Best Free Engineering Lessons and Activities

Engineering lessons and activities
(Image credit: Getty Images/SDI Productions)

Look around. What do you see?

Perhaps computers, phones, desks, and lights. Possibly chairs, backpacks, and textbooks. Likely walls and windows. Maybe a parking lot with cars. 

We are surrounded by the products of engineering. Every human-made object, no matter how small or common, contains within it the engineering design process from start to finish. Accounting for the “E” in STEM, engineering is an essential but mostly unseen aspect of human existence. 

This year, National Engineers Week falls on Feb 18-24, making it a great time to explore the top engineering lessons and activities detailed here. Engineering lessons are a natural fit for science classes, as well as project-based learning. All are free, except for a single modestly-priced exception that’s too good not to include. 

Best Free Engineering Lessons and Activities 

TryEngineering Lesson Plans
Searchable by age, category, and keywords, these highly detailed lesson plans are classroom-ready. Each lesson includes a specific design challenge, materials required, background, vocabulary, and much more. From, a collaboration of IEEE, IBM, and the New York Hall of Science. 

The Tech Interactive Engineering Lessons
More than two dozen lesson plans and related challenges that look at engineering through the lens of diverse subjects, from data science to English Language Arts to systems design. From the highly regarded The Tech Interactive science and technology center in San Jose, California.

PBS Kids Design Squad Global
Strong selection of videos, activities, design challenges, games, and more that engage kids in hands-on engineering. Visit the dedicated educator section for lesson plans and professional learning. 

2024 Science Buddies Engineering Challenge
The challenge: Build a rubber band car. Sounds easy, right? Sure, except your score depends on the weight of materials used, as well as the distance the car goes. Just as in real life, this challenge incorporates the practical issues that influence the success of your design. Elementary, middle, and high school challenges available. Submissions will be accepted through March 18, 2024. 

Engineering Design Process
Engineering is essentially problem-solving. To start, you must first define the problem. Then what? Use this information-packed flow chart to teach design thinking to your students. A video plus links to other resources makes this a complete lesson. 

Machine Learning for Kids
Machine learning forms the basis for the exploding field of artificial intelligence. On this-easy-to use site, students can follow the step-by-step guidance to start teaching the machine something about human experience. Be sure to check out the premade downloadable guides. Create a free account or try it with no account needed. 

Engineer Girl Design Challenges
Engineering isn’t just about high-tech materials. Students take on the challenge of using everyday goods to design airplanes, batteries, bridges, and more.

Cyberchase Science and Engineering  
Explore games, videos, activities, and topics related to engineering and science on this PBS Kids site based on the educational children’s television series Cyberchase. Included are interesting downloadable lessons, sortable by topic. Want to make a Thaumatrope? There’s a lesson for that! No account required – just start the fun and learning.

Teach Engineering K-12 Curriculum
Strong collection of complete, standards-based K-12 engineering lessons, searchable by grade levels. Each lesson includes a video, background information, learning objectives, standards, worksheets, investigating questions, pre- and post-assessments, and more. Topics range from the basics of design thinking to creating working models of physiology to creating spaghetti bridges (naturally!). 

PBS Learning Media
A rich resource for diverse topics in engineering, from design to history to careers. Browse interactive lessons, audio, video, documents, and images, or search by grade and type or resource. Questions such as, “Why can’t humans fly?” and “Is there life in space?” will keep students engaged, learning and asking questions of their own. 

Engineering For Good Plastic Solutions
Plastic is everywhere. It’s in our oceans, in our soils, and—not surprisingly—in our bodies. This three-week project-based learning unit aims to help students develop solutions to the plastic pollution problem, through classic engineering workflow. Included are lesson plans, videos, and documents for grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. NGSS-aligned and shareable to Google Classroom. 

Design a Robotic Insect
What allows insects to crawl and fly the way they do? In this fascinating lesson that combines biology with engineering, students will learn about insects and robotic analogs, then design their own. 

The Lithium-Ion Battery Supply Chain
The 21st-century explosion of mobile devices and the looming threat of climate change have made the lithium-ion battery extremely important to modern life. Learn about all facets of the battery life cycle, from lithium extraction to e-waste in this robust lesson from Underwriters’ Laboratory (UL). This lesson includes guides for students and teachers, as well as revealing video and engaging graphics. 

ASCE Bridge Florida software
Free for education users, this downloadable bridge design software is intended to provide the sophistication of a robust professional CAD software while offering a simpler interface for students. The video tutorial will help students to start designing and testing quickly. Will your virtual bridge hold the weight of a tractor-trailer? Don’t worry, you can always go back to the drawing board. 

NC State University College of Engineering Activities
Dozens of engineering lessons arranged according to categories, from airplanes and rockets to water filtering and movement. Fun topics about everyday items such as “Diaper Dissection” and “Deconstructing Oreos” will keep students absorbed in learning serious engineering principles.

TEDEd Engineering lessons
A diverse selection of animated video engineering lessons. Investigate ideas such as the world’s biggest battery, building the Hoover Dam, and how jetpacks work (hint: when's the last time you saw a jetpack?). Each video includes questions to ponder and resources for further study. Filter by grade level, duration, and type of video.

Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy Virtual Robot Curriculum
An ingenious way to teach and learn robotics online, without physical robotics equipment. Students and teachers can access the program anytime, from any connected device, and all progress is automatically saved. Account options include single licenses at $9 per student, 12 licenses for $100, or premium/unlimited access for $300. 

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Diana Restifo

Diana has been Tech & Learning's web editor and contributor since 2010, dedicated to ferreting out the best free tech tools for teachers.