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The BOP Design + Engineering Challenge: Teaching design and engineering concepts to learners of all ages!

By Heather Flanagan
November 7, 2017

The BOP Schools and Community Science team believes we can all be engineers!  The BOP Design + Engineering Challenge is an opportunity to encourage people of all ages (especially K-12 students!) to become co-creators with the Billion Oyster Project in designing oyster restoration structures (or as we put it for young learners, “designing homes for oysters”).  But this doesn’t just stop at oysters- this collection of activities emphasizes a flexible design/engineering process that everyone can use to design anything they can think of!

Teachers show off their oyster home designs at the BOP Design/Engineering Challenge Summer STEM professional development.

The engineering design process is a step-by-step problem solving method that can be applied to any challenge you can think of, from building software to robots to buildings and beyond!  For BOP’s Summer STEM professional development, we taught a workshop on how to apply the engineering process to a challenge close to our hearts: building homes for oysters!  Since our workshop was designed for K-12 teachers, what we present here is a flexible set of activities for doing the BOP Design/Engineering Challenge in your classroom, with suggestions on how to do each step for a wide age range of students.  A home for an oyster can be as small as a piece of shell or as large as a breakwater, and we think students of all ages and abilities can come up with creative solutions that they’re capable of building, whether they make a small sculptural piece or a complex electrified prototype.  

This set of interdisciplinary activities are a great way to tie STEM skills to art and the humanities.  The BOP Design/Engineering Challenge is also an opportunity to let students showcase their strengths by providing opportunities for them to build, draw, write, make video, and more, flexibly following their interests.  We’d love for you to try these activities out and let us know what you think!  Please feel free to get in touch with Heather Flanagan (Digital Learning Specialist) or JonPaul Turner (Ocean Engineering BOP Professional) to share your questions or comments!

Activity Sequence

Step 1: Getting started with oysters in the classroom.  

There are a ton of possible entry points for introducing oysters into your classroom- I’ve suggested four here (but please get in touch with the BOP Curriculum Team if you’d like help thinking through an approach!).  The goal for these first few lessons is to get students interested/invested in restoring oysters, practicing observation skills, and asking questions that can lay the foundation for student-directed research.

Teachers at BOP’s Summer STEM PD start their day off handling clumps of live oysters and entering in their observations to a modified KWL chart.

  • Option 1: KWL (Know-Wonder-Learned) chart + direct observations of oysters.  Use our modified KWL chart to find out what students already know about oysters, and to spur students to think of questions they have about oysters.  
    (For this sequence, we’ve recommended the “What do you know? What do you wonder? What have you learned?” set of questions because it can help you prepare activities and curate resources in a way that’s responsive to students’ prior knowledge and interests.  One workshop participant suggested that you could also sub in routines from a framework like Visible Thinking too, such as “See-Think-Wonder.”  The goal here is to both activate prior knowledge in your students and to help you make decisions as the educator about what should come next.)

    BOP’s modified KWL chart.

    • Elementary school teachers working with new readers might want to have students share verbally instead of in writing, and use something like an anchor chart to record what students know and wonder.  (Teachers of early readers/writers can also encourage students to draw pictures or write down any words they do know, even if they can’t write a whole sentence.)  
    • Teachers of older students could use the handout or have students recreate the handout in a notebook.  
    • Engage students in observing oyster shells, grocery store oysters, and/or clumps of oyster spat-on-shell.  Ask students to write down their observations and questions.  You might want to use BOP’s “Spat on Shell Observation Worksheet” for this (possibly modifying it to include oyster shells and grocery store oysters, if you use all three).  Have students continue to record questions in the “Wonder” column of the KWL chart, and add what they’ve learned from direct observation to the “Learn” column.
      • You can arrange to get spat-on-shell (oyster shells with live oysters attached to them) from the Billion Oyster Project.
      • After students observe oysters, the BOP lesson “Oyster Anatomy” incorporates biology skills like dissection if you’d like to explore oysters, inside and out!
  • Option 2: If you have time for a whole mini unit, a great way to introduce oysters in the classroom is to keep a classroom oyster tank.  Use the Oyster Tank Investigation on the BOP Digital Platform to provide students with background on oysters and what they need, before starting in on the design process.  (This unit is designed for middle school, specifically to meet 6th grade standards, but we’d love to hear how you’ve aged these lessons up or down!)  

