challenge features a series of lessons that follow an eight-step engineering design process that is outlined at the beginning of each unit. The books have reproducible handouts, rubrics, and self-assessment checklists for students.

Pedagogical Elements

The following pedagogical elements can be found in each unit.

  • All the units and their design problems are framed in authentic sounding contexts that middle school students should find interesting and challenging.

  • Every unit begins with a series of exercises that can be used to assess or address prerequisite knowledge and skills.

  • Each unit also begins with a team-building activity that asks small groups of students to complete a task that cannot be achieved without benefit of cooperation.

  • Each design challenge includes a series of lessons (or tasks) that use an engineering design process to construct knowledge in small and sequential increments.

  • The lessons (or tasks) feature objectives, implementation procedures, guiding questions, possible answers, and support materials for students.

  • The instruction is very Socratic in nature (i.e., posing questions, addressing questions).

  • Most of the learning activities involve inquiry. More specifically, developing solutions to the problems posed involves making observations, taking measurements, gathering data, interpreting data, generalizing patterns, applying patterns to the solution, building and testing models, and reflecting on the quality of the solutions as well as the learning process.

  • Each unit includes a very detailed and comprehensive rubric for facilitating student assessment.


The GE Foundation funded the project for three years. The materials underwent two years of pilot testing and refinement during that period of time. The final units are currently available through Walch Publishing. Stranded and Everest Trek bear a 2006 copyright and Amazon Mission shows a 2007 copyright.

Diffusion & Impact

The series was pilot tested with hundreds of students in ten Massachusetts schools over the course of two years. This process produced positive testimony from pilot-site teachers. For example, Joseph McMullin at the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden, Mass., was quoted as stating: "In addition to relating math concepts to the physical world, my students improved their communication, graphing, critical thinking, and problem solving skills. Students especially enjoyed designing their own test."

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