30 technology and engineering teacher March 2021
The lesson will help
students to develop
knowledge of how
diabetes aects the
body and how those
with diabetes use
technology to help
treat their illness.
by Daphne Fauber,
Libby Sasser, and
Greg J. Strimel
engineering in action
This Engineering in Action article presents a socially
relevant lesson designed to intentionally teach second-
ary students core engineering concepts related to the
practices of Engineering Design and Quantitative Anal-
ysis as well as knowledge related to Engineering Sci-
ences (presented in the Framework for P-12 Engineering Learning
). This lesson also situates learning in the context of medical
and health-related technologies as described in Standards for
Technological and Engineering Literacy and addresses the standard
focused on human-centered design. The lesson example includes
(a) class discussions to engage students in a socially relevant prob-
lem (diabetes treatment options) within a culturally situated context
(whether insulin pumps meet the needs of their user) and (b) a
design activity to help students learn and apply two core concepts
of Engineering Practice (Modeling and Simulation and Ideation) as
well as the Engineering Science concept of Chemical Reactions
and Catalysis. At the end of this lesson, students are expected to (1)
calculate the amount of insulin a person would need given a range
of variables, (2) ideate several designs that meet the needs of their
identified user, and (3) create a low-fidelity prototype of their cho-
sen design. Additionally, students should be able to showcase their
engineering practices as well as how knowledge of their user and
engineering sciences informed their design.
March 2021 technology and engineering teacher 31
Intentional Engineering Learning
Engineering learning is three-dimensional, as it should provide op-
portunities for all students to (1) develop their Engineering Habits
of Mind, (2) build their competence in Engineering Practice, and
(3) recognize, appreciate, and draw upon Engineering Knowledge
to inform their practice (Figure 1) (Authors, 2020). Providing these
learning opportunities should include scaolding the teaching of
engineering concepts in a way that enables students to perform
engineering practices well and with increased sophistication along
the path toward engineering and technological literacy. Accord-
ingly, the Framework for P-12 Engineering Learning (2020) pres-
ents a content taxonomy in an eort to detail a level of specificity
necessary to plan and assess engineering learning. These details
can be used to support students in resolving an engineering task
through a challenging process that results in the increased learning
of intentional engineering content and the application of authentic
engineering practices. Within this framework, four comprehensive
Engineering Practices (Engineering Design, Quantitative Analysis,
Material Processing, and Professionalism) are defined along with
the core concepts and subconcepts deemed necessary to perform
each of these practices better over time. As an example of leverag-
ing these details to plan more intentional engineering learning, the
lesson presented in this article aims to teach core concepts related
to the practices of Engineering Design and Quantitative Analysis.
The Framework for P-12 Engineering Learning (2020) defines Engi-
neering Design as a practice that can involve a variety of methods
and techniques that requires a wide range of knowledge to develop
solutions to problems. Competence in this practice should include
knowledge of the following core concepts: (1) problem framing,
(2) information gathering, (3) ideation, (4) prototyping, (5) deci-
sion making, (6) project management, (7) design methods, (8)
engineering graphics, and (9) design communication. In addition,
Quantitative Analysis is defined as the practice of collecting and
interpreting quantitative information through the appropriate appli-
cation of data analytic tools, mathematical models, computations,
and simulations to inform predictive decision making and support,
accelerate, and optimize the resolution of problems. Competence
in this practice requires knowledge of the following core concepts:
(1) computational thinking, (2) computational tools, (3) data col-
lection, analysis, and communication, (4) system analytics, and (5)
modeling and simulation.
Note. Adapted from Authors, 2020.