BOP’s Oyster Tank Investigation on the BOP Digital Platform.

  • If you have even more time and you’d like to teach some chemistry in the process, BOP’s Nitrogen Cycle Investigation is an excellent follow-up to the Oyster Tank Investigation that will deepen students’ understanding of factors that affect oysters.  (This unit is also designed for 6th grade.)

The Nitrogen Cycle Investigation on the BOP Digital Platform.

  • Option 3: The BOP lesson “Can You Outfilter an Oyster?” can also serve as a kickoff to introduce oysters to your class, before or after bringing actual oysters into the classroom.

The “Can you Out-Filter an Oyster?” lesson on the BOP Digital Platform.

  • Option 4: Build excitement and spur curiosity with a field experience by starting your oyster study with a visit to a BOP restoration site, a tour of the New York Harbor School and BOP’s hatchery on Governors Island, or a trip to pull up and examine an Oyster Research Station (ORS).  (See “direct observations of an oyster restoration project” section for more details.)  If you decide to start with a field experience, Can You Outfilter an Oyster” is a good lesson to do the day before the trip to prepare students.

Oyster “files” from BOP’s Brooklyn Bridge Park Community Reef near the Manhattan Bridge.


Step 2: Introduce the problem to be solved: homes for oysters.  After you’ve introduced oysters as an organism, introduce the problem: oysters were the keystone species of New York Harbor, but now they are functionally extinct.  We want to try to bring them back by providing them homes!  These activities aim to help students understand the rationale for restoring oysters, along with establishing a clear problem to solve as per the design/engineering process.  If you choose Option 2, students will have a chance to develop Social Studies and ELA skills through interpreting primary source documents.

BOP-annotated excerpt from the Ratzer Map via NYPL.

  • Option 1: learn about this problem from BOP or our partners by visiting BOP on Governors Island or The River Project on Pier 40 in Manhattan (See “direct observations of an oyster restoration project” section later in this post for more details.)
  • Option 2: Guide students to the problem with the BOP lesson “Oyster Decline in NY Harbor.  This lesson explores why the NYC oyster population severely declined.  This lesson is designed for middle school, but some of the resources and activities can definitely be aged up or down.  (This lesson belongs to the NY Harbor Populations Investigation unit that starts with a food web lesson- if you’re looking for a way to teach this concept, this lesson is very adaptable to older and younger grades.)

BOP’s “Oyster Decline in NY Harbor” lesson on the BOP Digital Platform.

  • Whichever option you choose, preview that students will be tackling this problem using a design engineering process with specific steps, starting with gathering information through direct observation, research in various media, and interviews.

Step 3: Direct observations of an oyster restoration project.  (We’ve listed some options here roughly in increasing order of commitment or difficulty.)  These lessons are a part of researching existing solutions to the problem of oyster housing, and they aim to further develop students’ observation and questioning skills.

  • Option 1: Visit a BOP restoration site close to your school.
    • Get in touch with the BOP Schools team (educate@nyharbor.org) to find out about oyster restoration projects near you.  Depending on the time of year, we may be able to connect you with a teacher or community scientist whose Oyster Research Station you can investigate, or facilitate a trip to one of BOP’s other oyster restoration structures, like our Community Reefs or Floating Oyster Platform.

Students from Dr. Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts visit a BOP Community Reef and help with oyster measurements. Photo courtesy of Rachelle Travis.

  • Option 2: Take a tour of the New York Harbor School and BOP’s headquarters and hatchery on Governors Island.  
    • Students can observe oysters in a hatchery and multiple types of oyster restoration structures (in addition to learning more about Billion Oyster Project and the New York Harbor School).  While visiting, students can continue to record questions they have and things they’ve learned about oysters in the KWL chart.  (Teachers should make sure to provide students with clipboards.)

New York Harbor School’s Aquaculture lab at the MAST Center, BOP’s headquarters.

  • Option 3: Visit The River Project.
    • Schedule a field trip at The River Project to observe oysters in their Wet Lab and in TRP’s Oyster Research Station (along with lots of other New York Harbor creatures!).  (Available March-November)

BOP teacher fellows visit The River Project’s wet lab.

