Encourage students to use engineering to find and solve real world problems. – Bay Area Discovery Museum

Encourage students to use engineering to find and solve real problems


Science and engineering can often feel like lofty or abstract concepts for students. Empowering students to seek out and identify problems in their daily lives helps them build empathy; giving students the tools to solve these problems through engineering helps them understand science and engineering as relevant to their lives and communities.

How to incorporate this in your classroom:

1. Model iterative problem solving.

The next time something in your classroom doesn’t go as planned, be vocal about how you identified the problem and verbalize the process you’ll use to assess and improve things. Use BADM’s engineering design process, “Think, Make, Try,” to explain how you are working through the problem and its solutions.

2. Allow students freedom to identify their own problems.

Ask your students to think about and identify the problems they encounter at school, in your classroom, or in other daily environments. Have them select one or two, and go through the engineering design process—think about the problem, make a prototype, try and retry—to arrive at a solution.

3. Discuss the issues real-world engineers are trying to solve.

Engineers are actively working on some of the biggest issues facing our society, such as renewable energy and affordable housing. Explore these topics with your students, and encourage them to come up with their own ideas or designs for solving the problem. To inspire students, share stories about other young people who have used engineering to address issues in their communities. One example is Boyan Slat, a teenager from the Netherlands who designed a method for removing plastic from the ocean.

Standards Alignment

The engineering standards of the Next Generation Science Standards are designed to be integrated into other science content areas.

Connecting engineering with other subject areas helps students practice using these skills. Encouraging students to think about how they can use engineering to improve their daily lives puts engineering concepts in a relevant context, and improves student engagement.
Learn more about Engineering Design in the NGSS

The Research Shows

Child-directed learning boosts motivation.

Inviting students to identify and work to solve a relevant problem creates a personal connection, which increases motivation. When children are able to take charge of their learning by exploring topics that are personally meaningful for them, it boosts intrinsic motivation. Children will want to learn more because they understand the relevance and importance, and not just because they feel they need to perform well or get a good grade.

*BADM's Published Research: CREATE Framework shares more ideas on creating child-directed learning environments.

See our Educational Research in Action

In our new Working with Wind STEM Workshop—held in BADM’s Fab Lab—students experiment with the real-life challenge of renewable energy sources. In this workshop, students discover properties of forces and explore a variety of technologies as they design and refine wind-powered machines.

This and other STEM Workshop programs—as well as visits from our Try It Truck—are available to book throughout the year! Browse hands-on STEM programs for students in Preschool to Grade 5.

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