Engineering All Around: Design Challenges For Every Classroom

Have you ever traveled down the highway and noticed a giant water tower? These elevated, cylinder-shaped structures support a huge water tank that can hold over 30,000 gallons of water--that’s more than 50 backyard swimming pools! These towers are often constructed out of steel or concrete and help to provide water to neighborhoods and towns.

It is the job of an engineer to design and build these and other types of structures. Different structures make up the world around us. Help your students to take notice of these. Examples of engineering are all around us—from the roads, we travel on to the homes we live in. Engineers design and build bridges. They construct dams and skyscrapers.

We can design learning experiences in STEM so that our students can learn more about different STEM careers. While there are many different kinds of engineers, civil, structural, and mechanical engineers - they are all career paths that involve building, design, and problem-solving.

Engaging students in the engineering design process in the classroom will allow them to develop skills in critical thinking, creativity, and design. When faced with a challenge, students can work through the same process that engineers go through in their work. Expose students to different challenges in your classroom posing a variety of problems and utilizing different types of materials.

Challenge: Erect a Water Tower

The town needs a water tower to provide a water supply to the surrounding homes and businesses there. You and your team need to construct one.

Potential Materials: empty gallon milk jug, plastic cup, newspaper, cardboard tubes, masking tape

A tall cylindrical base is often used in water towers because the shape can utilize gravity to send out water when needed. This system will work even when there’s no power to run the pump that is inside. Students can create a cylinder with their materials and determine a way that it can support a heavy weight. Real water towers would be made with much stronger materials, but students can create a simple model with recyclable materials.

STEM Connection
In this project, students will use science, engineering and math to complete the build. When you plan, measure, and balance, you use STEAM skills! Engineers in the field use technology to determine the most innovative materials to build with. Many architects use principles of design to make sure that water towers are functional but look nice, too. Add a reflection component to your lesson, encouraging students to expand on their thinking and envisions ways to improve their design.


Improve It!


I can make my tower stronger by _________________________________________




I can improve the design and look by ______________________________________




Engineering and design are throughout your home as well. Consider the challenges that can be created by utilizing the engineering elements within a house. Students can focus on one of the challenges below, considering the problem and designing a potential way to solve it using engineering.

Challenge: Home Redesign

● Your family wants to create a deck or balcony outside of your house. Sketch out a plan. What will the dimensions be? What materials will you use? Build a model and be able to explain its features.
● Imagine that you need to replace your stairs with a new solution to get from floor to floor. Build a prototype for a new and creative solution.
● The outside of your home needs to be updated. Some homes are enhanced with brick, stones, or stucco. Some have shutters and others have shingles. What solution will you use to change the outside of your home?

Potential Materials: craft sticks, cardboard pieces, glue, yarn, markers

STEM Connection: Engineers and designers need to consider how to solve problems in different ways. They need to know what types of materials can withstand the weather in certain areas. Students need to think creatively about designing structures so that they are not only strong but also look appealing. They also need to know the math and science behind the construction.




Did I create a plan to solve the problem?                           Yes     Somewhat     No

Does my home redesign project meet the challenge?       Yes     Somewhat     No

Did I use the materials creatively?                                       Yes     Somewhat     No


What might I do differently next time?______________________________________






Engineering is all around us. It takes engineering to put up the fence in your yard or to build a playground in your neighborhood. Engineering was used to build your school, your car, and your home. Share the many ways that engineering exists so that they may explore engineering as a creative interest or even as a career pathway.



About the Author: 
Dr. Jacie Maslyk is an Assistant Superintendent focusing on curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. She has served in public school as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, elementary principal, and Director of Elementary Education over the last 22 years. She is passionate about STEM education and is the author of STEAM Makers: Fostering Creativity and Innovation in the Elementary Classroom. You can contact Jacie through her website at


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