  • Option 4: Sign up to become a BOP teacher and get your own Oyster Research Station to monitor.  
    • BOP teachers and their students monitor an Oyster Research Station three times a year and enter the data they’ve collected into the BOP Digital Platform.  As the teacher, you’d most likely set the ORS up by yourself first, and then bring students on a subsequent visit.  For the purposes of the design/engineering challenge, you might consider bringing students on a more exploratory trip to the ORS first, before asking them to conduct all of the monitoring protocols.  On this trip, students can continue to jot down questions and what they’ve learned about oysters.  
      • (This trip could include time to allow students to explore the site and intro the tools they’ll be using at a pace designed for reflection and inquiry vs. quick efficient data collection.  We explored this idea in a post on the BOP blog.  To prep the students for conducting the monitoring protocols in the classroom, the Digital Platform has a series of units- one for each protocol- designed to teach students the necessary skills and concepts.  These lessons are generally standalone lessons, and don’t need to be followed in a sequence.)
  • At any of these sites, you might also have students make observations and inferences- you can modify the Ecodock Observations and Inferences handout for whatever structure your class is observing.

M.S. 88 teacher Michael Seymour visits his ORS in Red Hook’s Erie Basin with his class. Photo courtesy of Michael Seymour.


Step 4: Gather text and media-based information.  

These lessons help teach students how to do research for the “gather information” step of the design/engineering process.  These activities develop students’ skills working with text first by using a topic library created by BOP, Designing Homes for Oysters (read more on how we use topic libraries in our blog post here).  Next, teachers help students practice “reading” images and video using the Visual Thinking Strategies technique (different from “Visible Thinking Strategies!”) and our image gallery Exploring Homes for Oysters. When working with visual media, one goal for these lessons is to develop students’ evidence-based reasoning.

  • Topic Library.  Use the Designing Homes for Oysters topic library to find sources appropriate for your age group.  Then, choose how you’ll have students engage with them, and have students continue to add to the “Wonder” and “Learn” columns of their KWL charts.

    BOP’s Designing Homes for Oysters topic library.

    • If you work with early readers, you may want to read some of the picture books from the list with the students as a part of the gathering information process.
    • If you work with older students, you could give students the entire packet, but you might want to curate specific excerpts from it based on your students’ abilities and interests.  We suggest that whatever collection of media and texts you give your students is given to the entire class, regardless of ability level.  Students can sift through the information and focus on what’s interesting to them, and if a text is too easy or too hard they can skip it, but they can still have a shared conversation if they all have the same materials to refer to.  Ask students to underline, write questions or comments, or otherwise engage with the text while they’re reading.
    • Facilitate small and large group discussions with your students to share points of fascination, questions, and comments.
  • Visual Thinking Strategies session.  Use Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) to give students the tools to examine video, images, and material objects that serve as homes for oysters.

    We use a complex image “Picnic for Three” by Andreas Franke to give students the tools to interpret visual media while expanding their ideas about what a “home for an oyster” can be.

    • Choose an interesting, complex image to teach Visual Thinking Strategies.  Try using the first slide from the PowerPoint Exploring Homes for Oysters– the picture is “Picnic for Three” by Andreas Franke.  (We chose this image because it’s up for interpretation without being abstract, and as a shipwreck, it complicates the idea of what can become a “home” for sea life, beyond the rectangular oyster restoration structures students have already seen.)  Show students the picture without the title or any accompanying information so their investigation of the piece is entirely based on the image itself.
    • Explain to students that Visual Thinking Strategies is a technique for exploring images that relies on repeating three questions:  
      • What’s going on in this picture?
      • What do you see that makes you say that?
      • What more can we find?
    • Explain to students that they should write down any questions or thoughts that come up during a VTS session, but the purpose of the session is to collect lots of observations and interpretations backed by evidence, so clarify that you’ll have a follow-up discussion after to pursue questions/ideas.
    • Ask students, “What’s going on in this picture?”  Follow up with “What do you see that makes you say that?” to encourage them to make evidence-backed statements.  
    • As students share, restate their observations and statements, but try not to validate these observations and statements.  Instead, rephrase statements like “Heather thinks the figure in the center is a mermaid because she does not see the figure’s feet.”  One of the strengths of VTS is that it allows all students a low-stakes way to share out loud, since the teacher doesn’t designate any one student’s opinion as “correct.”  (This makes VTS particularly suitable for English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and more introverted students who might not feel as comfortable participating in whole-class discussions.)
    • After a student shares, follow up with “What more can we find?” to push the conversation forward.
    • After finishing a VTS session, involve the whole class in a discussion of the piece, and decide what supplemental information to share with the class (i.e. title, author, artist’s statement, etc.)
    • Consider using VTS with more than just art- intriguing three dimensional objects, architecture, maps, and machines can all be great subjects for investigation!

