Module 3

The Design Cycle


I would like to explore how I can incorporate more engineering design elements into my senior chemistry classes. I have an idea about them testing hard water and perhaps engineering a water softener, but I need to do more research in this area. I would also like to come up with some more ideas for engineering design that apply to real world problems. I think it would be very engaging for my students. 



This module is titled “the Design Cycle”. I have not heard of this term used in education before. I imagine that we are going to be looking into engineering design, and like the scientific method, how when designing a process there are often mistakes and improvements and changes in a cyclical nature.  
We are also going to investigate a growth versus and fixed mindset. I have been studying these concepts in another Queen’s course and we have heard from Dr. Carol Dweck about her research in this area. She started this field of research with the inquiry of “why were some people able to cope and thrive with setbacks while others crumbled” (Dweck & Bailor). Catherine Cote writes for the Harvard Business School Online “Someone with a growth mindset views intelligence, abilities, and talents as learnable and capable of improvement through effort. On the other hand, someone with a fixed mindset views those same traits as inherently stable and unchangeable over time” (Cote 2022). 


Developing a culture of risk taking in learning makes me think of the tenet of creating a safe classroom environment so that students are not afraid of failing and feel comfortable trying new things. “Grit” is another point of discussion in this module. From my own personal readings, I have come to see “grit” as a person’s internal ability to accomplish difficult tasks or maintain a course of action despite obstacles. We will also be learning about 3D printers and their applications in the design cycle. I am looking forward to this lesson because I have never worked with a 3D printer and am looking forward to learning about them. 


I really like the idea of a growth mindset. I have already been chatting up my new terminology with staff at school during our inquiry time. I would like to find some posters for our library display and my classroom that can inform and encourage students to believe in themselves, that anyone can improve their abilities with effort and action. I actually think we have a 3D printer at our school if the rumors are true. I will definitely be investigating this and talking to the shop teacher to see if my science classes can also use the technology. 

The Design Cycle

I was interested in comparing the Engineering Design Process (EDP) with the Scientific Method (SM), and two main differences stood out to me. First, the EDP has a focus on creating something new to solve a problem, rather than the SM where the focus is on proving a prediction to be true in all cases. The second difference that stood out to me was that for the EDP, once a successful solution has been found and communicated, the idea may be improved upon, but does not necessarily create a problem to restart the cycle. On the other hand, for the SM, once a hypothesis has been proven true and communicated, the results may stimulate more questions that need to be answered through the SM again. I imagine the EDP to be a process used to create a tangible solution to a problem, where the SM is a process for rationalizing observations of the world. I can see the use of each different process in different applications. 






Mod 3 - The Design Cycle.png

Identifying a Real-Life Problem

In our local area we have very hard water. I have been thinking of creating a chemistry lab where students learn how to test their home’s water hardness, do research to determine the health benefits and problems, and design a water softening system. I have not yet tried this idea or done too much research myself, other than hundreds of hours scrubbing white buildup from my windows and shower doors.

I also came across this related project from Teach Engineering in my search for this assignment. In this activity students are going through the engineering design process to develop methods for removing pollutants from water. The main principles being aeration and filtering. This can be related to chemistry through a chemical engineering perspective on water treatment plants or seawater treatment system technologies. I could even extend this project to having the students attempt to remove the salt from water, in an effort to address the real-world problem of the decline in fresh drinking water on our planet. 


In my classroom I usually do “class brainstorming” where students generate ideas and I collect and sort them on the board. Most of my classes are small, and students are giving me suggestions for brainstorming ideas as well as how they want me to sort them. If I have a quieter group of students, I will give everyone three post-it notes and have them jot an idea down and bring it to the front to stick on the board. If I have a class that is a little more confident, I will have them all kind of yell at me all at once haha. I come from a big Italian family so I can handle the chaos of 15-20 students shouting suggestions at once. If the group is in the right mood the loud yelling can be quite exciting for them all and they get into it. I am okay with the shy student whispering in the ear of their friend to call out their suggestion for them. The dynamics of class brainstorming are quite varied depending on the class composition.

I have also done projects where students are broken into smaller groups and given different smaller pieces to brainstorm in their group and then share back to the whole class at the end of the process. I do have a class set of mini whiteboards that I have used to survey students. Sometimes when you have a shy or anxious group, writing on a non-permanent surface is less stressful for them. 

