Exploring the Engineering Design Process

Exploring the engineering design process.


Even though the wind turbine she was building had just collapsed, the third grade puffer2student in Ellen Puffer’s class at King Elementary smiled and maintained her focus.  “It’s so hard,” she said, as she continued to perfect her design.  After a couple more attempts she realized it wasn’t working and started building a different base to add strength to the structure.  “The smaller contraption is better, actually,” she shared as she tested it again.

Students in Puffer’s class are designing cars, creating structures, building catapults and solving problems with STEM activity kits they purchased with an It’s My I.D.E.A grant.  Puffer says this innovative way of “doing science” resonates with the students and pushes them to think about concepts at a deeper level and in a more relatable way.

“Students are always excited when it is a design day. They are eager to talk to each other about what they are planning and why. Once they have tested out a design, it is much easier for them to explain what worked, what didn’t work, and the reasoning behind it.”-Ellen Puffer, King Elementary


Classmates work with the same materials, but manipulate them differently so each project is unique.  For example, one student used pieces in a kit to build what he called a “robot” while another girl used the same materials to build a “hideout.”  Puffer always asks students to explain what they are creating, why they are creating it and what they can do to improve their design. She believes this approach nurtures creativity and allows students to experience science rather than just take in facts.

“Conversations about specific scientific concepts are more meaningful when students can tie it to a personal experience.With the grant, I was able to purchase resources that could be used year after year as well as shared among teachers” –Ellen Puffer


Puffer’s grant totaled $471.86 and served 36 students in the 2015-2016 school year. The initial cost is $13.10 per student, but the materials can be reused for years to come.