     

  • Gallery Walk activity.  After using VTS to teach visual interpretation skills to the whole class, do a “Gallery Walk” activity of images of oyster reefs, oyster colonizations devices, coral reefs, and environmental art with your students so they can practice these skills on their own.  

Teachers at our Summer STEM PD examine the image collection from Exploring Homes for Oysters.

“Oyster home” images from our collection Exploring Homes for Oysters, part of our Gallery Walk activity.

“Oyster home” images from our collection Exploring Homes for Oysters, part of our Gallery Walk activity.

  • The PowerPoint Exploring Homes for Oysters includes images designed to expand students’ thinking about “homes for oysters” beyond designs they’ve seen before.  Print the images and cards from Exploring Homes for Oysters and display them around the classroom like a gallery.  (You may want to think about editing the descriptions on the cards- think about how much information you want to present to students at once.  You may want to have students look at the images without the text first, or depending on students’ reading level, you may want to shorten or simplify the writing or exclude it entirely.)
  • Give students the Gallery Log handout to frame their exploration of the images.  
  • If you have computers or tablets, you might consider also providing the videos in the PowerPoint as a part of the exploration.
  • Wrap with a class discussion about what questions students have about these designs, what problems the design solves, and how the problems solved by those designs differ from their problem to solve.
  • If you have more time to spend, consider having students conduct their own research to find additional designs in the vein of Exploring Homes for Oysters.  Do a second gallery walk of the student-curated designs.  If you can, leave these images up for inspiration while you continue on the design/engineering challenge!

Step 5: Interview an expert.  

After conducting direct observations and research on oysters through various media, consider reaching out to “experts” to keep pushing students’ research forward.  (This step is optional, but it’s a good way to incorporate ELA skills into this lesson sequence.) Before bringing an expert in, it’s a good idea to teach students how to conduct an interview.  WNYC’s Radio Rookies program has a good educator guide to teaching interview skills with a quick, engaging video intro, and Youth Radio has a guide that includes activities and handouts.  

  • Option 1: Interview a Billion Oyster Project expert.  Get in touch with the BOP Schools team to set up an interview with a member of our staff or one of our partner scientists.  (You can reach us at educate@nyharbor.org)
  • Option 2: Chat with a librarian.  The New York Public Library offers a chat service from Monday-Saturday, 9am-6pm.  Type them your oyster questions and they should be able to point you to resources that should help answer your questions!
  • Option 3: Skype a Scientist.  This program pairs scientists with teachers to set up a video chat session or two for the classroom.  These scientists aren’t oyster experts necessarily, but the program tries to pair students with a scientist with expertise in their area of interest who can point them in the right direction to answer their questions along with sharing about what it’s like to be a scientist and to do science professionally.  Skype a Scientist can also try to pair a class with a scientist from an underrepresented group (a scientist of color, a woman scientist, an LGBTQ+ scientist, etc.).

Step 6: Specify requirements.

As a class, come up with criteria for your designs based on both needs (the biological needs of the oyster for survival) and wants (aesthetic considerations, cost, sustainability of materials, accessibility, etc.)  As the teacher, depending on your class’ age and focus, you may want to introduce your own “wants” criteria to better dovetail with your existing curriculum.  (For example, if you’re teaching about electricity, you might require students’ designs to have an electrical component.  Or, in the spirit of real-life design competitions, you might give students a theme connected to your studies.  The “Billion Oyster Pavilion” from Exploring Homes for Oysters was in response to a design competition that asked for submissions with “the theme ‘the city of dreams’ that would employ recycled or recyclable materials.”)

