The Engineering Design Process- Learn, Create, Make, Earn a Badge




Introduction: The Engineering Design Process- Learn, Create, Make, Earn a Badge

I love the idea of scout badges. Each badge is a tangible reminder of a newly acquired skill, an achievement or the willingness to work hard and learn.  Badges are cool.  I wanted to incorporate them into my classroom, however custom made badges are expensive and I wasn’t sure how the kids would display them.  I also wanted badges that recognized a cumulative set of skills.  Learning is a series of activities that fit together, like a puzzle.  A puzzle!  Puzzle badges would allow students to celebrate each step of their learning. I loved the idea, but realized I would never have enough time to make a set for each student - so the first step to earning your badges would be making your badges. The activity was a perfect fit for teaching the engineering design process


Old jigsaw pieces, Wooden puzzle pieces

Assorted LEDs

Button battery holder with wires, Button batteries 

Various adhesives: liquid glue, glue sticks, super glue, hot glue Velcro dots

Various magnets: adhesive back craft magnets, magnetic tape, neodymium magnets

Paint, sharpie markers

Mod Podge- high gloss

Samples of scout badges

paper plates

Tools/ equipment

Safety goggles


Wire strippers

Step 1: Identify the Problem

A puzzle is a good analogy to learning, both require pieces to fit together. Finishing a hard puzzle is always a reason to celebrate. Learning should be celebrated!  In scouting, badges are used to acknowledge and celebrate achievements and learning new skills. Could you design a puzzle badge to celebrate learning in the classroom? 

Step 2: Research

To start the project, I brought in my daughter's girl scout vest that had both organizational patches and badges, a toy sheriff badge and a Maker Faire Learn to Solder skill badge. As a group, we developed the following research questions.

What is a badge?

Has anyone in our group ever earned a badge?

What materials can be used to make badges?

How can badges be displayed or attached?

What is the difference between a patch and a badge?

How are badges earned?

Would students like to earn badges?

What is the most common size for a badge?

What are digital badges?

Step 3: Requirements and Constraints

A survey of the class determined that the students would like to earn badges that could be attached to their backpacks.  

Initial requirements

  • A fun design, colorful
  • 2 inches or less in size
  • Sturdy material 
  • Badges must connect like puzzle pieces
  • Easy to attach, no sewing or making holes in backpack
  • LEDs would be fun
  • Easy to follow rules for earning the badge (fair)


  • Our class does not have a 3-D printer or a laser cutter
  • Our class is not permitted to solder
  • Our class has only basic sewing skills

Step 4: Determine the Number of Pieces in the Badge Puzzle

The goal of this project was to understand and apply the engineering design process.  So I decided that the puzzle should have six pieces.  I had the students find six connecting pieces from a recycled puzzle.  This was my first “ah ha moment.”  The shapes created by the interconnected puzzles were all different and one of my students said “Too bad we are not going to be able to add more pieces to the learning puzzle.  Also, some of the cardboard pieces were already bent.  So we decided that the cardboard pieces would limit the opportunity to connect more learning and did not meet the requirement of study material, because they broke easily and could not get wet.  I ordered 1.5 inch wooden puzzle pieces that did not have any end pieces, which met the requires of 2 inches or less in size, sturdy material  and badges must connect like puzzle pieces

Step 5: Create a Fun Design

During our research, we found several free programs to design digital badges and we studied scouting badges.  One thing that we noticed was that badges in a similar area of knowledge, such as nature, had the same background colors or borders.  Most had icons or pictures and the digital badge had words too. I gave each student 6 wooden puzzle pieces, and asked them to put their pieces together.  It was really interesting, some kids put them in a rectangle, but others put them in a straight line.  Initially, I was thinking that we would work in groups to design a piece for each step.  However, we realized that each piece would have to  be linked to the surrounding pieces to create a picture for the puzzle.  Someone said that the pieces reminded them of the panels in a comic book. Someone else said, everyone learns differently, so each person's badges should look differently.  The initial requirement list was modified -A fun design that shows how you remember each step of the engineering process and creates a picture on the puzzle. The students traced their puzzle pieces on graph paper so they could develop their designs. (Save time, have them make two or threes copies)

Step 6: Not Just a Badge But Wearable Technology

My students loved the idea of the maker faire to learn to solder a badge that had an LED. If one light is good , six lights are better!  This would also meet the initial requirement of an LED would be fun.  It also added  great opportunities for prototyping, testing, resigning, communicating, prototyping, testing, resigning, communicating…..and working with the constraint our class is not allowed to solder. 

