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Identify a Problem

Have students find a problem that they or someone they know has experienced. Keeping the problem local increases the likelihood that it will be a manageable project.

  • Start students with some sample problems. Then have them begin to generate their own list.
    • My backpack is too heavy to carry. How can I make it easier to get it to school?
    • Our dog barks a lot. How can I get him to quiet down without hurting him?
    • When I’m in a crowd, I can’t see around me. How can I get to see more?
    • The cold juice gets warm in my lunchbox. How can I keep it cold?
    • Our cafeteria is so noisy that it’s hard to hear, even when people talk quietly. What can we do to cut down on the echo in there?
    • People are not recycling all the paper they should in our classroom. How can we get everyone to remember to recycle and not throw it in the trash?
  • Be prepared to guide them away from griping about any one person. Focus on problems that can be solved.
  • Some problems involve group behaviors students believe need to be changed (for example, people not recycling paper all the time). The solution may require behavioral change (social engineering). As long as the change can be measured and verified, this also is science in action. While most people don’t think of this as “invention,” it is a legitimate aspect of engineering and follows the same procedural steps including peer review.