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Design process Connect Stories Literature Selections Prek-5 grade differences
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Essential question:  How can we have fun and learn about many


Stories can be found in Fictional Literature as well as Social Studies and History.


The core idea of the approach is that engineering need not “stand alone” in the curriculum, but can and should leverage other curricular elements, in particular literature.

Outcome of this section: 
Looking to find a Design Challenge that one of the characters have that we can design a product or process to help them.



Getting Started:


We begin to enhance the learning process by using the engineering design methodology as a connector between literature, science & mathematics. Within this process is an infusion of thinking skill strategies, such as creative and critical thinking, questions and meta-cognitive reflection. The concept uses the existing comfort level of the elementary teachers and the student’s natural engineering abilities.

The process begins with literature, such as fairy tales, starting in the lower grades and leading to more sophisticated stories at older ages – stories that engage students. The underlining skills of the engineering design process are related to the science process, mathematical problem solving (process) and thinking skills. Thus the student is taught how to think skillfully.

"Engineering design challenges" are created by actionable items in the story and lead to inquiry based team projects that have a design theme. As an example, in the story "Island of the Blue Dolphins", the village leaves canoes on the side of a hill for escaping a potential attack. The heroine in the story has a difficult time getting one of them down the hill and into the water. A "design challenge" for the students could be to design a system to make it easier for her to lower the canoe.

Pre-existing skills needed by the students:

  Understand the design process and what engineers do.

·        What science are we going to learn or have we just finished.

·        How to work as a team (peer interaction).

·        Students tutoring other students. 

 Starts with viewing through the “Engineering Lens”

The students and teachers should focus on thinking like an engineer when reading the literature.  Questions of the story line, author and characters around the design of a product or process for society should be the instrument to begin.  We should invite them to ask creative questions, make diverse observations, explore multiple viewpoints, reflect on their thinking process and seek personal connections of the literature.  Examples:  Why is this a special moment for the character in the story? How can we as engineers, created something for the characters in the story that will make their actions better?



A teacher normal engages the students with the literature they are reading by asking skillful questions and using meta-cognitive reflection to bring out interesting areas of the story line.  What we are adding is an engineering lens on the process to focus those questions from an engineering designer’s viewpoint.


Define an approach for what you want the leaning outcome to be.

·        Do we want to emphasize the learning of the engineering design process?

·        Do we want to focus on a science strand within a design process?

·        Do we want to focus on teaching a thinking skill? Ie creative process

Pick a science strand to connect with, either one that you just studied (used for reinforcement) or one that you are going to study ( great Segue).

With an engineer’s perspective, use the normal teacher’s skills to engage students in the story.   …  Look at "story map" for ideas, think of engineering key words ( create, improve, identify, investigate, etc. ).  Think of the science you just studied.

Develop design challenges with the students.  Have a few in mind to channel the students towards these.

Integrate the engineering design and the science.  If you picked the science you just studied, you can ask the students to sort their design challenges around that science.  If you are going to focus on the up-coming science lesson, guide your students to view the design challenges around that science.   This will give you the teacher, a good segue into the new science lesson.

Use the 8 step design process or modified PreK-2 grade version.  Remember that the design process is cyclical in nature and having additional knowledge allows you to make better decisions.


Differentiated Learning


Lesson design: team-teaching and teachers focusing on their own intelligence strength; using all or several of the intelligence in lessons; asking students their opinions on how best to learn.

Steps in the design process
Differentiated learning elements


Teacher Strategies

Engage the students in the story by using questions that the students identify with some design challenges. 

As the facilitator, the requirements can be added to for steering the direction of what the design challenge solution has to do. 

  • You can have them use a certain science in the design

  • You can place the story in a certain location to involve science such as a ;design has to survive being located on a fault line.


Look for conflicts, changes in the story line and places where a new item could help one of the characters.


  • How can someone’s quality of life be improved?, How can we make a certain task easier?, How can we improve upon an existing product?

  • Focus on key words that relate to science and engineering such as, habitat, weather, materials & tools, devices to help society, survival, plant material, and the environment.

  • Challenge the author’s assumptions in the story line by looking with the engineering view. 

  • Have students brainstorm and decide on challenge they will work on.

  • If the author was an engineer, what would be added to the story? 

  • How can the students enhance this story with an invention?


Literacy Extensions: Show the similarities of the design process and reading and writing.


An open mind is playful and willing to be silly because the best ideas are often hidden within our minds away from our watchful judgmental selves.  The free flow of conflicting ideas is essential for creative thinking.

Look for changes in the story where the character is put into a different position, something changes or a statement is made that you can see opportunities to develop a product or provide a solution.

Starting with questions

If the design challenges don’t jump out to you or your class, a good way to start is by using the 5 W’s (Who, When, Where, What, Why) plus How in question format to begin. As an example you can ask yourself the following questions:

  • Based on your listening to the characters, what product could they use to make them better?, wiser? …

  • What problems do the characters have that we can develop a product or process to help them?

  • What item is mentioned in the story that we can design a better device for the story?

  • What activity or item that focuses around science (habitant, weather, energy, materials) can we design a device to change or enhance the story?

  • What science are we going to learn and can we connect it to our story?

  • What events are happening that we can focus on?

Students need questions to turn on their intellectual engines and they need to generate questions from our questions to get their thinking to go somewhere. Thinking is of no use unless it goes somewhere, and again, the questions we ask determine where our thinking goes.  

Remember: We are looking for many design challenges in a story and then we can pick the one that best suits our requirements!

What makes a good design challenge?

Solves a real problem
Tied to science and math
Can be done with paper or using simple materials
Can create many learning extensions from it
Can add your requirements to change the location or theme to suit your learning needs

Social Studies/ History

In our historical past their have been many problems individuals and society faced.  Using the design process, students will design an artifact or process to help solve the issue.

  1. We start off with the grade level and pick a story around the theme of that school year.  In grade 5, we might be studying about Jamestown or Plymouth.

  2. What design challenges can we work on that would engage our students and bring in solving a problem that people had in that period of History.

  3. As an example, we can work on a better water treatment system; transportation system, fire system, making homes better insulated and weather forecasting.


Templates:                                 Top


Outline Categories that could be used for a lesson plan outline
  Using Bloom's higher order thinking questions in an example with Goldilocks
See some examples:  
  Prepared by  Bill Wolfson.  Copyright © 2009-2012
Last Updated  08/18/2012