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Engineering through Picture Books

Melissa-Sue John, Ph.D. wife, mother, psychologist, STEM education researcher, blogger, and author of childrens bookscurrently lectures at Quinnipiac University, works as a Research Associate at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and is the founder of Lauren Simone Publishing House, which publishes the work of youth authors and illustrators. To learn more, visit, or Instagram: @laurensimonepubs @wpiseedsofstem


So you are an educator and you want to introduce more STEM activities to your students? Picture books provide perfect opportunities for teaching the problem-solving skills that are the basis of engineering.

I recently attended a workshop entitled Engineering a Storyat the STEM Education Center at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). The workshop focused Engineering Design Process (EDP) or problem solving applied to any fiction or nonfiction text.

We learned strategies to guide students in

sorting solutions
choosing an innovative solution
creating and improving a final prototype of a solution to one of problems in the book.

When generating a list of picture books to examine problem solving, of course you want that list to feature diverse main characters. You can find these books through the Diverse BookFinder. Click on Search and type in problem solving. (You could do a similar search on another STEM topics, such as plants.) Fifteen books pop up, so you are in luck.

Lets choose five to start with:

(Chinese boy)

(White girl, teacher's race unclear

(Black girl) 

(Latino boy) 

(Black boy) 



by Chris Barton and Don Tate

You know the Super Soaker. It's one of top twenty toys of all time. And it was invented entirely by accident. Trying to create a new cooling system for refrigerators and air conditioners, inventor Lonnie Johnson instead created the mechanics for the iconic toy. A love for rockets, robots, inventions, and a mind for creativity began early in Lonnie Johnson's life. Growing up in a house full of brothers and sisters, persistence and a passion for problem solving became the cornerstone for a career as an engineer and his work with NASA. But it is his invention of the Super Soaker water gun that has made his most memorable splash with kids and adults.


Once youve chosen your book, its time to design a lesson plan around problem solving using Engineering Design Process (EDP):

1. Have students identify a problem described in the book.
2. Generate ideas for solving the problem (brainstorming).
3. Select a solution from among these ideas (sorting solutions/choosing an innovative solution).
4. Build the item or make a plan (sketching).
5. Evaluate (sharing/revising).
6. Present results (creating and improving a final prototype of a solution to one of problems in the book).

As your students work through the EDP using books with racially- and culturally-diverse characters, they can absorb important concepts not just about how engineering works, but also about who can be an engineer.

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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