What were they thinking?

There are engineering stories behind existing machines, tools and man-made structures. Engineers like to learn by doing. So we have put together a series of stories about the design and building of machines, tools and man-made structures to introduce engineering ideas, concepts associated with real world problems or needs. These are solutions that were built but there could have been many different “answers.” This is Engineering. At some point someone has to decide that a proposed solution is “perfect enough” and that’s what gets done.

Your challenge is to review these engineered solutions, re-examine the problem or need, and work through the Engineering Design Process yourself. We provided ideas and resources along with some details or questions in each story.

Even if you can’t actually design and build solutions presented, you can “do” the design challenges – work through the problem solving and building steps of the original engineers. These stories are examples of engineering problems that have already been solved at least once.

The “challenge” is to read about the solution and back-track through the [/Engineering%20Design%20Process Engineering Design Process] to ask the questions that the “engineers” must have considered to come up with this solution. What were the “requirements”? What were the “essential components”?

Each story includes links to information about the underlying engineering principles and tools used by the original engineers. So if you want to know more, explore the web sites linked to the story.

Engineered solution – an existing machine or man-made structure. It can be something from the ancient world or something new.

Engineering – creating solutions with ideas, processes, tools, exploring the “designed world” that is different from scientific method and the natural world.

  • Scientists ask questions about the world around us, whereas engineers modify the world to adapt it to our needs. Scientific inquiry is concerned with what is, while engineering design is focused on what can be. *

Examples of Engineered Solutions
Everything man-made is an “engineered solution.” Somebody thought there was a need so they designed and created something – a solution. The process of figuring out the problem and making a solution is “engineering”.

Step through the Engineering Design Process asking the questions that the “engineers” must have considered to come up with this solution. What are the important facts about the problem? What were the “requirements”? What were the “essential components”? What special problems did they have to overcome with engineering?

Included are links to information about the underlying engineering principles and tools used by the original engineers. Suggested hands-on activities for projects to show the engineering challenge are provided.


Modern challenges

Air and Space

Early American Living

Environment, Society

Serious Fun

  • Redesign Santa’s Sleigh – December 2012
  • Toys introducing engineering with toys specifically designed to demonstrate simple machines
  • Bridges – build a bridge online, with a mobile app or with gumdrops and toothpicks

We would love to get your feedback on the challenges themselves. But more importantly, we hope that you will share your solutions with us and the rest of the world – create your own Show and Tell. Send us a link and we will added it to the story.

Learn more…