Design Alongside STEM


Design Learning Process

Author: Design Learning Network

Science and Engineering Practices

Author: Next Generation Science Standards


Frame problem set worth solving

1.1  Engage in Fun Exercise

Students kick-off the challenge by experiencing a fun and playful sensory-based exercise – one that invites learners to explore key concepts, vocabulary, and skills

1.2  Conduct PRE-Challenge Assessment

Learners take a non-graded PRE-challenge assessment to capture student levels of understanding and depth of knowledge of key concepts – no more than 3-5 items

1.3  Unpack Key Concepts

Students discuss, unpack, and make sense of key concepts – as well as connections to prior knowledge and previous experiences

1.4  Identify the Problem

Learners discover a real-world problem worth solving – one that is relevant, doable within the allotted time, offers accessible resources, and aimed at purposeful contribution(s)

1.5  State the Problem

Students articulate the problem in the form of a statement – one that is easily understood without explanation

Asking questions and defining problems

A practice of science is to ask and refine questions that lead to descriptions and explanations of how the natural and designed world works and which can be empirically tested.

Engineering questions clarify problems to determine criteria for successful solutions and identify constraints to solve problems about the designed world.

Both scientists and engineers also ask questions to clarify ideas.


Develop challenge brief (project)

2.1  Define the Challenge 

Students transpose the problem statement into a human-centered design challenge – with the intent of producing a purposeful, creative, and innovative design solution

2.2  Ask Critical Question(s)

Learners pose a well-crafted critical question to guide the design learning process – one that embraces divergent thinking and is anchored in real-world context

2.3  Sort Habits of Mind

Students observe and study the context, needs, and wants of end users and stakeholders – habits of mind directly link to targeted problem set

2.4  Select Perspective

Learners choose one perspective in which to design your solution – art, design, humanities, science, technology, engineering, or math

2.5  Select Ecosystem Pathway

Students select one Ecosystem Pathway to Imagine Life the Year 2050 – home, work, learning, health, community, mobility, play, or agriculture

2.6  Consider Upcycling Source

Learners consider resources for upcycling design materials – such as reused materials, food cans, plastic bags, paper envelopes, clothing, etc.

2.7  Engage Content Experts

Students engage in dialogue with content experts – gain greater understanding of the context of the problem set being challenged

2.8  Check Assumptions

Learners generate a list of presumptions early in the process – then check resulting assumptions by gathering input and feedback from end users and stakeholders  

Developing and using models

A practice of both science and engineering is to use and construct models as helpful tools for representing ideas and explanations. These tools include diagrams, drawings, physical replicas, mathematical representations, analogies, and computer simulations.

Modeling tools are used to develop questions, predictions and explanations; analyze and identify flaws in systems; and communicate ideas. Models are used to build and revise scientific explanations and proposed engineered systems. Measurements and observations are used to revise models and designs.


Define scope, structure, approach

3.1  Make Sense of Input and Feedback

Students make sense of information of greatest importance as gathered from users and stakeholder to then propose relevant findings

3.2  Consider Alternatives 

Based on initial investigations, learners brainstorm via open-ended “what if?” questions and divergent thinking – then propose multiple purposeful, creative, and innovative design solutions

3.3  Identify Criteria

Students identify a set of clear criteria (3-4) as indicators of productive purpose, creativity, and innovation to assist with the design decision making process 

3.4  Embed Feedback Loops

Learners generate ideas for potential embedded check points as formative feedback loops within the design process – to assess progress, impact of design decisions 

3.5  Conduct Formative Assessment

Students take a non-graded formative assessment of levels of readiness – to apply and transfer key concepts and skills

3.6  Create a Plan of Action

Learners frame a plan of action – including resources, sequence of key implementation events and activities, and prospective desired outcomes

Planning and carrying out investigations

Scientists and engineers plan and carry out investigations in the field or laboratory, working collaboratively as well as individually. Their investigations are systematic and require clarifying what counts as data and identifying variables or parameters. Engineering investigations identify the effectiveness, efficiency, and durability of designs under different conditions.

Analyzing and interpreting data

Scientific investigations produce data that must be analyzed in order to derive meaning. Because data patterns and trends are not always obvious, scientists use a range of tools—including tabulation, graphical interpretation, visualization, and statistical analysis—to identify the significant features and patterns in the data. Scientists identify sources of error in the investigations and calculate the degree of certainty in the results. Modern technology makes the collection of large data sets much easier, providing secondary sources for analysis.

