from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 208-209)
Multiple solutions to an engineering design problem are always possible because there is more than one way to meet the criteria and satisfy the constraints. But the aim of engineering is not simply to design a solution to a problem but to design the best solution. Determining what constitutes “best,” however, requires value judgments, given that one person’s view of the optimal solution may differ from another’s.
Optimization often requires making trade-offs among competing criteria. For example, as one criterion (such as lighter weight) is enhanced, another (such as unit cost) might be sacrificed (i.e., cost may be increased due to the higher cost of lightweight materials). In effect, one criterion is devalued or traded off for another that is deemed more important. When multiple possible design options are under consideration, with each optimized for different criteria, engineers may use a trade-off matrix to compare the overall advantages and disadvantages of the different proposed solutions.
The decision as to which criteria are critical and which ones can be traded off is a judgment based on the situation and the perceived needs of the end-user of the product or system. Because many factors—including environmental or health impacts, available technologies, and the expectations of users—change over time and vary from place to place, a design solution that is considered optimal at one time and place may appear far from optimal at other times and places. Thus different designs, each of them optimized for different conditions, are often needed.
from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 209-210)
By the end of grade 2. Because there is always more than one possible solution to a problem, it is useful to compare designs, test them, and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.
By the end of grade 5. Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and the constraints.
By the end of grade 8. There are systematic processes for evaluating solutions with respect to how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a problem. Comparing different designs could involve running them through the same kinds of tests and systematically recording the results to determine which design performs best. Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process—that is, some of those characteristics may be incorporated into the new design. This iterative process of testing the most promising solutions and modifying what is proposed on the basis of the test results leads to greater refinement and ultimately to an optimal solution. Once such a suitable solution is determined, it is important to describe that solution, explain how it was developed, and describe the features that make it successful.
By the end of grade 12. The aim of engineering is not simply to find a solution to a problem but to design the best solution under the given constraints and criteria. Optimization can be complex, however, for a design problem with numerous desired qualities or outcomes. Criteria may need to be broken down into simpler ones that can be approached systematically, and decisions about the priority of certain criteria over others (trade-offs) may be needed. The comparison of multiple designs can be aided by a trade-off matrix. Sometimes a numerical weighting system can help evaluate a design against multiple criteria. When evaluating solutions, all relevant considerations, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetic, social, cultural, and environmental impacts, should be included. Testing should lead to design improvements through an iterative process, and computer simulations are one useful way of running such tests.
A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (pages 208-210)
Appendix I - Engineering Design in the NGSS