is important when defining an engineering problem, so an additional constraint might address what makes the s'mores considered "cooked" vs "not cooked".
Now, parents, you're faced with a decision: do you (a) plan out all of the constraints prior to beginning the challenge, or (b) make your child a part of the constraint-brainstorming process?
In many ways, the answer to that question is dependent upon the circumstances and focus of the problem. For example, if you are planning an engineering challenge to address a specific concept, then prior planning would be helpful to keep the focus of the challenge on track. If the learning moment is more spontaneous though, you and your child will likely brainstorm constraints on-the-fly and based on what's nearby.
Remember earlier when I said that really obvious thing, ya know, about kids being natural questioners? Well, soooo many of these questions can lead to amazing engineering explorations with the right prompting from you. Encourage your children to ask how something works or how they can accomplish something.
Struggling to get strong, probing questions from your little ones? Don't worry! You can build this skill with practice. Consider the following moments...
On an average day, your response might sound like...
What if you transformed those exclamations into questions?
By posing these complex, thought-provoking questions in every day circumstances, you build your child's ability to see the engineering challenges present in their lives.
Of course, once you have a question, it's time to start looking for answers! I'll see you next time with innovative and creative brainstorming techniques to get your little ones thinking!
Solar- Powered Engineering Challenges
The National Academy of Engineering has posed 14 Grand Challenges for Engineering in the 21st century. One of these challenges is to "make solar energy more economical."