Draft Essay Using the Design Process
When engineers design solutions to problems, they go through a process of brainstorming, testing different ideas, learning from mistakes, and trying again. This is called the engineering design process. The steps of the engineering design process are:
• Define the problem to solve
• Brainstorm various solutions
• Select a solution
• Design, build, test, and redesign a solution and
• Share results
The engineering design process is a great way to work through any challenge that involves creating something that didn’t exist before, such as building a bridge, planning a trip—even writing an essay. You’ll use the design process as a framework to guide students through researching and writing their essay solutions.
Pre-Write Discussion Topics
Introduce the essay topic and get kids thinking about different modes of transportation—present, past, and future. Begin by having them brainstorm a list of transportation methods that are used today. Next have them look at how transportation has changed since the 1900s. Provide students with or have them construct a timeline that shows major transportation innovations. Then have them project 20–50 years into the future. What are realistic futuristic developments based on what has happened since the 1900s?
Help students understand that often travel is multi-modal, meaning that people use combinations of transit. For example, to get to school a student may walk to the bus stop and then take a bus. As a result, it is important that these systems are connected (intermodal). Talk about the ways people can move between the different systems students identified.
Point out that to travel efficiently, people need two things: a vehicle for propulsion, such as a bicycle, horse, or car; and infrastructure, including bikeways, roads, highways, and bridges on which to travel. Choose one mode of transportation (cars, for example) to discuss in detail with students. This discussion will model an approach students can use when researching later.
• How are cars used to move people in and around a city?
• What infrastructure supports the use of cars (e.g., roads, highways, bridges, traffic signs and lights, markings on the streets, signage, fuel stations)?
• What are the benefits of moving around by car?
• What safety issues are connected to cars? What is being done today or being developed for tomorrow to improve car safety?
• Accessibility: What parts of the population use cars to travel? What options are there for people who are disabled, elderly, have limited incomes, etc.?
• Sustainability: What type of fuel do cars use and what impact do cars have on the environment?
• Intermodality: How are cars connected with other modes of transportation? How easy is it to move from cars to other transit systems?
• What are some of the trade-offs connected with using cars?
• What solutions are being developed for the future?
1. Define the Problem
To get started, engineers define the problem they want to solve and the project requirements.
Help students define the problem by reviewing this year’s topic description and essay outline together. How would they describe the essay problem using their own words? What are the different parts of the problem?
• Identify transportation problems your future city faces based on its population, location, terrain, and layout.
• Choose one transportation problem that will be most important to manage.
• Design a solution for managing this problem and describe how it works.
• Identify the infrastructure used to support your solution: existing 2013 infrastructure, modified 2013 infrastructure, or futuristic infrastructure.
• Describe potential safety concerns and how your solution will address them.
• Describe how the solution addresses one of these issues: accessibility, intermodality, or sustainability.
• Analyze the trade-offs connected to using the solution; incorporate into your design ways to reduce the trade-offs.
• Identify the roles of engineers in your solution.
Next have students look at their city’s population, location, terrain, and layout. What are different ways people travel around their city based on these features? What problems get in the way of moving people?
Then have them discuss and select one transportation problem that they think would be most important to manage. For example, they may choose a specific mode of transportation, such as bike or bus. They may focus on a segment of their population, such as the elderly. Or they may address how to move people within an area of their city, such as a highly developed city center.
2. Brainstorm Solutions
Next engineers brainstorm a range of possible solutions.
Starting with what they already know, have students brainstorm a range of solutions for managing the transportation problem they’ve identified for their city.
Then invite students to begin researching more ideas. They can use the Resources list to get started. Encourage students to think about which solutions interest them, including those in use today and those being developed for tomorrow. Invite them to research cities with locations and design features similar to their future city. (Share the case studies below to initiate ideas.) What modes of transportation do these cities use to help people move around? What problems get in the way of people getting to where they want when they want? What solutions are being developed for the future? Then have students share ideas and brainstorm as a group.
3. Select a Solution
Engineers choose the best solution and plan how to build it.
Have students choose one solution from their initial research in depth and describe in their essay.
4. Design, Build, Test, and Redesign a Solution
Once a design is settled on, engineers begin building, testing, and redesigning their solution.
Point students to this year’s topic description and Guide Students’ Thinking questions to help direct their research. As they research, it’s likely students will need to refine their ideas and solve problems that come up. This is part of the process.
Remind students to consider the following transportation issues as they research. Note that they should eventually select one and discuss how their solution addresses the issue in their essay:
• Accessibility: Does this transportation provide options for people with disabilities, the elderly, people with strollers, people with limited incomes?
• Intermodality: Is this mode of transportation connected to other modes of transportation? Can citizens transfer seamlessly between other transit systems?
• Sustainability: Does the mode of transportation use a fuel source that is renewable and has a limited impact on the environment? Can this solution be used to meet present needs as well as the needs of tomorrow?
Encourage creativity, innovation, problem solving, and futuristic thinking. The students’ transportation solution can be an improvement on an existing technology or a new invention. It can move one person or hundreds. It can utilize existing infrastructure, modified existing infrastructure, or futuristic infrastructure. Remind students they will need to provide one example that illustrates the infrastructure that supports their transportation solution. For example, solar-powered bikes could travel on existing roads that have a green lane marked to designate bike-only travel (modified existing); an electric-powered city zip line could move along a system of cables installed throughout the city connected to other main transit systems (futuristic infrastructure).
5. Share Results
Engineers present their work to colleagues to show how they solved a problem and learn new ideas from each other.
Now it’s time for your students to write their essay—the perfect “vehicle” for sharing their ideas with a panel of judges and kids across the country. Review with students the Essay Outline and Rubric, which describes the sections judges will be evaluating.
Remind students that the essay should be no longer than 1,000 words, and they should cite at least three sources of information. Students should use a variety of sources of information, such as interviews with experts, reference books, periodicals, and Web sites. (NOTE: Wikipedia is not accepted as a source of research.)
For additional tips about researching and writing the essay, view the “Writing the Essay” video and read essays from past winners. Both are available at www.futurecity.org.
Take Action Today: Safe Routes to School Program
Did you know in 1969, about half of all students walked or biked to school? Today over half of all children get to school by car and one-quarter arrive on a school bus. The Safe Routes to School program (SRTS) strives to get more kids walking and biking to school again. If your school has a SRTS program, get involved. If your school doesn’t have a SRTS program, consider starting one. Find more information at www.saferoutesinfo.org/.