5 Engineering Design Challenges for High School Students

Monday, May 10, 2021
5 Engineering Design Challenges For High School Students

Teaching engineering and STEM to high school students can be tough without hands-on activities to fully engage them and help them learn concepts firsthand. 

Though textbooks and lectures are useful, STEM lessons require some firsthand experiences for students to truly absorb concepts.

Moreover, part of what makes engineering so exciting is its direct application to the world students observe around them. Engineering can provide solutions to so many of the world’s problems, so why not start teaching high school students that now?

If you’re teaching engineering to your high school students and are looking for some fun design challenges, below are five projects you can try. Aspects of these projects can also be done remotely, as students can research and perform calculations from home and work with their group members via virtual breakout rooms.

Increase access to clean water.

This is a great project to give students a beginning understanding of civil, chemical, and environmental engineering, including testing for pollutants and coming up with environmentally sound solutions.

Through this project, students will learn about the issues affecting cities across the world and the United States in accessing clean water and design their own water filtration system in response.

Students can start by testing water samples for pollutants. They will then design a water filtration system that will help sanitize the water to become suitable for drinking.

Students will learn how civil, chemical, and environmental engineers work together to solve environmental problems and help increase access to clean water around the world.

You can find out more about this type of water filtration project online for ideas, or create your own!

Protect a coastal town from shore erosion.

In this project, students utilize their STEM skills to calculate wave energy, decide what type of material will best protect a shoreline, and build a sea wall to protect a coastal town from shore erosion and flooding.

Students will also ask themselves questions about whether or not humans should be preventing soil erosion and if it’s possible to stop waves from eventually eroding various shorelines. 

They can even work to calculate the cost of their chosen material plus labor and decipher how much of that material they will need to build an effective sea wall. 

You can find various detailed versions of this project online and choose what aspects of the project, including extra activities, you would like to include in your lesson planning.

Build an eco-friendly earthquake resistant structure.

Students of all ages can engage in this type of project, but for high school students, you can increase the challenge by asking them to build a structure that is not only earthquake resistant but also eco-friendly.

In this project, students will need to choose a city in which to build their structure, calculating how strong an earthquake might be in the city based on projections and past disasters. They will need to find materials that are not only effective to protect the building from an earthquake but are also environmentally friendly. 

They will then have to design their structure to withstand the force of an earthquake. Perhaps they will build a model version of their structure and then see how well it stands using an earthquake simulation machine.

Through this type of project, students will learn about the challenges of combating natural disasters in larger cities and also the challenges of building eco-friendly structures that can also withstand a great amount of pressure.

Solve a city’s specific challenges with urban design.

This project will give high school students a taste of civil engineering and urban planning. To add to the challenge of the project, ask students to choose a city to study with their group. 

Whichever city students choose will have its own particular challenges, whether those challenges relate to public transportation, eroding bridges, or the need for more reliable infrastructure. Perhaps some cities’ largest problem is the lack of high-density residencies for a growing population.

Once students identify a problem they would like to help solve, they will create their urban planning solution by designing plans for projects like public transportation, new bridges, high-density living environments, etc. 

They will get a sense of the cost of urban development as well as how to start approaching urban-specific problems that arise all over the world.

Build a recycling sorting machine.

In this project, students can venture into magnetism and other engineering techniques to find efficient and effective ways to sort recyclable materials.

Students will learn aspects of mechanical engineering and how engineering can help solve major world issues like global warming through better recycling practices.

Depending on the type of lesson you want to teach, students can create a makeshift version of their recycling sorting machine at home through virtual schooling, or they can work together at school to build a more complicated recycling machine or robot.



Whichever type of project you choose, your students will undoubtedly appreciate the opportunity to learn about engineering design through hands-on work. 

And as a bonus, they will learn about ways they can work together to help solve issues affecting the world and society today!