Engineering investigations include analysis of data collected in the tests of designs. This allows comparison of different solutions and determines how well each meets specific design criteria—that is, which design best solves the problem within given constraints. Like scientists, engineers require a range of tools to identify patterns within data and interpret the results. Advances in science make analysis of proposed solutions more efficient and effective.

Using mathematics and computational thinking

In both science and engineering, mathematics and computation are fundamental tools for representing physical variables and their relationships. They are used for a range of tasks such as constructing simulations; solving equations exactly or approximately; and recognizing, expressing, and applying quantitative relationships.

Mathematical and computational approaches enable scientists and engineers to predict the behavior of systems and test the validity of such predictions.


Finalize, implement plan of action

4.1  Finalize Plan of Action

Students review plan of action and adjust as needed to assure the best possible results – then determine final form of the design solution: research, product, communications, service, user experience, and/or system design

4.2  Design Iterations, Visualizations

Learners engage in a series of iterative visualizations of prospective top design solutions – apply formative checkpoints, organize and make sense of data collected

4.3  Adjust, Prototype, Select Design

Students adjust design(s) as needed – select up to 3 concepts to prototype as mock-ups and/or models – apply final checkpoint to then select one design approach

4.4  Develop Final Design

Learners develop final design based on feedback received at each formative checkpoint along the way – to prepare a story of their learning experiences 

4.5  Produce Storyboard

Students produce a storyboard  – to tell the story of how their design solution solves the problem in purposeful, creative, and innovative ways

4.6  Generate Process Book

Learners generate a process book – to share their experiences with the design learning process

4.7  Prepare 3-Minute Video

Students prepare a 3-minute video – to serve as an overview of innovative design solution and experiences with the design learning process

4.8  Refine Design, Presentation

Students refine design as needed and prepare for presentation

Constructing explanations and designing solutions

The end-products of science are explanations and the end-products of engineering are solutions.

The goal of science is the construction of theories that provide explanatory accounts of the world. A theory becomes accepted when it has multiple lines of empirical evidence and greater explanatory power of phenomena than previous theories.

The goal of engineering design is to find a systematic solution to problems that is based on scientific knowledge and models of the material world. Each proposed solution results from a process of balancing competing criteria of desired functions, technical feasibility, cost, safety, aesthetics, and compliance with legal requirements. The optimal choice depends on how well the proposed solutions meet criteria and constraints.

Engaging in argument from evidence

Argumentation is the process by which explanations and solutions are reached.

In science and engineering, reasoning and argument based on evidence are essential to identifying the best explanation for a natural phenomenon or the best solution to a design problem.

Scientists and engineers use argumentation to listen to, compare, and evaluate competing ideas and methods based on merits.

Scientists and engineers engage in argumentation when investigating a phenomenon, testing a design solution, resolving questions about measurements, building data models, and using evidence to identify strengths and weaknesses of claims.


Assess learning, identify next steps

5.1  Assess Learning Process

Students reflect and make sense of their design learning experiences, progress towards learning key skills and concepts, as well as lessons learned 

5.2  Consider Improvements

Facilitators and learners consider how the evolution of the process could be improved – then identify any necessary changes if the challenge were repeated

5.3  Ask New Questions

Students contemplate new critical questions that come to mind – then propose hypothetical next steps if they were to continue the project

5.4  Conduct POST-Challenge Assessment

Students take a non-graded POST-Challenge Assessment – to capture student levels of understanding and depth of knowledge, then compare with PRE-Assessment

5.5  Apply and Transfer Learning

Learners consider how new understandings (knowledge and skills) along with new ways of thinking – might be used in everyday life and/or in other subject areas

5.6  Final Evaluation

Facilitators and students evaluate projects based on criteria established within the design learning process – this serves as a summative (graded) assessment

Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Scientists and engineers must be able to communicate clearly and persuasively the ideas and methods they generate. Critiquing and communicating ideas individually and in groups is a critical professional activity.

Communicating information and ideas can be done in multiple ways: using tables, diagrams, graphs, models, and equations as well as orally, in writing, and through extended discussions. Scientists and engineers employ multiple sources to acquire information that is used to evaluate the merit and validity of claims, methods, and designs.