  • To determine needs.  Review sources from the Designing Homes for Oysters topic library to come up with a list of things that oysters need to survive.  An oyster’s needs include specific water quality parameters (the salinity, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water, the temperature, etc.), specific conditions (they can’t be buried in sediment), protection from predators (like oyster drills), food (in the form of phytoplankton), etc.  (If students need a refresher on the concept of organisms having biological needs, our Food Webs lesson includes a great, New York Harbor-specific set of activities.)  
    • For upper elementary-high school, you may want to have students review the packet individually, then come up with a combined list in groups that each group shares with the class to come up with one final list.
    • For students who can’t read yet or are early readers, you may need to facilitate a class discussion to come up with oysters’ needs together instead of asking students to generate this list on their own or in small groups.
  • To determine wants. Review the oyster reefs, colonization devices, coral reefs, and environmental art from Exploring Homes for Oysters along with students’ responses to questions on the Gallery Log handout to come up with students’ wants for their designs.
    • For upper elementary-high school, put students in groups and ask them:
      • What problems do these designs solve other than creating homes for oysters?
      • Based on what you’ve seen from these designs and the work we’ve done so far, what do you do you want your designs to be/do/look like?  Write these down as statements like “Our design should _______________.”
        • Example: Our design should be made from recycled materials.
        • Example: Our design should be accessible by land.
        • Example: Our design should float.
      • As a whole class, agree on one set of criteria, or if you’re comfortable with this, allow student to have different sets of criteria by group.
    • For early elementary, decide to what extent your students can come up with their own “wants” criteria, and facilitate a class discussion about what your students want for their oyster home designs.  You may need to guide students more directly with questions like:
      • What do you want your oyster home to be made out of?
      • Where do you want your oyster home to be?
      • How do you want to get to your oyster home?
      • Do you want your oyster home to do something in addition to being a home for oysters?  

Step 7: Generate ideas.  

We recommend trying out multiple idea generation activities, although you could do any of the activities below, either alone or in sequence.  

JonPaul Turner, BOP’s Ocean Engineering Professional, demonstrates BOP’s physical adaptation of a traditional paper morph chart, an ideation method common in engineering and one of three methods teachers tried at our Summer STEM PD.

  • Brainstorming.  “Traditional” brainstorming, in which participants generate and share ideas at once in a large group, has been shown in studies to produce fewer ideas than methods that encourage participants to generate ideas alone and share after.  Other research has shown that outdoor environments and light movement like walking can be conducive to brainstorming.  
    • If you’re comfortable facilitating a group of students outside, try giving students the space to brainstorm ideas individually in such a setting, asking them to write each new idea on a separate post-it note.  (This can also happen in the classroom.)
    • When time is up, gather students around a blackboard/whiteboard/chart paper to start sharing the ideas they generated individually.  
    • Ask one student to share one of their ideas, and put their post-it on the board.
    • After the student has shared, ask if any students had a similar idea, and put those post-its in a cluster with the first post-it.  
    • Repeat this process until all of the ideas are up on the board, in clusters of similar ideas.
    • Facilitate a discussion.  Which ideas are the most popular?  Why do you think that is?  Which ideas do you like the most, and why?  What ideas would cost the most to implement?  The least? etc.
    • Consider asking students to come up with their own sorting system to categorize the ideas, either alone or in groups.
  • Collaborative sketching.  (Aka “C-sketching”) C-sketching is a visual way for groups to create ideas by drawing designs and adding to others’ drawings.
    • With students in groups of 4-6 (possibly in a circle), give students a few minutes to sketch their ideas individually on a sheet of paper.
    • After students have sketched their ideas, instruct students to pass their sketch to another group member.  
    • Tell students you will be starting a timer, and for several minutes, they will add ideas to their classmate’s drawing.  These ideas can be a mixture of pictures and text.  Instruct students that they can add anything they want or suggest changes, but they can’t criticize the original idea.
    • Once time is up, instruct students to hand their sketch to the next person. Each group member should have time to add to every idea.
    • A structured variation of this is sometimes called the “6-3-5” method. This means 6 people have 3 ideas each, and the other group members add to them for 5 minutes each.
    • Once ideas make it around the circle, students should share and discuss their design with the group. A twist on this is to have the last person to add to the idea share it, so that group members are not presenting their own ideas.
    • As an extension, facilitate the entire class’ exploration of all the designs by conducting an activity similar to the gallery walk from the “gather information” step.  Teachers could display sketches around the room and have students comment and ask questions about each design using post-its, or place sketches on individual desks or groups of desks and have students make comments and ask questions on post-its or sheets of paper.

Teachers at our Summer STEM PD contribute to each other’s drawings in the “Collaborative Sketching” activity.