Step 7: Drill the Holes

Once the students had drawn their design and marked the location for the LED on each puzzle piece, the pieces needed to be drilled.  I decided that I would drill the holes to save time and I was concerned with students securing the pieces to safely drill.  I discovered the best and quickest way to drill the holes was to have the students put a dot of glue ( be sure to sing “just a dot, not a lot'') on each piece and glue it to a paper plate and just drill the paper plate. For a 5 mm LED , I used a 15/64 , which allowed the LED to fit snuggly. The additional bonus of gluing the pieces to the plates was it  kept each student's piece together, making it easier for them to paint and draw their design.

Step 8: Making the Puzzle

I wanted each piece to have a step of the engineering design process. So we reviewed  the concepts and discussed options for each step. For example, build , create, construct, produce, fabricate, manufacture, prototype could all be used interchangeably.  The first design option we tried was sharpie markers, however the unfinished wood caused the sharpie Markers to spread and bleed. EXCELLENT- another opportunity to solve a problem. A layer of acrylic paint provided both a unified background and a surface to draw the design.  As a class we decided that everyone's engineering design process puzzle would be a light blue, so that you could tell the subject that was being showcased. Each student created their own design to illustrate the steps.

Step 9: Sealing the Design

Separate the pieces on the paper plate.  Paint each piece with high gloss Mod Podge.

Mod podge produces a great hard, high gloss finish that makes the badge look similar to enamel pins.  HOWEVER, it requires time to dry.  I had the kids paint them on a Friday, so that they would be completely dry by Monday

Step 10: Create the LED Circuits

A puzzle badge could be made without an LED.  However, my students were VERY excited to have  light up badges. They also wanted each piece to have an on/off switch, so if you earned just one piece it would still light up, instead of having to earn all of the pieces before it would light up.    If your students have never worked with LEDs, be sure to add time for exploration.  The easiest starting point is to slide the legs of the LED on to the button battery and allow the students to figure out that the longer leg is positive. Add a small piece of paper under one leg to act as a switch. Next, have them add several LED’s to the battery… Once they have explored just the LEDs and the battery, introduce the battery holder.  The battery holder that I used was wired, which  allowed the students to make the circuit without soldering.  Have the students put the battery in the holder, paying attention to the positive /negative indicators.  I had the students mark the positive / negative wires on the front of the battery holder. Next , the wires need to be stripped.  The wires were extra long which provided ample length for mistakes. To save time,  I cut and stripped most of the wires while the students were working on their designs,  because the puzzle pieces are so small the wire only needs to be about 1.5 inches.  Each student only needed to strip one set.  To build the circuit, wrap the wire securely around the leg of the LED- pay attention to the positive and negative wires and LED legs. Wrap a small piece of tape around the leg and the wire to secure it.  Test!  It will come undone when the students are wiggling it into the puzzle piece.  EXCELLENT- another opportunity to redesign!  A drop of hot glue, before the tape is wrapped around the leg of the LED, was the solution most of my students used.

Step 11: Add the Magnet

One of the initial requirements was easy to attach, no sewing or making holes in the backpack.  Based on our research, the students decided to use magnets.  This decision provided lots of opportunities for testing and redesign.  Adhesive craft magnets do not work, magnetic tape does not work, neodymium magnets do work.  However, attaching the  magnet to the back of the battery holder is actually a difficult step.  The magnet must be securely attached.  Unfortunately, hot glue, liquid glue or stick glue will not work.  The only glue that really worked well is super glue.  Lots of testing!  Lots of redesign!

Step 12: Add the LED Circuits to Puzzle

Insert the LED from the back of the puzzle piece, adjust the wires, use liquid glue to attach to the puzzle piece. I was going to cover the wires, but the kids wanted them to show and it was their project. 

Step 13: Requirements for Earning Badge

My goal was for the students to understand and apply the engineering design process.  It was clear to me that they had earned their badges.  However, to meet the initial requirement of easy to follow rules for earning the badge (fair) I ask each student to write the steps of the engineering design process and give an example of how they used it to create their puzzle badges.  I loved that each student had a  tangible reminder of a newly acquired skill, an achievement and  the willingness to work hard and learn.  Badges are cool!

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    3 days ago

    This is a fantastic idea and concept! I teach 7th and 8th grades and we do have a laser cutter. I think I’ll modify it so students design their puzzles from scratch in Inkscape and have the laser cut the hole do the leds also.

    I also loved your presentation as you went through the engineering design process. I am jealous of your cleverness!