Your school has a big problem.  It was built a long time ago, so the stairs do not have a way for a wheelchair to get up.  Now they have their very first student in a wheelchair.  Not only would it be really hard to carry the wheelchair and the kid up and down the stairs when they come to school or leave, but it's embarrassing for the new kid.  This needs to be figured out and fast.  The school does not have enough money to pave a way up the stairs.  Do you think you could figure it out?  It's time to start thinking like an engineer. 

The first two steps to any engineering problem is to figure out what you have to do and then look at ways you can do it.  To define a problem means to figure out exactly what you are trying to fix.  In this case, you need to find a way to get wheels to roll up the three steps in front of your school.  That was easy.  What's the next step?  Research is looking for information and facts that can help you.  By looking on the Internet, you see that some people have built a path up stairs by building a ramp on top of them.  Or they have built an elevator.  You are probably not going to be able to build a whole machine.  Ramp it is!  Looks like you are ready for the next step.  
You've probably seen a ramp before...let's talk about what it would be like to build one.

Before you start building, you'll need a plan.  To plan is to come up with exactly what you're going to do before you start doing it.  This also means you should choose what days you'll build and who need to be there to help.  The best way to start is to draw or list your ideas.  How will you make sure the ramp does not slide down the stairs?  What type of wood or metal are the wheels going to roll up?  Keep in mind that you do not have a lot of money.  You could find some cardboard for free, but it would not hold up anything as heavy as a person, and if it was rained on, it would fall apart.  Oak is very strong, but it's very heavy and hard to cut.  So maybe you can use redwood.  Great!  Now you can start to build.  

This is going to take some time.  You spent a lot of time on your plan and you bought all the things you need.  The next step in the process is to make or create the ramp for the first time.  To create is to make something.  This is going to take some time.  Good thing you are nice enough to give up your weekends to work to help the new student out.  At last, after a couple of weeks of work, you get the ramp made and ready to test. 

So how did you do?  The next step is to look at what you made and see what other people think.  To evaluate means to review everything you did to see if there are ways to improve.  You stomp on it.  You throw water on it.  You have a few friends stand on it at the same time.  You ask people to look at it to see if it looks safe.  It's still standing!  The people like it!  Now, you only have one final step.  
Cardboard is cheap and abundant...but it's probably not great for building with.

To test means to use something the way it was meant to be used to see if it works or not.  So you have the new student roll up the ramp in his wheelchair.  Uh-oh.  Bad news.  He can't roll up it!  It's way too steep!  But that's ok.  This is how Engineering works.  Sometimes it takes a few tries before you get everything right.  You learn something new from each try and the next time it comes out even better than before.  To share what you learned, you make a presentation to share with your class.  Even though it didn't work, you learned something and want to help other people to learn from your mistake too.  To communicate is to share what you did and learned with other people.  This helps make sure that no one makes the same mistake again and everyone learns how to build things better! 
How hard could it be to make a model bridge?

You will need to do all of those steps again, to build the next one.  You will need to define your problem, to figure out what you need to fix.  The ramp stays up, but it's too steep.  You need to research ways this has been fixed in the past.  Oh, look.  Someone came up with a way to build a longer ramp from the top of the stairs to farther away from the bottom step.  To plan means to figure out what you want to do and how you can do it.  It helps to draw.  If you find a longer plank and support it from beneath, it should work.  To create means to make something new.  You have to build it again, but better the second time.  Evaluate means to review everything you did to see if you can do it better.  Stomp on it!  Throw water on it!  Ask people to look at it to tell you what they think.  At last, to test means to try it out to see if it works.  The new student rolls forward . . . forward . . . up . . . up . . . up!  Success!  Now you are ready for the very last step.  To communicate means to talk about something.  Go out and share your results!  
So many types of wood, so little time!


PBS.  "The Design Process in Action", 2011.  <>

Teach Engineering.  "What is Engineering?  What is Design?", 2013.  <>