Engineering is …
and making things better
Through That’s Engineering series of stories, explore the ideas and activities that engineers use, learn about the Engineering Design Process and solve real problems working with others in person and online.
Stories are online resources, videos, puzzles, and real world problems. Explore and think about the challenge questions. Do some investigation. Then share your ideas, resources and questions in the online conversations as comments, blog posts, even podcast or movies.
So come along and join in. Start where ever you like. Read the story. Check out the resources we found. Think about the questions. Come up with your own questions. Find some answers and more questions. Share. Be sure to see what others are contributing. Does this get you thinking? Can you provide some answers?
There are several projects listed. Each has some questions and challenges. Pick several to complete and share your experiences by writing a short description in the Comments box at the bottom of this page. Read through the comments and reply with your own questions to keep the conversation going.
Watch for new stories and challenges being added to the Engineering 4 Kids web site.
- the use of science and math to design or make things.
- the discipline and profession of applying scientific knowledge and utilizing natural laws and physical resources in order to design and implement materials, structures, machines, devices, systems, and processes that realize a desired objective and meet specified criteria.
- the silent E in STEM or STEAM (Arts) or STREAM (Reading). Most K-8 educators have little or no background in engineering.
To learn more about engineering concepts and projects, there is lots of information online to explore and practice engineering.
Science and Engineering
- Scientists study the world as it is; engineers create the world that has never been. — Theodore von Kármán
- Scientists typically seek multiple strands of evidence to support or refute claims about the natural world (Scientific Method), while engineers use an iterative problem solving process to meet specific, often human-related, needs (Engineering Design Process).
Intro to Engineering videos
There are plenty of videos online that introduce engineering. Here are several. Watch 1-2 to get the idea.
- NASA for Kids: Intro to Engineering (video 2:42) What is engineering, and who exactly is an engineer?
- Think Like an Engineer (video 5:06) Do you like using your imagination to build things that solve problems? If you do, you’re thinking like an engineer! Learn how engineers identify and solve problems, then help Jessi with a big problem of her own!
- What is Engineering? (4:17) – Engineering explained – from mobile phones to the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building), computer games and toothpaste to the Sydney Harbor Bridge and airplanes.
- NASA Now: Designing a New Martian Rover (6:20) – Aerospace engineer Jennifer Keyes shows how NASA engineers developed a concept rover capable of traveling large distances on Mars. Engineering Design Process (starts 4:33)
Q: Do these descriptions help you understand what engineering is? Have you seen a better explanation? Share a link to a resource.
Meet the Engineers
People who do engineering are called engineers. They learn engineering at a college or university. Engineers usually design or build things. Some engineers also use their skills to solve technical problems. There are different types of engineers that design everything from computers and buildings to watches and websites. People have been engineering things for thousands of years.
- Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 – 1519) – Renaissance artist and engineer
- Theodore von Kármán (1881 – 1963) Known as the father of supersonic flight. Made major contributions to aviation and space technology, aerodynamics, and improved aircraft performance during an illustrious career.
- Inspiring the next generation of female engineers – Debbie Sterling (video 17:) – a engineer and the creator of the GoldieBlox engineering toys that combine reading + construction.
Q: What are some engineering disciplines that interest you? Share profiles of engineers who do interesting jobs.
Paper airplanes are a great introduction to the Engineering Design Process with a hands-on project. All you need is a piece of paper. Follow these instructions to create your plane and test fly it.
- Ask – What is a simple hands-on project to show how engineers work?
- Imagine – What “materials” are available to everyone? What is a simple project that everyone can do?
- Plan – Have a piece of paper for everyone. View or print the paper plane instructions. Find a time and a place for the project. [.pdf]
- Build / Create – Make the panes. Test fly them several times. Record the distance flown each time. What were the flight characteristics? Did it fly straight? Did it loop? Did it crash or glide? Notice how you hold the plane and “launch” it for each test flight? Does this make a difference?
- Improve – Based on your tests, how can you improve how your plane flies? Can you make it fly further? What can you do for better results?