  • Morphological chart. Also called a “morph chart,” the morphological chart is a system to generate a wide variety of ideas from the materials you have on hand.  (Check out our sample morphological chart and Morph Chart handout.)  In a morph chart, materials are grouped in rows by their function (what purpose they could serve in the design). It helps to have a few broad functions that you can sort materials into (at our workshop, functions included “substrate,” “structure,” and “attachment.”)  When an engineer uses a morph chart, they select one material from each row (one for each function) and use those materials to create a unique design. Depending on what materials you have available and what your goals are for the project, you can do a few different activities with morph charts.  

Our physical morph chart.

  • If you want students to have total freedom to suggest materials…
    • Prepare students to brainstorm materials by directing students to review the Designing Homes for Oysters and Exploring Homes for Oysters resources to look for materials used in oyster restoration.  (They can also do independent research if you’d like to practice that skill!)  
    • Use the Morph Chart handout to create student-generated morph charts.  We’ve suggested several functions already, but you may want to guide students to think of additional functions, in addition to coming up with examples of materials.  Try encouraging students to brainstorm individually before having them collaborate on a morph chart with a group.
    • After students have designed their own morph charts, have students select a material from each function and sketch one or more designs, with labels, based on their materials.  (For this activity, they can modify one of their designs from brainstorming or c-sketching, or come up with something entirely new.)
  • If you want to limit materials based on safety, sustainability, or other factors…
    • Create a morph chart with your own set of functions and materials, and distribute it to your students.
    • If you’re working with younger learners especially, we like the idea of constructing a morph chart that uses pictures and words, or even better, a physical morph chart.  For our workshop, we constructed a physical morph chart by creating a grid out of tape on a table and placing an individual material inside each cell.  Using this approach, teachers might create several physical morph charts on tables around the room, and have students make observations and ask questions as they touch and examine each material (you could also do bins of materials).  If this is a facilitation or materials challenge, create one large grid for the class and have students pass around each material and share their observations/questions with the whole class.
    • Have students select a material from each function and sketch one or more designs, with labels, based on their materials.  (For this activity, they can modify one of their designs from brainstorming or c-sketching, or come up with something entirely new.)

Our physical morph chart included substrate like concrete, oyster shells, brick, and rebar; structural materials like mesh, PVC pipe, and rebar; and materials designed to “attach” the oyster home structure to something like a pier (types of rope, zip ties) or to the harbor bottom (a diving weight).

  • After you’ve used one or more ideation methods, students should come up with a final labeled design sketch either individually or in groups (depending on whether you’d like students to build prototypes together or alone).  Depending on students’ writing levels, you may also want students to include a description explaining the design.  At this point, you might want to allow other groups of students to politely critique the designs and assess whether they meet your specifications (alternately, this might be an assessment activity you perform).  Students’ designs should meet the specifications before moving on to the “build a prototype” step.

Step 8: Build a prototype.

  • For this and the remaining design/engineering steps, you’ll first need to decide if your goal is to create just a model of the design, or if you’re going to actually build and test a series of prototypes.
  • There are tons of different types of prototypes. They all vary based on how finished the design is and what you want to test.
    • Proof of concept – This is a quick prototype that just exists to see if the design solves the problem. It can be ugly, barely working, or held together with shoe strings and tape as long as it can show that our solution works at a basic level.
    • Final prototypes – Once a few other prototypes are made, we need to make one prototype that represents our final design. This has all the functions of the final design as well as the final shape. Something like this can be used as part of documenting the final design.
    • Everything in between! Prototypes come in all shapes and sizes, and usually engineers will use several different types as the design evolves and is tested and retested.
  • If students are going to build a model, either as the end goal or as a first step to building a more testable prototype, consider using cheap, repurposed materials like empty soda bottles, cardboard, newspaper, etc. in addition to art supplies and tools like scissors, string, glue, etc.  Gather these materials in advance of your model-building session.

    For our PD, we offered free choice of materials, and included lots of repurposed items.

