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:
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.
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 and Essay Outline together. How would they describe the essay problem using their own words? What are the different parts of the problem?
The next step in defining the problem is for students to develop a background understanding of the topic area. Have students research traditional farming practices, existing urban farms, and futuristic urban farm designs. You can start with the three case studies of futuristic farm environments on page 24 and then start mining the resource section on page 26.
As they gather ideas and examples, have students create a series of questions (a frame) to guide their analysis of each one. This same frame can be adapted to analyze the team’s designs later on. Here are some questions to get them started:
Before students can make their two crop choices, they need to be aware of which plant-based crop will provide the most vitamins and minerals and which protein-based food will be nutritious and practical for an urban farm environment. Students will need to understand where they get protein in their own diet. Meat, poultry, eggs, fish, legumes, most seeds and nuts, and several vegetables are all high in protein. But each has different growing requirements that must be taken into consideration.
Some foods, such as grains (wheat, rice, barley, etc.) are needed in such huge qualities and have such unique growing and harvesting requirements, that they are unlikely to be practical in urban farms. Other crops require such long growing cycles that the yield would not meet the needs of your students’ city. It is also important to understand that food preferences are often rooted in cultural or ethnic traditions, which must be considered when choosing which foods to grow. As they research food options, students should consider:
Next, engineers brainstorm a range of possible solutions.
Using what they already know from the case studies and their own research, have students brainstorm a range of foods and urban farm designs. Encourage students to think about which solutions interest them, including those in use today and those being developed for tomorrow.
As they brainstorm encourage creativity, innovation, problem solving, and futuristic thinking. Remind them that their urban farm solution can be an improvement on an existing technology or a completely new invention. It can be a single centralized solution or one that involves a network of urban farms scattered throughout the city. Whatever the final design is, it should demonstrate original ideas.
Engineers choose the best solution and plan how to build it.
From their initial research and brainstorming, students must make four key decisions:
1. Which two foods will they grow within the boundaries of their city limits?
2. What does their urban farm design(s) look like? How will it work?
3. What makes their design energy efficient?
4. Where is it located?
Once a design is settled on, engineers begin building, testing, and redesigning their solution.
As they develop a design and start outlining it, it is likely the students will need to refine their ideas and solve problems that develop. This is part of the process.
At this stage it is good idea to rely on three resources to make sure they are heading in the right direction:
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 finalize their essay—an excellent way to share their ideas with a panel of judges and kids across the country.
Remind students that the essay should be no longer than 1,000 words and free of grammatical and spelling errors. They should cite at least three sources of information used during the idea development process. Students should use a variety of sources of information, such as interviews with experts, reference books, periodicals, and websites. (NOTE: Wikipedia is not accepted as a source of research.)