Hands-On Project Ideas to Teach Engineering Design Practices

Hands-on learning is one of the core components of Career and Technical Education (CTE). While everyone has their own needs when it comes to learning, hands-on learning is uniquely positioned to support or elevate content for all types of learners.

Classroom projects can be incorporated into your classes regardless of your budget. Feel free to collect recycled items from your co-workers and community. To help you incorporate hands-on learning in your classroom, we have developed four challenges to teach engineering design practices below.



Challenge: Design a catapult to shoot within the medieval city walls to keep intruders out. The catapult should be safe and not damage the walls when launched.

Set up a medieval wall using paper and tape. Once students arrive, show pictures and videos of various catapult designs pointing out the basic features of a catapult. Upon discussing catapults, share the challenge with students.

Once students design a device that will accurately launch over the wall, encourage them to experiment with how to make their device shoot the projectile as far as possible to keep attackers from getting too close.

Learning objectives:

• Practice iterative design
• Practice optimization
• Apply projectile physics principles

Can Recycling

Challenge: Use a renewable power source, such as human-powered hydraulics, to design a way for a recycling plant to effectively crush multiple soft drink cans at once.

Use the first part of the class to discuss the importance of recycling, especially with renewable power sources. Upon understanding the importance of recycling cans, provide students with their challenge for the day. Encourage the use of repurposed materials for the base of the crusher when possible.

Learning objectives:

• Using environmental engineering
• Apply principles of force
• Apply principles of fluid power systems 

Frictionless Design

Challenge: Design a model car to efficiently turn potential energy into kinetic energy. At the end of the class, we will race the cars to see which one travels the furthest.

Begin by having students research how race cars are designed to minimize energy loss. Discuss how cars with reduced air resistance and friction are the most energy-efficient and will travel the furthest and fastest. Show students examples of mousetraps and derby cars to help them brainstorm their model car.

Learning objectives:

• Apply principles of energy conservation 
• Research engineering design and processes 
• Develop strategies for determining efficiency in a design 

Maintaining Distance

Challenge: Develop a strategy and tools to transport extremely toxic samples from one containment area to another. Until the toxins are secure, make sure everyone stays out of the contamination zone.

Set up two containment areas in the room. Instruct students that they are part of a task force employed to transport extremely toxic samples from one containment area to another. Have students strategize and test their methods until all the toxins are secured.

Learning objectives:

• Practice problem-solving
• Apply principles of machine design 
• Practice communication and teamwork

iCEV Design Challenges

iCEV’s brand-new STEM site includes two new lesson types, Design Challenges and Lab Challenges, to provide students a hands-on approach to learning STEM concepts. iCEV’s Design Challenges were created to help teachers apply engineering principles using hands-on concepts.

Each Design Challenge encompasses detailed videos and written instructions for teachers and students. Additionally, each challenge includes material lists, engineering notebook prompts and various assessments.

For detailed video and written instructions for teachers and students, engineering notebook prompts, material lists and assessment options for these project ideas, check out the Design Challenges in the iCEV STEM Curriculum.



iCEV’s STEM Curriculum makes it easy for STEM teachers to integrate hands-on learning experiences in their classrooms. Regardless of budget, environment and experience, iCEV created the STEM site to be a comprehensive curriculum for teachers.


About the Author

Jacelyn Nesmith serves as the Content Development Specialist and Event Coordinator at iCEV. Due to her roots in CTE, Jacelyn is passionate about the industry and enjoys providing interactive materials and resources for teachers to use in their classrooms. Her background, experiences and proficiency in agricultural communications and education allow her to effectively communicate the successes of CTE educators, teacher tips and project ideas, utilizing the iCEV platform and various communication outlets.