Throughout any of these processes of brainstorming I open with a reminder about valuing everyone’s suggestions and being respectful. I tend to verbally encourage positive behaviour and suggest alternative ways for students to express themselves when someone is rude. I try and keep my tone and expectations for brainstorming the same as expectations for daily behaviour. When asking students to brainstorm as a class, I usually take the attitude of ‘Ms. McTaggart does not know the answer and could really use your help’. Students usually enjoy teaching me things, so I will feign a lack of knowledge to give them that opportunity. 

Growth Mindset & Grit

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3D Printers

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Applying the Design Process

Following the design process, build three iterations of a catapult. A catapult is a machine that stores energy and then sends an object flying into the distance when released.


Feel free to try your own design and modifications. After your catapult is built, test it. How far did the projectile (ex. small eraser) travel? What did you learn from building your first catapult? 

Iteration 1: “Oh my” 


Supplies were short at hand at my house but ta da, she... works?
was successful at launching a small hair clip directly up in the
air. Yay. My initial thoughts are that I need better supplies and a
greater angle on my launch pad. 

Redesign your catapult so that the projectile can travel further. This will be iteration 2 of your catapult. Try changing the shape of the base of the catapult. Test iteration 2 of your catapult. How far did the projectile travel this time? What did you learn from the change in your second design? How does the shape of the base make a difference?

Iteration 2: “A moderate success” 

The pencils, which did not work great in the last design, have
made a mad comeback as an asset for the stability of my
pyramid base for this design. I was able to find one solitary
elastic band that was instrumental to the success of this
catapult. My plastic cup was both oversized and not really
attached that well, I think the pencils were not flat enough as a
catapult arm. All that said, it actually launched my hair clip
halfway across the room - which is almost as far as I could have
just thrown it. Feels like progress. 

Now, redesign a feature of your catapult. You may choose to try changing the launch angle of the eraser. Try launching the eraser at different angles and note how far the eraser travels. 

Iteration 3: “She is a good girl”

I replaced the catapult arm with a ruler and fortunately, just
before snapping it in half, I realized I needed to tape the
pencils back on for support. The cup was way easier to tape
on to the flat platform and don’t get me started on this
super fun roll of dollar store masking tape that is 100 years
old. So it was looking good, and then my one elastic broke.
I tied a knot in it but lost most of the elastic strength. I was
too worried about it breaking again to really try doubling up
on it. I added a weighted bean bag to keep her from flying
away after every pull. Hair clip successfully launched across
the room.


Module 3 Summary

In this module we learned about the iterative nature of the engineering design cycle. I learned how it is similar to the scientific method in that there is a cyclical process of improving your work and sharing your results. These two processes are also very different as the engineering design process focuses on improving designs for a product or solution to a problem, where the scientific method is using experimentation to confirm or deny a hypothesis.

We talked about the importance of developing grit as a way to sustain passion and persevere in achieving long term goals. Having a growth mindset over a fixed mindset is a good strategy to develop grit. A growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed, where a fixed mindset is the belief that intelligence is fixed. Neuroscience confirms that our brains grow with training, so it is important to teach this mindset to our students. We must be careful to distinguish between a positive attitude and a growth mindset, specifically that a growth mindset includes an action element in addition to believing in yourself. 

We also learned about 3D printers and the benefits of that technology in the classroom. Students are able to develop a passion, engage in learning, and increase their communication and leadership skills through the open ended and creative nature of 3D printing. There are challenges to 3D printers in that they require either a large amount of money or knowledge to both get started and maintain the technology. There are software programs that have a learning curve as well. However, these are the same challenges that come with most other non-familiar tech instruments. It’s important to keep in mind that some of the best learning comes from students taking the lead and becoming the experts in the room. 



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Harvard Health Publishing (2021, February 15). Train your brain. Harvard Health Publishing. 

Jolly, A. (n.d.). Authentic STEM Projects: Learning with a Purpose. Defined. 

Kolenbrander, A., Todd, J., Zarske, M. S., & Yowell, J. (2022, June 4). The Dirty Water Project: Design-Build-

Test Your Own Water Filters. Teach Engineering. 

Miller, K. D. (2022, January 30). 5+ Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset Using Grit and Resilience. Positive


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Science Buddies (n.d.). What is the Engineering Design Process? Science Buddies. 

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Stanford (2015, November 3). Teaching a Growth Mindset - Carol Dweck [Video]. YouTube. 

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STEM by Design (2016, July 5). STEM Problems Students Can Really Address. STEM by Design. 

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Teach Thought University (n.d.). Revolutionizing the Classroom. Teach Thought.


TED (2014, December 17). The power of believing that you can improve | Carol Dweck [Video]. YouTube.


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TEDx Talks (2016, June 27). Why Teachers should Bring 3D Printers into the Classroom [Video]. YouTube.