What is the Engineering Design Process?
Engineers design solutions to problems using a series of steps called the Engineering Design Process (EDP). The Engineering Design Process has seven steps that are meant to be followed in a continuous feedback loop when you are building or designing a solution. It starts with defining the problem, doing background research, specifying requirements, brainstorming solutions, designing a prototype, testing it and, communicating the results.
Engineering is Elementary has simplified these for grades 1-5 with Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Improve. They are working on making them relevant for preschool by further simplifying to Explore, Create, and Improve. We will explore the role of EDP in the preschool STEM classroom and how we can use this process to encourage and facilitate social-emotional learning.
What is Social and Emotional Learning?
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), as defined by CASEL, involves how children and adults learn to understand and manage emotions, set goals, show empathy for others, establish positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
CASEL describes SEL in terms of five core competencies: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, Responsible Decision Making Each of these competencies relates to explicit skills that can be taught in many settings and in many ways.
Let’s explore how to use the Engineering Design Process to teach SEL in preschool classrooms.
Encouraging and Facilitating SEL through Engineering
Engineering shows up in many ways in the preschool classroom and the block center is an almost universal example. As preschool teachers, we see it all the time. Kids rushing to the block center saying they are going to build the tallest building, or a ramp for their cars, or a dog house, or even entire cities with bridges, roads, and buildings. They eagerly chat about what they are going to build and why often sharing all the reasons they think their friend’s block creation won’t work or will work. If we refer back to the EDP, we see that they are asking, imagining and planning as part of their play. Then they busily gather materials and continue to chat about how they will build it, even as they get underway with their projects. Here students are creating and improving on their design and build.
Inevitably, one of the towers falls. One of the designs they thought would work falls apart. They run out of the blocks they need. These scenarios result in frustration or kids giving up, but it’s in these moments that the engineering design process can help smooth things over and help build perseverance, resilience and an attitude of problem-solving.
A teacher can step in and point out that just like engineers this is all part of the process and can guide them in following the steps of the EDP, specifically asking “What DID work?” “What are some things you could do differently next time?”
This type of problem-solving helps kids feel empowered, creates confidence in themselves and builds perseverance. Working together through the EDP builds relationship skills and allows children to be active participants in their own learning. This brief example shows one of the many ways the Engineering Design Process can promote SEL in the everyday preschool classroom.
The Egg Drop Challenge in the context of a Unit on the Life Cycle of a Chicken
Next, we will explore the ways the EDP can promote Social and Emotional Learning in a structured STEM lesson plan.
One of our units has students hatching fertilized chicken eggs and learning about the life cycle of a chicken. There is a classroom incubator for hatching and a chicken coop for raising chickens and laying their eggs. After learning all about the life cycle and experiencing it hands-on, students noticed that sometimes the eggs in the chicken coop would fall from the nesting box.
This led us to create a lesson plan that used the EDP to design a contraption that would protect the fragile egg from breaking should it fall. We used the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” to set the stage and explained the concept of fragile. We further shared that in the wild, hens have to protect their eggs from predators.
We explained that we would be using our collective engineering minds to help protect the eggs from falls and predators. The students asked questions and we began imagining solutions. We set out some materials and the students each chose whether they would be protected from a fall or from a predator.
They began creating their solutions and imagined how the cotton balls around the straws would be enough to stop a fox from biting the egg and crushing it, or how the paper and popsicle sticks would come together to help soften the fall should the egg fall.
We tested our creations and worked together to choose the ones that worked and then collaborated to create a super solution that used all the things that worked from the other solutions and learned from things that didn’t work in the other solutions. Using this new information, we worked as a team to refine the creations.
Across this lesson, children are building SEL skills such as compassion, confidence, empathy, teamwork and how to solve problems, amongst many others.
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