ITEEA The Elementary STEM Journal, Vol. 24, Issue 4
PublisherInternational Technology and Engineering Educators Association, Reston, VA
ReleasedMay 1, 2020
The Elementary STEM Journal, Volume 24, Issue 4 - May, 2020

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Books to Briefs - Anyone Can Engineer

Books to Briefs

Ara cover-200.jpgAnyone Can Engineer 
by Jana Bonds

Book Used:

Singh, K. (2018) 
Ara the Star Engineer 
Vancouver, British Columbia: Page Two Books. 
[33 pages; ISBN 978-1-989025-05-5] 
Book image courtesy of

Grade Level: K-2

book synopsis

Ara and her best friend robot, DeeDee, love wondering and discussing numbers. One day Ara wants to know how many stars are in the sky. DeeDee has an error in trying to answer her question, so Ara wonders how to fix her robot. She realizes she needs help. Ara goes on an adventure with DeeDee and visits Innovation Plex. Here she learns key strategies for problem solving from trailblazers and real-life engineers. They teach her the importance of planning, brainstorming, creativity, communication, collaboration, and tenacity. Ara and DeeDee put what they learn into action and Aha! Success! Ara discovers that collaboration and teamwork solve problems, and she can be an engineer just like the friends she made on her adventure. This inspiring story will help all children, especially young girls, see themselves in the diverse backgrounds and exciting careers presented in this book.

lesson description

The book is a simple way to introduce the power of problem solving using the engineering design process and serves as the starting point for inspiring children to recognize and see themselves in possible engineering careers. After discussing the story, children are challenged to work in small groups using the design process to create a recycling sorting station for their new family robot. 

lesson goal

The primary goal of this lesson is to engage students in thinking like an engineer and collaborating with others while designing a solution to a problem.

recycle-237874-300-med.jpgstudent learning objectives

Students will be able to:

•     Recognize that anyone can problem solve and think like an engineer.

•     Identify and use measuring and building tools and materials appropriately in solving the given challenge.

•     Use the engineering design process to design and construct a solution to a problem following given criteria and constraints.

•     Use planning and drawing strategies to communicate solutions in the design process.

•     Explore characteristics of problem-solving, including collaboration and creativity.

•     Ask questions, make observations, and gather information to understand a story and brainstorm solutions through written plans and verbal discussions.

standards addressed

Common Core Standards (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2019):

English Language Arts > Reading: Literature


o     Ask and answer questions about key details in a text.



o     Measure the length of an object by selecting and using appropriate tools such as rulers, yardsticks, meter sticks, and measuring tapes.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013):

•     K-2-ETS1-1

o     Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.

•     K-2-ETS1- 2

o     Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.

Standards for Technological Literacy
(ITEEA, 2007/2002/2000):

•     Standard 1:

o     Benchmark B: All people use tools and techniques to help them do things (p. 24).

•     Standard 9:

o     Benchmark D: When designing an object, it is important to be creative and consider all ideas (p. 102).

o     Benchmark E: Models are used to communicate and test design ideas and processes (p. 102).

design brief


Ara’s best friend is a robot named DeeDee. Robots are machines that gather information about their environment and use that information to follow instructions to do work. Just like DeeDee had errors in the story, robots in real-life run into problems and need humans to help troubleshoot solutions. Imagine that your family recently won a robot from the local robotics club. It is designed to help sort recycling. Unfortunately, the club forgot one important part—a place that the robot can put all the sorted recycled goods. Thankfully, you know how to think like an engineer! Don’t forget the power of having a plan, brainstorming, communication, and collaboration, just like the engineers in Ara’s story.


Work with your partner(s) to design and build a sorting station for your new robot to sort recycling in your home. Customize the station based on what you know are the main goods your local recycling facility collects AND what your family typically uses. Your robot sorts based on size and material, so be sure to consider this in your design.

Criteria and Constraints

1.     Your design process must be well documented in the engineers’ notebook.

2.     Your station must:

o     Have at least 3 sorted areas.

o     Be stable enough to hold 4 recycled pieces at a time.

o     Keep recycling contained from weather and animals.

o     Have an easy way to remove the recycled pieces.

o     Use only the materials and tools provided.

3.     Use creativity when designing your station. Make it look appealing and reflect you!


•     Various recyclables for student testing and building (plastic containers, cans, bottles, newspaper, etc.)

•     Cardboard boxes and scraps of various sizes

•     Simple tools (e.g., scissors, rulers)

•     Coloring utensils (e.g., markers, crayons, colored pencils)

•     Paper scraps or construction paper

•     Craft sticks

•     Pipe cleaners

•     Tape (masking, duct, clear)

•     School glue and/or hot glue (with supervision)


1.     After reading Ara the Star Engineer aloud, engage children in a discussion. Prompt with questions that give children the opportunity to analyze the message of the story—the fact that everyone can think like engineers as long as they remember the importance of planning, brainstorming, communication, and collaboration.

2.     Define engineering. Possibly discuss types of engineers and ask students to share what they know about what engineers do or if they know anyone in the field. 

3.     Introduce the role of robotics in the world today and consider showing a brief video of some everyday robots. Ask children if they have ideas for robots they wish were invented.

4.     Assign children to groups of 2-3.

5.     Present and explain the design brief. Consider showing examples of common recycling bins they may have seen in different places (e.g., chain restaurants, school cafeteria, parks).

6.     If developmentally appropriate, have children follow along and plan out simple ideas in the prepared engineers’ notebook, on a design log, or even on plain paper.

7.     Explain that you want students to plan, plan, and plan some more and that their documentation is a critical key to success.

8.     Give children time to share their solutions and talk about their thought process. They can use their engineers’ notebook to guide their discussion. Where appropriate, point out where students have shown they are thinking like engineers or used great planning, brainstorming, communication, or collaboration.

kids-1093758-300-med.jpgSupport Materials

•     Read Aloud Video:

•     Author’s Website:

•     Design Brief:

•     Engineers Notebook:

craft supplies-300-med.jpgreferences

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2019). Common core state standards initiative. Retrieved from

International Technology Education Association. (ITEA/ITEEA). (2007/2002/2000). Standards for technological literacy: Content for the study of technology (3rd ed.). Reston, VA: Author.

NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Singh, K. (2018). Ara the star engineer. Vancouver, British Columbia: Page Two Books.



Jana Bonds is a middle school Technology and Engineering Education teacher at Emory H. Markle Middle School in Hanover, PA. She is pursuing her Ed.D. in STEM education at the University of Pittsburgh. She can be contacted at