The engineering design process is an easy-to-grasp way for students to practice flexible problem solving in small groups. It can be utilized successfully in any grade level and with students of all backgrounds. There are many different versions of the process, but in general they follow the following steps:
ASK: The task is presented to students without much accompanying info. Students are then tasked with "asking the right questions" to reveal the challenges that need overcome, the materials available, and any constraints they'll be dealing with.
IMAGINE: In partners or small groups, students are tasked with brainstorming ideas, plans of attack, etc. Each group must choose an initial idea they would like to move forward with together.
PLAN: Each group designs their plan collaboratively- including drawing sketches, determining materials needed, reasoning out any budget plans, etc.
CREATE: Groups create their prototype/design based on their initial plan. This design is then put to the test to see if it holds up. Students are encouraged to watch very carefully when testing so they can determine areas to improve.
IMPROVE: If/when the original design fails, students are encouraged to change their plans in real-time. Students discuss ways to improve and often enter a "rapid prototyping" mini-loop where designs are continuously improved, retested, and improved upon again.
I don’t think anyone just gave up when they were frustrated. I think that frustration was turned into ‘what now’? It was as much a project on teamwork and discussions on the process of building as it was a STEM project to develop the catapult.
-Ms. Haarlow, 3rd Grade Teacher, Pinehurst ES
~24 minute intro video to the process in elementary classrooms