Specifically, the provided lesson aims to teach (1) Modeling and
Simulation, which involves developing and using a variety of mod-
els to simulate, evaluate, improve, and validate design ideas and
(2) Ideation, which involves generating multiple innovative ideas
through both divergent and convergent thinking processes while
communicating and recording ideas in two- and three-dimensional
sketches. Lastly, the lesson aims to teach the concept of Chemical
Reactions and Catalysis, which is presented in the framework as
knowledge within the Engineering Sciences domain. This concept
involves analyzing the factors that influence the processes of re-
action and catalysis, using mathematical models, in order to solve
problems in a manner that is analytical, predictive, repeatable,
and practical. Therefore, this lesson is presented as an example
of leveraging this engineering content to (a) help students inform
their Engineering Practice and (b) provide depth to the learning
Three-Dimensional Engineering Learning
Note. Adapted from Authors, 2020.
Engineering Habits of Mind
The traits or ways of thinking that influence
how a person views the w orld and reacts to
The combination of skills and knowledge that
enable a student to authentically act or behave
like an engineeringliterate individual. The
core concepts of engineering practice should
represent the knowledge associated with
performing a particular practice well and with
Engineering Knowledge Domains
The concepts that are necessary to situate one’s
habits and practices in a conceptual domain;
these are concepts that students should
recognize and be able to draw upon when
32 technology and engineering teacher March 2021
Engineering an Insulin Pump: A Socially
The lesson provided in Tables 1 and 2 has been created to embed
engineering learning within a socially relevant context to oer the
opportunity for students to exercise informed engineering practic-
es with increased sophistication. Accordingly, the lesson will help
students to develop knowledge of how diabetes aects the body
and how those with diabetes use technology to help treat their
illness. Implementation should occur over five class periods, where-
as students examine a case study and work together as a team
to redesign an insulin pump to better fit their user’s needs. The
culmination of the lesson is a presentation where students must
present about their prototype and engineering practices. Through
this lesson, students will be able to increase their understanding of
how dierent organs and systems in the body interact and aect
each other. This is important knowledge to develop for any student
interested in medical and health-related technologies, as it will help
them fully understand medical problems and how any intervention
might aect the whole body. The overview of the lesson can be
seen in Table 1.
The complete lesson plan provided in Table 2 includes a sequence
of five sessions. In the first session, teachers engage students by
demonstrating the prevalence of diabetes and insulin pumps as a
treatment option for diabetes using peer stories. Additionally, this
is used as an opportunity to discuss geographic mathematical
models in medicine. Then, teachers guide students through a case
study on a person with diabetes. This provides an opportunity for
students to create an equation that represents this person’s insulin
needs and see the use for mathematical modeling in the medical
field on an individual scale (Core Engineering Concept: EP-QA-5
Modeling and Simulation). In the second session, teachers have
students discuss the mathematical equations created and how the
equations could be used in combination with technology. Then the
class will work together to answer several questions of background
knowledge required to understand how an insulin pump functions
(Engineering Science Concept: EK-ES-8 Chemical Reactions and
Catalysis). The next day, students are split into small groups and
given their design brief, to choose one of six users and innovate
on the model of insulin pump they are using, keeping in mind the
user’s needs and lifestyle. Students are to ideate and come up with
several ideas before choosing one and creating a low-fidelity proto-
type of that idea (Core Engineering Concept: EP-ED-4 Ideation).
The next day is set aside as a workday, and the final day is meant
as a day for presenting about the designed innovations.
Overall, this lesson is meant to provide a learning experience that
is similar to working on a research and development team for a
medical device company. Such an experience has various real-life
career applications and serves as an inside look into a field that is
not often directly referenced in high school curriculum. As de-
scribed, the lesson provides a foundation for introducing conversa-
tions about medical devices and associated research areas in the
classroom. Further topics to explore after teaching this lesson could
be Food and Drug Administration policies and regulations sur-
rounding medical device and drug design, the uses of gene editing
and biotechnology in medicine and agriculture, and the history and
ethics of medical device design.
This lesson can be adapted to be taught in a COVID-safe envi-
ronment by adjusting the physical prototype requirements. For
example, students could use a collaborative 3D modeling software
such as Autodesk Fusion360 or TinkerCad to create their proto-
type online. If students did not have access to computers with 3D
modeling software, they could also use Google Drawings or Google
Jamboard to collaboratively work to brainstorm and display design
ideas. The lecture, class activity, and presentation aspects of the
lesson could be facilitated over a video call of any kind or through a
socially distant classroom.
