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Engagement,  Science

How to Teach the Steps in the Design Process to Your Students

How to Teach the Design Process Steps to Students

Do you do a lot of STEM challenges in your class? If not, you should definitely start! But if you are already doing them, then hopefully you also understand the importance of teaching your students the steps in the design process.

Students will be much more successful in completing STEM challenges if they understand these steps. However, the design process steps themselves can be a little hard to understand. Because of this, I broke the steps down into an easy-to-remember, 5-step process using the acronym B.U.I.L.D.

If you’re interested in learning more about teaching your students the design process using B.U.I.L.D., keep reading!

Teaching the Design Process Steps

steps in the design process

If you incorporate STEM activities regularly into your instruction, then it is important that your students are familiar with the design process. This will give them a clear plan to follow as they complete the activities, and aid them in being more successful. Teaching them the B.U.I.L.D. acronym will make it easy for students to remember these steps. The acronym stands for:

  • Become familiar with the problem.
  • Understand the requirements.
  • Identify and gather materials.
  • List out design ideas and choose.
  • Design and test. Repeat as necessary.

Step 1: Become familiar with the problem.

The first step is becoming familiar with the problem. Part of an engineer’s job is to solve a problem, and in order to do that, the engineer must first understand what the problem is.

When students are given a STEM challenge, they need to have a full understanding of what their design needs to be able to accomplish. Even if the activity isn’t explicitly worded to describe a problem, it still solves a problem. What is it? Some examples:

  • If the activity is to build a bridge, the problem being solved is getting from point A to point B (without falling into a hole!).
  • In a catapult-building activity, the problem being solved is how to quickly move an object from one location to another.
  • If the activity is to build a boat, the problem being solved is how to travel across water without sinking.
design process steps

It’s important to keep the problem in mind, because the problem is directly related to the goal. If the problem isn’t solved, the goal isn’t accomplished.

Step 2: Understand the requirements.

The next step in the design process is to understand the requirements. Typically, STEM challenges have certain requirements that need to be met. For example, take the following STEM challenge directions:

Use the materials provided to build a tower. The group that builds the tallest, free-standing tower wins!

In this challenge, the requirements are:

  1. Use only the materials provided
  2. The tower should be tall
  3. The tower needs to be able to stand on its own

This particular challenge does not give a height requirement, but since we know the tallest tower will win, then our goal is to make the tallest tower possible.

Understanding the requirements is important in order to complete the project correctly and successfully.

Step 3: Identify and gather materials.

teaching the steps in the design process

Once students have a clear understanding of the problem that needs to be solved, and the requirements that must be met, it’s time for them to decide what materials they will use in their design. This is easy if one of their requirements involves only using certain materials. If it doesn’t however, they will need to determine the best materials to use themselves.

This step may be combined with step 4, as the materials needed may vary depending on the design they choose to go with.

Step 4: List out design ideas and choose.

This is the brainstorming step in the design process. Students will write or draw different ideas for their design prior to actually beginning to build. They will take into consideration the information they gathered from steps 1 & 2: the problem to solve, and the requirements to be met.

Once they have come up with several ideas, students will then choose the design they think will be most effective. This may be combined with step 3, since each of their designs may require different materials.

Step 5: Design and test. Repeat as necessary.

Lastly, students will bring their design to life by building. As they build, students will troubleshoot problems as they arise. They may need to start over or switch their design before completion if it isn’t working. This is normal! Engineering is sometimes about trial and error.

If students complete their design with time to spare, they should test it to make sure it accomplishes the goal. Even if it does, challenge students to consider ways they could improve it even more before time is up.

Design Process Steps Printables

teaching design process steps

If you want to encourage your students to follow the design process while completing STEM challenges, then I have some good news for you! All of my STEM challenge sets come with 4 bonus pages of design process printables, including:

  • A poster/handout of the B.U.I.L.D. acronym (in color and B&W).
  • 3 planning pages for students to use while working on their STEM challenge. These pages walk through each step of the design process with questions for students to answer. This helps hold students accountable and gets them used to using the process!

Click here to check out my monthly STEM challenges.


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