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In this module, students will discuss the design of components in different types of devices, focusing on how engineers and designers make choices about which components to use.


  • Comparison reflection
  • Written recommendation/specification sheet

Core Concepts

  • Technical Communication
  • Engineering Design

Standards Correlations

This activity correlates to the following Next Generation Science Standards. These standards incorporate the Common Core Literacy Standards. This activity may correlate to other standards, but these are the best fit:

NGSS Engineering Design - Performance Expectations:

  • HS-ETS1-2. Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
  • HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.


  • Several different types of things to take apart (e.g., laptop and cell phone). For ideas and safety concerns see Safety.
  • Tools
  • Computer, ideally with internet access


Activity 1: Understanding Device Design

As a class, brainstorm what the process of designing a device is like. Have students talk as a class and write a reflection on the following questions:

  • What are the differences between the devices?
  • What is their intended purpose, audience/user, and use case(s)?
  • How do you think the devices are designed to meet the needs of the user in the intended purpose? Be specific by citing design choices and possible reasoning for each choice.

Activity 2: Device Component Comparison

  • Pick several different physical items to take apart and evaluate.
  • As a team, talk and take notes about the components you find in each device. List any specific characteristics you can find.
  • Compare and contrast characteristics of similar components in each device (e.g., the laptop battery vs. the cell phone battery).
  • Hypothesize reasons for the design choices and differences or similarities between components in each device.
  • Share as a class and create a list of general design constraints.
  • Assign each team one type of component to research (e.g., batteries).
  • Have each team write a recommendation report/specification list about what characteristics an engineer or designer should consider while choosing components to meet the needs of those who will use the type of device they are building.

Discussion Topics

  • How do design choices impact the user/audience?
  • What can we learn about design by reverse engineering or taking something apart?
  • What should an engineer or designer consider when choosing components and structures for a specific device?
  • How can individual components help inform us about the overall device? Is a device just the sum of its parts? Why or why not?

Other Resources

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