Advancing Excellence in P-12 Engineering Education & American
Society for Engineering Education. (2020). Framework for P-12
engineering learning. Author. Retrieved from
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). National diabe-
tes statistics report 2020: Estimates of diabetes and its burden
in the United States. Author. Retrieved from
Grubbs, M. E. & Strimel, G. (2015). Engineering design: The great
integrator. Journal of STEM Teacher Education, 50(1), 77-90.
International Technology and Engineering Educators Association.
(2020). Standards for technological and engineering literacy:
The role of technology and engineering in STEM education.
Reston, VA: Author. Retrieved from www.iteea.org/STEL.aspx
March 2021 technology and engineering teacher 33
McAdams, B. H. & Rizvi, A. A. (2016). An overview of insulin pumps
and glucose sensors for the generalist. Journal of Clinical Med-
icine, 5(1), 1-17.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Coun-
cil of Chief State School Oicers. (2010). Common core state
NGSS Lead States. (2013). Next generation science standards: For
states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Daphne Fauber is the Technology and Engi-
neering Education Collegiate Association ( TEE-
CA) Board President. She is an undergraduate
student at Purdue studying Engineering Technol-
ogy Teacher Education with minors in Design &
Innovation, Biological Sciences, and Biotechnolo-
gy. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Libby Sasser is a certified EMT and an under-
graduate at Purdue studying Pre-Medical Studies
with a minor in Forensic Science. She can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg J. Strimel, Ph.D., is an assistant profes-
sor of Technology Leadership and Innovation at
Purdue University and serves as the Director of
Transformative Research for the AE3 Research
Collaborative. He can be reached at gstrimel@
This is a refereed article.
Table 1. Lesson Overview
In this integrated STEM lesson, students are asked to build upon their prior knowledge of the human body’s systems by using mathe-
matical models to estimate how much insulin a person would need given dierent circumstances. Using the knowledge gained from
that activity, students then construct a low-fidelity prototype of an innovation on the insulin pump. This lesson is intended for high
school students in an engineering or biomedical sciences class.
Engineering Concepts From the Framework for P-12 Engineering Learning:
• EP-QA-5 Modeling and Simulation: Students should be able to develop and use a variety of models to simulate, evaluate, im-
prove, and validate design ideas. This includes knowledge related to (a) creating scaled physical models, (b) developing computa-
tional simulations, (c) establishing mathematical models, (d) collecting data through destructive testing and failure analysis, and (e)
design validation through calculations.
• EP-ED-4 Ideation: Students should be able to generate multiple innovative ideas through both divergent and convergent thinking
processes while communicating and recording ideas in two- and three-dimensional sketches using visual-spatial techniques. This
includes knowledge related to (a) divergent thinking and brainstorming techniques, (b) convergent thinking methods (including
functional decomposition, which is the process of breaking down the overall function of a device, system, or process into its smaller
parts), and (c) employing visual-spatial abilities to convey ideas through sketching.
• EK-ES-8 Chemical Reactions and Catalysis: Students should be able to draw upon the knowledge of Chemical Reactions and
Catalysis content, such as (a) reaction rates, rate constants, and order, (b) conversion, yield, and selectivity, (c) chemical equilibrium
and activation energy, and (d) fuels, to analyze the factors influencing the processes of reaction and catalysis with mathematical
models to solve problems in a manner that is analytical, predictive, repeatable, and practical.
Relevant STEM Standards
• Standards for Technological and Engineering Literacy – STEL-7Z: Apply principles of human-centered design; STEL-4T: Eval-
uate how technologies alter human health and capabilities; TEC-7: Medical and health-related technologies.