Keep track of your progress. This is what engineers do. They go through this process for everything they create. Sometimes the steps take months working with dozens of people. Other times, like you, you hardly notice that you are using the Engineering Design Process because you are just thinking about these ideas and then making small changes.
Q: What changes did you make to improve the performance of your plane? What did others do? Did you try their suggestions? Share your experience in the comments.
Engineers are usually good at spatial visualization = representing three-dimensional objects. This is a skill, that you can learn and improve with practice. Most girls need more opportunities for building visualization and spatial reasoning skills.
- Spatial Visualisation quiz – Rotations – Take the test.
- Spatial awareness puzzles rely on your ability to visualize and mentally manipulate objects in an environment. Spatial reasoning often requires comprehending 2D or 3D space. These spatial puzzles and games test your ability to grasp the relationship and orientation of an object to its environment and any neighboring objects. Prove your spatial intelligence by conquering these challenging online spatial games. (some require Flash Player.)
Q: How is your spatial reasoning ability? Try the test. Play some of the puzzles. This is a skill that gets better with practice.
Measurements and units
Measurement – Technology makes it possible to measure things very precisely. Atomic clocks keep time to an accuracy of one millionth of a second per year. Lasers can measure distance to a millionth of a meter. A scientist’s most important tools are the ones used for measuring – telescopes, spectroscopes, microscopes, stethoscopes, radar, thermometers, corers, Geiger counter, scales, barometers. –Bill Nye, Episode 97
- How can I measure that? – Have a look at the images and enter the common name of the measuring device often used by engineers! For each question fill in the appropriate answer. The answer box will turn green if your response is correct and red if incorrect.
Q: Think about all the things we measure every day. How many different units do we use – feet, inches, gallons, just to name a few?
Grand Challenges for Engineering program is aimed at inspiring young engineers across the globe to address the biggest challenges facing humanity in the 21st Century. From the need to develop affordable clean energy solutions and increase access to renewable environmental resources, to facing new challenges in health care, these challenges potentially impact on the quality of all our lives. These global grand challenges are huge in scope and address the biggest current concerns of all the world’s citizens. These Grand Challenges fall into four cross-cutting themes: Sustainability, Health, Security, and Joy of Living.
Q: Does one of these challenges seem particularly important to you? As an engineer, how would you go about meeting this challenge? What impact could your solutions have?
Share what you know
The best way to really understand something is to teach it to someone else. Creating a portfolio of your work is a nice way to show what you know and see the progress you make. Although there are many different “deliverables” that serve the purpose, creating Public Service Announcements (PSAs) about topics of interest can have additional impact.
- Writing Public Service Announcements – A public service announcement is a non-commercial message directed toward the public and the community. Public service announcements, or PSAs as they’re often called, are most common on television and radio due to the Federal Communication Commission’s requirement of stations to run a minimum amount of programming and information for the community.
Q: For the challenge that interests you, create a PSA – 30-90 seconds and can be audio or video. Research what the world needs to know about ____, and what they can do about _____. * Then create a PSA to demonstrate that information and understanding.
Engineers are lifelong learners. Most of what they do is solve problems without knowing everything about the problem and come up with a solution that didn’t exist before.
Q: What does it mean to be a Lifelong learner? How do you become good at being a lifelong learner?
- Engineering (Simple Wikipedia)
- Engineering Design Process
- Scientific Method
For educators, parents, facilitators, learning guides – lesson plans, strategies, resources
- NGSS Engineering Design * search engineering 1,900+ resources
- NASA – Educators – search resources keyword engineering
- Teach Engineering – a searchable, web-based digital library collection comprised of standards-based engineering curricula for use by K-12 educators to make applied science and math come alive through engineering design in K-12 settings.
- Engineering in the Classroom examples of how the NGSS engineering standards are used at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — a leading center for robotic exploration of the solar system.
- Engineering fundamentals – Engineering Design Process, problem solving and question formulation technique
- Applied math – data analysis, computer aided design, machine learning
- Systems – in nature – life, earth, physical as well as man-made – designed and built
- Simulation, augmented and virtual reality – explore, practice, fail and improve