ETS1.A: Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem
What is a design for? What are the criteria and constraints of a successful solution?
- Introduction to ETS1.A
- K-12 Progression and Grade Band End Points for ETS1.A
- Performance Expectations Associated with ETS1.A
- Additional Resources for ETS1.A
The engineering design process begins with the identification of a problem to solve and the specification of clear goals, or criteria, that the final product or system must meet. Criteria, which typically reflect the needs of the expected end-user of a technology or process, address such things as how the product or system will function (what job it will perform and how), its durability, and its cost. Criteria should be quantifiable whenever possible and stated so that one can tell if a given design meets them.
Engineers must contend with a variety of limitations, or constraints, when they engage in design. Constraints, which frame the salient conditions under which the problem must be solved, may be physical, economic, legal, political, social, ethical, aesthetic, or related to time and place. In terms of quantitative measurements, constraints may include limits on cost, size, weight, or performance, for example. And although constraints place restrictions on a design, not all of them are permanent or absolute.
Grade Band Endpoints for
By the end of grade 2. A situation that people want to change or create can be approached as a problem to be solved through engineering. Such problems may have many acceptable solutions. Asking questions, making observations, and gathering information are helpful in thinking about problems. Before beginning to design a solution, it is important to clearly understand the problem.
By the end of grade 5. Possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints). The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for solutions can be compared on the basis of how well each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.
By the end of grade 8. The more precisely a design task’s criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that are likely to limit possible solutions (e.g., familiarity with the local climate may rule out certain plants for the school garden).
By the end of grade 12. Design criteria and constraints, which typically reflect the needs of the end-user of a technology or process, address such things as the product’s or system’s function (what job it will perform and how), its durability, and limits on its size and cost. Criteria and constraints also include satisfying any requirements set by society, such as taking issues of risk mitigation into account, and they should be quantified to the extent possible and stated in such a way that one can tell if a given design meets them.
Humanity faces major global challenges today, such as the need for supplies of clean water and food or for energy sources that minimize pollution, which can be addressed through engineering. These global challenges also may have manifestations in local communities. But whatever the scale, the first thing that engineers do is define the problem and specify the criteria and constraints for potential solutions.