Student using the Engineering Design Process

How the Engineering Design Process Improves Science Education


One of the primary goals of the Next Generation of Science Standards (NGSS) is to integrate the engineering design process (EDP) into science education. According to the National Research Council, the hope is that by raising engineering design to the same level as scientific inquiry, educators will spark interest in — and better prepare students for — entering STEM fields.

We anticipate that the insights gained and interests provoked from studying and engaging in the practices of science and engineering during their K-12 schooling should help students see how science and engineering are instrumental in addressing major challenges that confront society today, such as generating sufficient energy, preventing and treating diseases, maintaining supplies of clean water and food, and solving the problems of global environmental change (NRC 2012, p. 9).

According to research led by E. M. Silk, EDP not only makes science more relevant but also increases students’ scientific reasoning.

Regardless of whether your school district has adopted NGSS, you can improve science education by integrating EDP into their curriculum.

Studies Weekly Engineering Design Process

What is the Engineering Design Process?

EDP is a step-by-step guide that engineers use to solve problems. As your teachers implement this process, students will discover scientific solutions and learn core content along the way.

The engineering design process has six stages:

1. Ask — Identify a problem, then ask questions to understand it better.

2. Imagine — Brainstorm ideas on how to solve the problem.

3. Plan — Choose one idea and plan how to create the solution.

4. Create — Acquire any necessary materials and create the solution.

5. Test — See if the solution works by collecting and analyzing data, and evaluating strengthens and weaknesses.

6. Improve — Make adjustments to improve the solution, then test it again.

EDP-based activities do not have to include building something. They can be as simple as figuring out the best place to grow a plant. The point of integrating EDP is not to teach students how to build things, but to develop their critical thinking skills so they learn how to solve problems on their own.

Benefits of Using EDP in Science Education

In addition to increasing students’ scientific reasoning, here are other benefits to using EDP for science instruction:

Higher test scores. A study led by Kristen Wendell from Tufts University found that engineering-based instruction helped elementary school students do better on written tests for physical sciences.

Student engagement. EDP puts students in the role of scientist and allows them to learn the course material in a highly engaging way, according to research led by Ken L. Turner, Jr. from the University of Dubuque.

Better comprehension. Researchers Jennifer Mangold and Stefanie Robinson from UC Berkeley discovered that EDP-based units increased students’ excitement for the class materials. Also, the step-by-step process made it easier for students to understand assignments and follow instructions.

Integration. Mangold and Robinson also found that teachers can easily apply EDP to activities already included in their curriculum.

Increase in students’ skillset. Students develop practical skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and problem-solving. These skills help students excel in any field they choose.

Better retention. EDP provides students with a hands-on learning experience, which helps them internalize scientific concepts, according to Jann Ingmire’s Chicago News article in April 2015.

Promoting diversity. As students from marginalized groups master EDP, they’ll realize they can have a future in STEM, according to NGSS.

Developing a growth mindset. Because EDP involves creating and improving solutions, students will become confident that they can progress over time, according to researchers Kenneth Reid and Daniel M. Ferguson.

Using Studies Weekly Science Curriculum

For some teachers, coming up with engineering design process activities can seem daunting. That’s why each Studies Weekly Science issue includes a problem for students to solve. Using the information in the printed periodical or online platform, students can follow the six EDP stages to find a solution.

Studies Weekly’s K-5 science curriculum also has an entire unit dedicated to teaching students the engineering design process. This makes it easier for your teachers to integrate EDP into their classroom or online instruction. Once students understand the process, teachers can apply it to future projects.

Here’s an excerpt from our 4th Grade Science curriculum:

Engineering Design Process lesson from Studies Weekly 4th Grade Science Curriculum
Engineering Design Process lesson from Studies Weekly 4th Grade Science Curriculum

Give your teachers a head start on implementing engineering design with our K-5 standards-based Science curriculum.

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