Using the Ketchup Cap in Engineering Professional Development

The story of Tyler Richards and Jonathan Thompson and their invention of a new ketchup bottle cap has gone viral in engineering education this spring. I wanted to share how I’ve been using this story in professional development with K-12 teachers.

PBS has a short blog post that is the perfect length for a quick reading. (See the post HERE.) The post provides the story of how these two students identified the problem (“wet bread is gross”)  and eventually solved it.

I like to use this story after teachers have some familiarity with the Engineering Design Process from the Next Generation Science Standards:Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 10.09.57 AM

  • Define the Problem
  • Develop Solutions
  • Optimize Solutions

I simply ask participants to read the article and identify where the students are engaged in the 3 components of Engineering Design. Then we do a quick partner share and whole group debrief. Here are some findings that teachers have shared:

  • There was a lot of time spent Defining the Problem
  • Maybe we (teachers) need to provide more authentic opportunities for students to Define the Problem.. sometimes we just give students the problem predefined
  • The students developed a lot of solutions before starting to optimize
  • The students had to engage in argument from evidence throughout this process. In other words, argumentation isn’t just a science practice.. it’s an engineering practice also

The blog post gives teachers an opportunity to identify components of Engineering Design and make sense of some of the shifts in the NGSS. I hope you find ways to use this engineering story with students and teachers. Please share back what you’ve tried. A video of the ketchup cap invention is embedded below.

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