BrainPOP Science Launches Engineering Projects to Middle Schoolers
Research shows that as students transition from elementary to middle school, their enthusiasm for science decreases. Engineering offers a hands-on, creative outlet, and also frequently entails collaborative problem solving within a team. When engineering becomes an integral part of science education, it sparks heightened interest and engagement among students.
BrainPOP Science wants to keep that spark alive. We’ve always believed in nurturing the natural curiosity of middle school students during their transition from asking simple questions to wanting to know more about the world around them.
Our 100+ science investigations and phenomena are an essential piece of helping kids learn scientific concepts, but we know that scientific principles also have many applications.
That’s why we’ve launched Engineering Projects to teach middle school students how design thinking can be used to solve real-world problems.
These projects will inspire students to think about science as more than facts and formulas; it’s a way to explore the world around them and find creative solutions for everyday challenges. Through engineering endeavors, students are granted the ability to address tangible issues within their communities, fostering a sense of empowerment and self-efficacy.
Our Approach to Engineering
Our Engineering Projects are aligned with multidimensional science content and practices for science and engineering (SEPs) while leveraging the multimodal immersive experiences in BrainPOP Science to build knowledge and scientific practices. Our focus on inquiry-based learning enables students to inquire, explore, and investigate the natural world to seek explanations. Students engage in scientific and engineering practices (SEPs) as they work through each project.
What Are Engineering Projects?
Engineering Projects in BrainPOP Science engage students in challenges, inviting them to apply their design and solution thinking through our engineering design process, mimicking many of the design processes engineers use in their fields. Instead of just reading about how things work, they create solutions themselves. And we know that to make learning impactful, it has to be relatable. That’s why these Engineering Projects are based on real-life situations, like…
Engineering Problem: Oh no! You’ve dropped your keys through a sewer grate.
Engineering design task: Design a tool to get your keys back.
Our projects present problems students may face personally or at the school level, and guide them in finding solutions. By doing this, we’re helping them build skills that are not just useful for a class or a grade but for life.
The Design Process Behind Engineering Projects
Like most engineering design processes, our EDP is non-linear. A BrainPOP Science Engineering Project includes an introduction and five EDP steps. Steps are “unlocked” as the student works.
Brainstorm: Students start by learning about the design problem and using sticky notes to openly brainstorm creative ideas, look at available resources and success criteria, and consider the problem’s constraints. Then, given the information, they select which idea is the best.
In our Simple Machines project, students are first given the following design problem: “You dropped your keys through a sewer grate. Brainstorm your wildest ideas for a tool to get your keys back.”
They can do so using the material list provided, mostly consisting of recycled items or items you can find around your classroom, and a list of criteria and constraints.
Research: Students investigate the scientific principles that might help them retrieve their keys. They are guided through a short set of resources to find the scientific concepts that support their design solutions.
We want students to base their design on scientific principles rather than “tinker” towards a solution. Here students will engage with interactive resources like our Simple Machines “In Depth” Related Reading, Levers Movie, and Pulleys Movie.
Design: Students design their initial solution. They’ll use the key science concepts learned from the research to sketch out a plan.
Students will then use the drawing tool to sketch a design. This could be designing a claw on a string, a dustbin approach, or any other brilliant idea they’ve brainstormed.
Build and Test: Students build and test their design. They’ll construct prototypes using accessible materials and iterate in real life. This is where students will put their designs to the test.
Here are some sample prototypes and the criteria the prototypes would have to meet:
- Measure the width of your tool at the widest point. Would it fit through a grate that is 8 centimeters wide and 4 centimeters long?
- Measure the length of your tool. Is it at least 1 meter long?
- Attempt to pick up keys with your tool. Does it pick up the keys and hold them for at least 5 seconds?
- After picking up the keys with your tool, can you pull the keys and your tool through the grate and into your hand?
Redesign: Students return to the design step after testing their prototype to make adjustments, incorporate what they’ve learned, and make improvements.
If it didn’t work the first time, that’s okay! Students learn from their experiences and observations to make necessary changes. Maybe you they to adjust the length of their device or choose a different simple machine.
Evaluate: Students review the evolution of their design history from brainstorming to drafts created after introducing constraints, key science concepts, and prototype test results.
The evaluate step includes machine-graded questions where students apply their knowledge of the science concepts from their research and lived experience to find the limitations of other prototypes.
You can now find our first two Engineering Projects in BrainPOP Science under our Work and Simple Machines Unit and Reproduction and Growth Unit, and we’ll continue to expand coverage throughout the year.
FAQs About Engineering Projects
What materials and resources will be required for each project?
A materials list will be available to teachers. Cost will be kept low, and materials will be easy to access (e.g., plastic water bottles, string, magnets, etc.). We will also design smaller projects that can be completed entirely online and within BrainPOP Science using simulations for designs and testing.
Do these engineering projects align with my state science standards?
Yes, all of our Engineering Projects are aligned to all state standards and NGSS.
How much class time will each project take from start to finish?
On average, about two hours. However, each Engineering Project teacher guide includes an estimated time for helpful planning.
Are there any assessment rubrics or guides provided for teachers?
You will have access to our teacher guides that will provide step-by-step guidance on the process, including answers to each research question, differentiation guidance, and sample designs.
An embedded scoring rubric will also allow you to grade multiple versions of students’ work in a simple and organized approach that is aligned with engineering best practices.
Mar y Sol Esparza is a product marketing manager at BrainPOP, and a former teacher and curriculum writer. She holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Education and Social Policy from Northwestern University.