Examine these top engineering lessons and activities for grades K-12. Take a look around. What do you notice?
Computers, phones, desks, and lights, perhaps. Chairs, backpacks, and textbooks are all possibilities. Walls and windows are most likely. Perhaps a parking lot with cars.
We are surrounded by engineering products. Every man-made object, no matter how small or common, contains the engineering design process from beginning to end. Engineering, which accounts for the “E” in STEM, is a necessary but largely unseen aspect of human existence.
This year, National Engineers Week is February 19-25, making it an ideal time to explore the top engineering lessons and activities listed here. Engineering lessons are a natural fit for science classes and project-based learning. Except for one modestly priced exception that’s too good to pass up, everything is free.
Best Free Engineering Lessons and Activities
Consider Engineering Lesson Plans (opens in new tab)
These highly detailed lesson plans are classroom-ready and searchable by age, category, and keywords. Each lesson includes a design challenge, materials needed, background information, vocabulary, and much more. TryEngineering.org is a joint effort of IEEE, IBM, and the New York Hall of Science.
Engineering Lessons in Technology
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More than a dozen lesson plans and related challenges that examine engineering through the lenses of various subjects ranging from data science to English Language Arts to system design. From San Jose, California’s highly regarded The Tech Interactive science and technology center.
PBS Kids Design Squad International (Opens in a new window)
A large collection of videos, activities, design challenges, games, and other materials that engage children in hands-on engineering. Visit the educator section for lesson plans and professional development.
Science Buddies Engineering Challenge 2023 (opens in new tab)
The task: Create a device that can move a ping pong ball. Isn’t it simple? True, but your score is determined by the weight of the materials used as well as the distance traveled by the ball. This challenge, like real life, incorporates practical issues that influence the success of your design. There are challenges for elementary, middle, and high school students. Submissions are being accepted until March 19, 2023.
Engineering Design Methodology (opens in new tab)
Engineering is primarily concerned with problem solving. To begin, you must define the problem. What happens next? Use this information-packed flow chart to teach your students about design thinking. This lesson is complete because it includes a video as well as links to other resources.
Machine Learning for Children (opens in new tab)
Machine learning is the foundation of the rapidly expanding field of artificial intelligence. Students can start teaching the machine about human experience by following the step-by-step instructions on this simple website. Check out the ready-made downloadable guides. Create a free account or try it without creating one.
Engineer Girl Design Competitions (opens in new tab)
Engineering is more than just high-tech materials. Students take on the challenge of designing airplanes, batteries, bridges, and other structures out of everyday items.
Science and Engineering of Cyberchase
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This PBS Kids site based on the educational children’s television series Cyberchase features games, videos, activities, and topics related to engineering and science. There are interesting downloadable lessons that can be sorted by topic. Do you want to make a Thaumatrope? There’s a lesson in there somewhere! There is no need to create an account; simply begin having fun and learning.
K-12 Engineering Curriculum (opens in new tab)
A large collection of complete, standards-based K-12 engineering lessons that can be searched by grade level. Each lesson contains a video, background information, learning objectives, standards, worksheets, investigation questions, pre- and post-assessments, and other materials. The topics range from the fundamentals of design thinking to creating working models of physiology to (naturally!) building spaghetti bridges.
Free Webinars for Teachers Using Tinkercad (opens in new tab)
Learn how to incorporate Tinkercad into your classroom instruction with this free webinar series, which runs until May 25, 2023.
PBS Educational Media (opens in new tab)
A comprehensive resource for engineering topics ranging from design to history to careers. Search for interactive lessons, audio, video, documents, and images, or browse by grade and resource type. Questions like, “Why can’t humans fly?” and “Is there life in space?” will keep students interested, learning, and asking their own questions.
Engineering for Effective Plastic Solutions
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Plastic is all around us. It’s in our oceans, soils, and, predictably, our bodies. This three-week project-based learning unit is designed to assist students in developing solutions to the plastic pollution problem using traditional engineering workflow. Lesson plans, videos, and documents for grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 are included. NGSS-aligned and Google Classroom-shareable.
Create a Robotic Insect (opens in new tab)
What enables insects to crawl and fly as they do? Students will learn about insects and robotic analogs before designing their own in this fascinating lesson that combines biology and engineering.
The Supply Chain for Lithium-Ion Batteries (opens in new tab)
The explosion of mobile devices in the twenty-first century, combined with the looming threat of climate change, has made the lithium-ion battery critical to modern life. In this comprehensive lesson from Underwriters’ Laboratory, you will learn about all aspects of the battery life cycle, from lithium extraction to e-waste (UL). This lesson includes student and teacher guides, as well as informative video and engaging graphics.
Software for the ASCE Bridge in Florida (opens in new tab)
This downloadable bridge design software is intended to provide the sophistication of a robust professional CAD software while offering a simpler interface for students. It is free for education users. The video tutorial will assist students in getting started with design and testing as soon as possible. Will your virtual bridge be able to support the weight of a tractor-trailer? Don’t worry, you can always go back to square one.
College of Engineering Activities at NC State University (opens in new tab)
Dozens of engineering lessons organized by category, ranging from airplanes and rockets to water filtration and movement. Topics like “Diaper Dissection” and “Deconstructing Oreos” will keep students interested in learning serious engineering principles.
Engineering lessons from TEDEd (opens in new tab)
A wide range of animated video engineering lessons. Investigate concepts such as the world’s largest battery, the construction of the Hoover Dam, and the operation of jetpacks (hint: when was the last time you saw a jetpack?). Each video includes thought-provoking questions and resources for further research. Filter videos by grade level, duration, and video type.
Virtual Robot Curriculum at Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy (opens in new tab)
An ingenious method for teaching and learning robotics online without the use of physical robotics equipment. Students and teachers can use the program from any connected device at any time, and all progress is automatically saved. Single licenses are $9 per student, 12 licenses are $100, and premium/unlimited access is $300.