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Engineering Practices

Engineers approach their work using common engineering practices. Research conducted by the YES team has identified 16 fundamental engineering practices for pre-K-12 engineering. These practices align with NGSS practices.

YES materials build learners’ facility with engineering practices. Each YES lesson highlights specific practices and describes how youth engage with them.

YES Practices of Engineering
Consider problems in context Use systems thinking
Use a systematic, problem-solving process Construct and use models and prototypes
Explore properties and uses of materials Make evidence-based decisions
Balance tradeoffs between criteria and constraints Persist and learn from failure
Innovate to design solutions Assess implications of solutions
Apply science knowledge to problem-solving Work effectively in teams
Apply math knowledge to problem-solving Communicate effectively
Envision multiple solutions Identify as engineers

Consider problems in context: Engineers must consider the users and the relevant conditions when designing solutions. Engineers often design for clients who set parameters and express preferences.

Use a systematic, problem-solving process: Engineers use a systematic, iterative process — the engineering design process — to solve problems. Named phases describe the purposes of the work and guide/structure work. This is not a rigid template, rather engineers move back and forth between phases.

Explore properties and uses of materials: Engineers use many different materials to create technologies. The properties of each material determine its suitability for the design. Engineers may investigate how the attributes, cost, and aesthetics of a material affect its performance and possible uses. 

Balance tradeoffs between criteria and constraints: Engineers must meet the designated criteria for success and client preferences while staying within specified constraints. They need to balance parameters such as cost, performance, materials, time, ethics, and sustainability.

Innovate to design solutions: Engineers rely on their imagination, creativity, and ingenuity to generate novel solutions.

Apply science knowledge to problem-solving: Engineers understand and apply science concepts as they make design decisions. Drawing on previous science knowledge or engaging in scientific investigations to learn more about underlying scientific principles can strengthen engineering solutions.

Apply math knowledge to problem-solving: Engineers use mathematics to analyze data and explore and express relationships between variables. They use mathematics to compare and evaluate design solutions, to specify parameters for solutions, and to set parameters for constraints.

Envision multiple solutions: Engineers brainstorm, construct, and assess multiple solutions to a problem. They understand that a given problem can be solved in a number of ways and use criteria and constraints to select the optimal solution.

Use systems thinking: Engineers consider how parts interact within larger systems. They think about relationships and how choices for one part of the system may have consequences for the overall functioning of the whole.

Construct and use models and prototypes: Engineers use a variety of types of models such as sketches, physical renderings, computer representations, and equations to depict, examine, test, and/or evaluate one or more parts of the design under specified conditions. Data from models can help inform the development of prototypes—fully functional versions of the intended product that can be further tested.

Make evidence-based decisions: Engineers collect and analyze data to inform their decision making throughout the engineering process. Evidence informs decisions about users’ needs, assessing baseline conditions, testing designs, redesigning, and presenting solutions to clients. Observation, empirical data, scientific knowledge, and models are all types of evidence engineers may use.

Persist through and learn from failure: Engineers understand that failure plays a prominent role in engineering, providing opportunities for learning and improving designs. They persist through failure and recognize that solutions can always be improved.

Assess implications of solutions: Engineers have a responsibility to evaluate their solutions from multiple perspectives. They need to consider not only how well the product functions, but also its social, environmental, and ethical outcomes.

Work effectively in teams: Most engineers work in teams. Collaborating, communicating, critiquing, and negotiating with people who bring a range of expertise and experiences strengthens engineering thinking and solutions.

Communicate effectively: Engineers communicate ideas to their teammates, other engineers, their clients, and the public. They use various media (text, speech, graphics, models, and numbers) to explain their designs and processes.

Identify as engineers: Through engagement in authentic engineering practices, engineers develop identities as creative problem solvers. They use processes, tools, and standards for quality and ethics that align with the discipline of engineering.

Read more about engineering practices:

Cunningham, C. M., & Kelly, G. K. (2017). Epistemic practices of engineering for education. Science Education. 101, 486–505. DOI: 10.1002/sce.21271

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Practices

The NGSS identifies eight science and engineering practices. YES practices encompass these and provide more specific, engineering-focused behaviors. The table indicates how the NGSS and YES practices intersect.

table showing intersection of NGSS and YES practices



Youth Engineering Solutions educates the next generation of problem solvers and engineers by developing equitable, research-based, and classroom-tested preK-8 engineering and STEM curricula; preparing and empowering educators to teach engineering; and conducting rigorous research that informs K-12 engineering education.

Youth Engineering Solutions (YES)

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802