• Next Generation Science Standards – HS-PS1-6 Matter and its Interactions: Refine the design of a chemical system by speci-
fying a change in conditions that would produce increased amounts of products at equilibrium; HS-ETS1-3 Engineering Design:
Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-os that account for a range of con-
straints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
• Common Core Standards - HSA.CED.A.3: Represent constraints by equations or inequalities, and by systems of equations and/
or inequalities, and interpret solutions as viable or nonviable options in a modeling context.
• Given a case study, students will develop equations that represent how much insulin a person needs.
• Given a case study, students will calculate how much insulin a person needs three out of three times.
• Given a design brief, students will create a proof of concept of an innovation on the insulin pump within two days.
• Given a design brief, students will produce no fewer than three sketches that show the features of their innovation using the appro-
34 technology and engineering teacher March 2021
• Ideation is the process of mentally expanding the set of possible solutions to a design problem in order to generate many ideas
in hopes of then finding a better and more innovative resolution. This is important to engineering design, as this practice seeks to
develop creative and innovative solutions to ill-structured and open-ended problems.
• Modeling and Simulating actual events, products, structures, or conditions that, through mathematical, physical, and graphical/
computer models, help people to predict the eectiveness of their solutions prior to producing a high-fidelity prototype that can
save valuable resources (time, materials, money, etc.).
• Chemical Reactions and Catalysis concerns the analysis of the chemical changes that happen when two or more particles interact
(chemical reactions) as well as controlling the rate at which these chemical changes occur by adding substances referred to as
catalysts (catalysis). This is important, as it is the knowledge that engineering professionals use to analyze and design new prod-
ucts and processes by controlling and using chemical reactions. For example, developing more eicient catalysts can reduce the
production of environmentally harmful by-products and can enable enhanced energy-eicient production processes. More eicient
catalysts can also lower the costs of producing important chemical products.
• How can I generate multiple, innovative ideas through both divergent and convergent thinking processes while communicating
and recording ideas in two- and three-dimensional sketches using visual-spatial techniques (Ideation)?
• How can I develop and use a variety of models to simulate, evaluate, improve, and validate design ideas (Modeling and Simula-
• How can I use concepts such as (a) reaction rates, rate constants, and order, (b) conversion, yield, and selectivity, (c) chemical
equilibrium and activation energy, and (d) fuels to analyze the factors influencing the processes of reaction and catalysis with
mathematical models to solve problems in a manner that is analytical, predictive, repeatable, and practical (Chemical Reaction &
Socially Relevant Context
According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020), an estimated 13% of all adults are aected by dia-
betes, a condition in which the body is not capable of regulating its own insulin levels. About 350,000 people are estimated to be using
insulin pumps today. Insulin pumps were first available for commercial use in the 1970s, and since then many advances have been made
to insulin pump technology (McAdams & Rizvi, 2016). That being said, there are still many people with diabetes whose needs aren’t
being met by current insulin-pump technology.
Required Prior Knowledge and Skills
Students participating in this activity are expected to have prior knowledge related to:
• The body systems and their functions
• Feedback loops
• How the body processes and stores energy
Biomedical and research and development engineers work through problems such as how current medical devices can be made more
user friendly. This lesson serves as a glimpse into the world of creating and augmenting medical technologies. Additionally, many other
medical professionals, such as doctors, EMTs, and nurses, benefit from understanding the functionality and drawbacks of common
Table 2. Engineering Design-Based Lesson Plan
Engage: Sets the context for what the students will be learning in the lesson as well as captures their interest in the topic by making
learning relevant to their lives and community.
• First, ask students to raise their hand if they know someone with diabetes. Now ask them to keep their hand raised if they know
someone who uses an insulin pump. Most likely, many students will be able to raise their hand, as diabetes is a fairly common
• Then, ask students who are willing to share, how diabetes aects the person they know. After this small discussion, have students
look at the map of diabetes distribution across the U.S. by county (see www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/maps/gisx/mapgallery/diagnosed_
diabetes.html) to illustrate the impact that diabetes has on national health as well as introduce how to interpret health data visual-
• Ask students if there are any hypotheses they would make about why the map is distributed the way it is. Hypotheses could include
that the highly aected areas have worse access to healthy diets; the highly aected areas could also have environmental condi-
tions that promote a sedentary lifestyle such as extreme weather, limited sidewalks, or harsh terrain. Another interesting hypothesis
is that the map could just be measuring counties with the best reporting rates for diabetes, without accurately displaying the actual
distribution of diabetes. Additionally, ask if there are any conclusions that cannot be drawn from looking at this map.
