Getting Started with the Engineering Cycle

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S.T.E.A.M. learning, which incorporates Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics, is such a buzz word among educators.  Whether you are new to S.T.E.M and S.T.E.A.M instruction or you are looking to enhance your practice, having a strong understanding of the design cycle is crucial for young engineers.  The cycle is fluid, meaning students will move forwards and backwards through the five components as they complete projects.  Students will become comfortable with trial and error when learning in a S.T.E.A.M./S.T.E.M environment.   Learning takes place in the "failure" moments.
Once a problem has been identified, students will conduct an investigation and research what others have done and learn more about about the topic.  During this phase of the cycle, it is also important to find out which materials are available. Information gathered should be recorded- journals and graphic organizers work well.

As students move through the cycle, they may return to this phase in order to do additional research and investigation regarding issues that arise during other phases.

After investigating the topic, students will use creativity and background knowledge to develop possible solutions.  Plans may include sketches, lists of criteria, and strategies to consider when creating solutions.  Before moving on to the next phase, students will need to choose one idea.

As students move through the cycle, they may return to this phase in order to add to sketches and add additional ideas of ways to approach the problem to develop a solution.  


After developing a plan of action, students will develop a prototype of their solution using their chosen design.

Students may return to this phase when improvements are made to the design after evaluating and planning out next steps.
After creating a solution, students test their product and think of how the design can be improved.

Students often cycle through again by adding to their investigation notes information gathered during testing of their solution.  Suggestions of solutions are added, and applied as they move through the create phase once more.

As students evaluate, they describe challenges that arose as they sought an answer to the problem.  They may make suggestions for next steps or additional materials that could be used to make the solutions stronger.

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When I taught S.T.E.A.M. and S.T.E.M. lessons with my students, I used flip-cards as a tangible reminder of the cyclical aspect of the engineering cycle. As students become more comfortable with the design cycle, they will be more willing to tweak and puzzle through problems that arise, which create stronger solutions!

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I would love to hear how you introduce the S.T.E.A.M and S.T.E.M with your students and how you guide them through the various phases of the engineering cycle!

Happy Engineering!
Stephanie

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