    • By using cheap materials, you can allow students free choice.  To facilitate this, we encourage placing a collection of available materials in one central location, and seating students in groups with a small collection of tools for each group.  Depending on your students’ age, you may want to send students by group to central location to collect materials.  If your students are new to free choice and might have difficulty sharing, you can consider placing limits on the number of each material or the total number of materials they’re allowed to take.
    • Allow enough time in the lesson for students to both build their model and share it with the class.
  • If students are going to build a testable prototype that could go in water, you’ll need to consider what materials you can provide them with based on their ability level and your budget.  
    • Before building starts (possibly during the lesson that students complete their final design sketches), ask students to come up with a list of materials, including how much they’ll need of each material, and submit the list to you.  (Optionally, you can have students research the costs to submit you an approximate budget.)
    • Based on the materials each group submits, make a decision about what supplies you’ll order and how much you’ll allow each student/group to use, and communicate that decision to your students.
  • When you’re ready to build, build safely! Go over shop safety with students.
    • Make sure older students are using safety glasses and other protective gear when they’re using tools.
    • Younger kids might have to watch for sharp edges or pointy bits on their materials.
  • Your materials and time given to students will change depending on how far they want to prototype.
      • This is a great place to tinker if students see improvements to their designs while they’re building.
      • Try to have students write down what they changed from their design. Ask them why they made the changes, and what they might have forgotten during the earlier steps.

Our Summer STEM PD culminated in teachers making their own prototypes mostly out of repurposed materials.


Step 9: Test. 

After your students have built a prototype of the design, conduct testing to make sure it fulfills the problem you defined.  Tests can be repeated throughout the prototyping process to answer questions specific to each prototype (e.g. What happens to my materials when they’re left in the water for x amount of time?  Does copper actually repel oyster drills?  Can oysters still feed through fine mesh?  How quickly do my materials get covered in bioaccumulation at different times of the year?)  You may even want to conduct some tests prior to building a prototype to learn more about how your materials will behave.  

  • NOTE:  Before putting any materials in NY Harbor, check with the BOP Schools team first.  There are laws enforced by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation about what you can put into the water and what you can take out of the water, especially when live animals are involved.  If you have an Oyster Research Station, check with us about what experimental materials you could put in your ORS to conduct testing.
  • Start with a small test. For oyster housing, try using a scale model in your fishtank with oysters.
  • Try to make the test conditions as similar to the environment the design will be used in. In this example, try to test in saltwater or brackish water.
    • If the small test is not successful, think about reasons why. Ask your students if they can observe anything that may have made it not work. Ask how this could change their problem.
    • If the test is successful, ask students how they can further improve their designs. Have them go back and check off the requirements they listed earlier in the process. Ask them how they can further improve their design based on what they observed about the test.
    • To familiarize your students with experimentation concepts, consider teaching BOP’s Oyster Tank Investigation, particularly the lesson “Oyster Tank Questions Part 5: Set Up an Experimental Tank.”

Step 10: Redesign.

Based on observations from testing, students can go back and modify their prototype or build a new one. They can also revise their problem if they missed anything. This step can be repeated as many times as necessary.


Step 11: Document your idea.

This is one of the most important steps of the design process. Designs are so much more effective if other people can understand them and recreate them!  This is a great time to bring some art and writing into STEM lessons.

  • Drawing.  Students of all ages can draw their final designs and provide as much text-based explanation as they can.
  • Report.  Older students can write a report about their final design and the design process.
  • Presentations.  Students can also do presentations to the class or small groups about the final design.
  • Videos.  Students can create short videos showing off and explaining their designs.
  • Design showcase.  Consider having students present their designs in a “showcase” for parents and friends.
  • (CAD)/3D modeling.  If students are up to the task they can use a CAD software to make a 3D model of their design. This lets them 3D print it or change it on the computer without building another prototype.
    • Learning CAD can be daunting at first but is a really fun tool for kids to learn.
    • TinkerCAD is a great intro to CAD for younger kids. It’s more basic, and lets kids make a model from simple shapes.
      • https://www.tinkercad.com/learn/
    • Onshape is a professional grade CAD software suitable for older kids. They have free accounts for .edu users, and free curriculum for teachers.
  • Digital showcase.  To create a digital showcase of your students’ designs, or to allow students to create a digital narrative about their design process, consider using…
    • An ArcGIS storymap– we’ve used these for how-to guides, but they’re a great way to tie large, high quality images with text.  Check their site for lots of ideas and examples!  You can also embed an ArcGIS storymap on your own site.
    • A class Tumblr or website.
    • A timeline app like Sutori that students can use to document all the steps along the way to their final project.

We hope this gets you excited about the design/engineering process!  And please reach out to Heather Flanagan or JonPaul Turner if you’d like to give it a try, ask us questions, or give us feedback!