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Intro to Engineering

posted Mar 19, 2015, 9:30 AM by mdreyfus@ctkschool.org   [ updated Sep 11, 2016, 3:28 PM by kmcmillan@ctkschool.org ]
When asked “Do you know what engineering is?” most people will emphatically reply that they do; however, when they’re then asked what does an engineer do?  What is something you have used today that has been engineered?”,  they struggle.


Engineering can be defined as the application of practical and scientific knowledge to the solving of a problem through the use of a methodical process.

More simply put, at its most fundamental level engineering is problem solving.


The term “design” was listed above, but what exactly does this mean? 

A simpler definition might be: Design is thinking of and creating something new, or adapting something old to solve a problem and/or satisfy a need.  One should note that this definition has the key words “problem solving” again.


There are many different types of engineers, each specializing in a different field of knowledge, each with a specific set of problems they specialize in solving.  There are almost as many fields of engineering as there are fields of scientific inquiry!  Some examples are listed below. Keep in mind that this list is not all-inclusive.

  • Acoustical Engineering
  • Aeronautical Engineering
  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Agricultural Engineering
  • Architectural Engineering
  • Automotive Engineering
  • Biological Engineering
  • Biomechanical Engineering
  • Biomolecular Engineering
  • Ceramic Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Control Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Electronic Engineering
  • Energy Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Heating, Venting, Refrigerating & Air-Conditioning Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Manufacturing Engineering
  • Materials Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Mechatronics
  • Metallurgical Engineering
  • Mining Engineering
  • Molecular Engineering
  • Nano Engineering
  • Naval / Ocean / Marine Engineering
  • Nuclear Engineering
  • Optical Engineering
  • Paper Engineering
  • Petroleum Engineering
  • Plastics Engineering
  • Power Engineering
  • Process Engineering
  • Structural Engineering
  • Systems Engineering
  • Thermal Engineering
  • Transportation Engineering

The Engineering Process

The engineering design process is a series of steps that engineers follow when they are trying to solve a problem and design a solution for something; it is a methodical approach to problem solving.

The design process in its simplest terms can be seen as a 3-step loop: 


As discussed above, there is no single engineering design process.  Throughout this course students will use an 11-step design process as they conceptualize, design, and create a robot to compete in head-to-head robotics competition.  The process used is seen below.

Step 1 – UNDERSTAND – Define the Problem

Step 2 – EXPLORE – Do Background Research

Step 3 – DEFINE – Determine Solution Specifications

Step 4 – IDEATE – Generate Concept Solutions

Step 5 – PROTOTYPE – Learn How Your Concepts Work

Step 6 – CHOOSE – Determine a Final Concept

Step 7 – REFINE – Do Detailed Design

Step 8 – PRESENT – Get Feedback & Approval

Step 9 – IMPLEMENT – Implement the Detailed Solution

Step 10 – TEST – Does the Solution Work?

Step 11 – ITERATE


Every student involved in competition robotics will have the opportunity to work on a design team at some point.  There are a number of considerations they should keep in mind to achieve success:
  • One should always keep an open mind.  It is important to allow crazy ideas to develop.  The most likely time for a creative solution to be found is early in the design process when wild ideas are expressed.
  • No one should become overly attached to any single idea - especially one they created.  It is easy to become blinded to other ideas simply because “they aren’t mine.”
  • One should not become defensive regarding the opinions of others.  Defend one’s own opinions and ideas but always focus on the ultimate goal of providing the best solution possible.
  • One should always stay positive, even when discussing negatives.
  • Engineering is based in logic.  One should focus on factual arguments, not those based on opinions.  Emotion should not be allowed to interfere with the process.
  • It is important not to be offended if disagreements occur, even if things get heated and criticisms are overly harsh.  Most engineers get passionate during design discussions and will often be very blunt. It is important not to take this personally.
  • An unjustified opinion is not useful.  Team members must be able to describe WHY they like or dislike something.
  • This is NOT rhetoric, it is engineering.  In rhetoric, the person who argues best will be most persuasive.  In engineering, the person who has the best argument will be most persuasive.  It is not the one who can speak the best but the one who can provide quantitative proof that will win an argument and prove their idea is better!  It is important to be quantitative wherever possible.

Design Challenge

Using nothing but ten letter size sheets of paper, students must create a freestanding tower as tall as possible in 30 minutes.  Students are required to spend 5 minutes planning and designing their tower before they receive any materials.  Students will then be given ten sheets of paper and allowed ten minutes for prototyping; at the end of the prototyping period ALL paper and prototypes will be collected.  Teams will then be given 15 minutes to implement their final tower design.  The tower must remain freestanding for at least 30 seconds for its height to count.

Reflection Questions

  1. What does an engineer do?
  2. What is something that you have used today that was designed by an engineer?
  3. Why are constraints and limits an important part of the engineering process?
  4. Describe the process used to design and build your tower. List each step. How did you or did you not follow the engineering process?
  5. How many solutions did your team consider? Did you think about the possibilities enough?
  6. Did you divide up the work or all focus on the same task?
  7. What were some ways your team worked well? What were some ways you could have worked better?