• The map activity is an opportunity to discuss important health statistics concepts like underreporting (or reporting only where
there is health care access), as well as form an introduction to how mathematical models are used and created in health practices
on an epidemiological/public health scale.
March 2021 technology and engineering teacher 35
Explore: Enables students to build upon their prior knowledge while developing new understandings related to the topic through
• Next, students will look at biological mathematical models from an individual level through the case study provided in Figure 2.
(See Modeling and Simulation)
• The case study will explore how much insulin people living under dierent circumstances need to function.
• The case study asks students to create a mathematical equation as a means of modeling how much insulin needs to be produced
given a set of variables.
Explain: Summarizes new and prior knowledge while addressing any misconceptions the students may hold.
• The students will now discuss with the class their mathematical models and conclusions on the production of insulin. Additionally,
ask the class how the creation of equations to represent body processes can be useful in engineering and technology applications.
• Then the class will work to explain several topics regarding their case study analysis (answers provided below the questions) (See
Chemical Reactions and Catalysis):
• Cellular Metabolism - How does food become energy? Function of glucose in the body?
o When we eat, the food is broken down through several organs in the body. Nutrients and minerals from these dissolved food
products are reabsorbed into the body’s bloodstream, glucose being the most important in the formation of energy. This glu-
cose can either be used by the body right away for the creation of energy or it can be stored in the form of glycogen.
• Functions of the Pancreas, Insulin, and Endocrine System (Liver) - How does the body keep in homeostasis and regulate blood
sugar levels in response to the intake of food?
o Blood glucose levels are regulated through a negative feedback loop. After eating, there will be an increase in the level of
glucose in the blood, signaling cells in the pancreas to release a hormone called insulin. Insulin then can signal the liver to take
in glucose and form glycogen, the storage form of glucose, or for cells to take in the glucose to use for metabolism. This then
decreases the blood glucose levels to a normal level. If the blood glucose levels in the body are low, the pancreas releases
glucagon. Glucagon travels to the liver, where the stored glycogen is broken down into glucose and released into the blood
stream. This brings the blood glucose levels back to a normal level.
• Diabetes - What are the causes, types, and symptoms of diabetes?
o There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic disorder that a person is born with and in which a person’s body
creates little to no insulin. It often presents in adolescents, and symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, hunger,
and fatigue. Type 1 diabetes is treated using insulin therapy and diet in order to help regulate the blood glucose levels. Type
2 diabetes is developed later in life and is caused by a resistance to insulin. When someone has high levels of glucose intake
for too long, the body no longer responds to the insulin that is produced. Symptoms and treatments are like those of Type 1
• Insulin Pumps - What are the main types of treatments for those with diabetes? How do dierent insulin pumps interface with the
body to supply insulin?
o The main treatments of diabetes are diet, exercise, and insulin therapy. These are all used to regulate the blood glucose levels.
o How do dierent insulin pumps interface with the body to supply insulin? Insulin pumps are used to supply the body with the
needed extra insulin to regulate the blood glucose levels.
Engineer: Requires students to apply their knowledge and skills using the engineering design process to identify a problem and to
develop/make/evaluate/refine a viable solution.
• The students are now tasked to leverage their new knowledge and insights gained to propose an improvement to a medical tech-
nology, the insulin pump.
• Students receive a design brief (Figure 3) in which they must work in small groups to alter an existing insulin pump system to bet-
ter fit the lifestyle of a target user.
• Students will need to document ideation, create multiple sketches of their innovation, and a rapid prototype that acts as a proof of
concept for their innovation (See Ideation).
