Engineering Practices at Exhibits

Module 2 of the DOT Educator Personal-Professional Development Program


Before proceeding with this module, please make sure that have the following materials available and ready for use

Engineering at Exhibits

You will begin this module by watching the Engineering Practices in Action video, a compilation video of families using exhibits at the Creatividad silvestre | Wild Creativity exhibition. 

These families were filmed as they worked together; no facilitators or educators were present. As you watch the video, use the Engineering at Exhibits section of the Module 2 Worksheet to record at least three specific moments that suggest families are using engineering at an exhibit.

Engineering Practices at Exhibits

Many people are familiar with some version of an Engineering Design Process – common steps in this process include ask, research, imagine, plan, create, test, and improve. We have included an example of an Engineering Design Model from Head Start on Engineering (, in the materials for reference. Engineering design process models are great at identifying the steps or phases that people use during a design cycle. As facilitators, we can help people connect these broad phases such as “imagine’ or ‘test” to their actions, ideas, and conversations at an exhibit.

The evidence- and theory-based C-PIECE Framework (Collaborative Practices at Interactive Engineering Challenge Exhibits) was developed by researchers and educators at OMSI to provide a nuanced lens of engineering design practices. The C-PIECE Framework is designed to measure, study, and improve the use of engineering design practices by visitor groups within an engineering exhibit context, and ultimately, to inform the development of informal engineering education experiences such as those in the Creatividad silvestre | Wild Creativity exhibit. 

The C-PIECE framework is divided into two overarching engineering steps:

1) defining a problem, and 

2) improving a design.

Each step has sets of practices and each practice is categorized as beginning, intermediate, or informed.

This tool focuses on specific engineering practices such as “identifies/assigns roles” or “optimizes design and materials”. Understanding and using this framework can support facilitators with conversations that connect the engineering practices people use in the exhibits to how they already use them in their daily lives.

Please print or open the provided C-PIECE Framework and either the Engineering Design Process document from HSE or one that your institution uses. Compare the engineering design process and the C-PIECE Framework. In the Module 2 Worksheet, write down how the practices in the framework complement and support the engineering design process.

Once you are done exploring the C-Piece Framework, rewatch the Engineering Practices in Action video and try to identify at least three engineering practices from the C-Piece Framework that are being used by the families. Record your observations in the Engineering Practices at Exhibits section of the Module 2 Worksheet. Make sure to have the C-PIECE Framework with you for reference and be prepared to pause throughout the video as you match the C-PIECE practices to those used by the families in the video.

Observing Engineering Practices in Action

Now that you’ve had a chance to explore the C-PIECE Framework and  engineering practices, it’s your turn to make observations at your museum.

We created an Observation Form much like the one used in the evaluation of the Creatividad silvestre | Wild Creativity exhibit. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the Observation Form and the operational definitions of practices found in the C-PIECE Framework.

To simplify things, the Observation Form is organized around  ten topics ; some of these align directly with an engineering practice from the C-PIECE Framework while others may capture multiple practices. To begin with, pick two or three topics to focus your observation on. As you become more familiar with the form, you can observe more if you wish, or simply focus on those topics that are most relevant and interesting to the work you are doing. 

If you don’t have engineering exhibits, demonstrations, or programs, you can also look for these same practices in any museum job, team meetings, at home, and during day to activities. 

If you are doing this PD as a group, it can be helpful to make observations in pairs. Oftentimes, we might miss how a visitor uses a practice at an exhibit but someone else will catch it. Talk to your co-workers and observe together. 

How might the sets of engineering practices used at exhibits, like in the C-PIECE Framework, change how you support guests? 

In the next module, we will talk about conversations in which people make connections with their day to day lives. Which of the C-PIECE Framework practices do you imagine people engaging in as part of their daily lives?

You have finished Module 2, PROCEED TO MODULE 3.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-1811617. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.