Evaluate: Allows a student to evaluate their own learning and skill development in a manner that enables them to take the necessary
steps to master the lesson content and concepts.
• After students have devised an innovation, they will propose their ideas to the class in a 5- to 10-minute presentation.
• They will guide the class through their process, describe the needs of their user, and illustrate how they met those needs.
• Students will be evaluated based on their performance on the case study and the engineering design challenge. Rubrics for both
are linked in Figures 2 and 3.
Note. Lesson format adapted from Grubbs & Strimel (2015).
36 technology and engineering teacher March 2021
Figure 2. Lesson Case Study
Diabetes and Insulin Case Study
• Total daily insulin = weight (lb.) / 4
• Carbohydrate coverage ratio: 500 / total daily insulin = 1 unit of insulin
• High blood sugar correction factor = 1800 / total daily insulin
• Carbohydrate coverage at mealtime: total grams of carbohydrates / grams of carbohydrate disposed by 1 unit of insulin
• High blood sugar correction: dierence between actual blood sugar and target blood sugar / correction factor
Phil has Type 1 diabetes. He’s about to have a blind date at Olive Garden, where he knows he’ll probably eat too many breadsticks. Phil
uses Insulin Aspart, a rapid-acting insulin, that has an onset of about 5-15 minutes. Phil weighs 160 lbs. and he plans to eat three bread-
sticks, each of which has 25 grams of carbohydrates.
1. Write an equation to calculate Phil’s insulin for the day. Make sure to define your variables.
2. How much additional insulin should he take for dinner? Would this level of insulin change if he planned to do push-ups at dinner
while trying to impress his date?
3. What time should he take his insulin? What happens if he takes his insulin too soon? Too late?
4. How would the dosage change if Phil had a high sensitivity to insulin?
5. If Phil’s current blood sugar level is 220 mg/dl, and his target level is 120 mg/dl, what is his high blood sugar correction? You can
assume that one unit of insulin is needed to drop blood glucose by about 50 mg/dl.
Answer Key: https://tinyurl.com/TETAnswerKey
Figure 3. Lesson Design Brief
Insulin Pump Design Brief
You and your group-mates are a team of research and development design engineers, working to make improvements to one of three
insulin pumps your company manufactures. Your group has been tasked with choosing a specific target user and altering the current
design of an insulin pump to better fit their needs. You will create a proof of concept of your innovation and present the new product
idea to the committee of product development in hopes of eventually having your design be widely manufactured. Character compos-
ites (semi-fictional portfolios of potential users) have been provided from which to choose.
• Documentation of Ideation
• Three Sketches of the Final Innovation (hand-drawn or computer-generated)
o The sketches must show all features and explain all views.
• A Rapid Prototype Model of the Innovation
o The prototype can be made out of any accessible materials.
Target User Profiles (CHOOSE ONE):
Veronica (Type 2)
• 51 years old
• Often skips meals and eats fast food
due to busy schedule
• Recently diagnosed
• Uses Omnipod
• Often travels for business
Kyle (Type 2)
• 29 years old
• Walks his two dogs several times per
• Uses miniMed
• Loves volunteering at animal shelters
and being active
Jessica (Type 1)
• 82 years old
• Has diiculty seeing and has shaky
hands, unrelated to diabetes
• Retired, but likes to paint
• Uses tSlim X2
• Her partner recently became wheel-
chair-bound, so she has become a
George (Type 1)
• 7 years old
• Is worried the other kids won’t like him
because of his pump
• Elementary student
• Uses miniMed
• The school nurse is responsible for
checking his insulin at school
Peter (Type 1)
• 45 years old
• Recently diagnosed with diabetes
• Uses tSlim X2
• Spends long hours at school, some-
times misses lunch to help students
Matt (Type 2)
• 34 years old
• Amputee as a result of diabetes
• Truck driver
• Uses Omnipod
• Worried about getting laid o due to
frequent stops to check insulin