iSTEM Core Module 2 STEM Fundamentals 2 – Problem solving


Students Learn About

  • nature of
  • strategies to solve
  • evaluation
  • collaboration

Students Learn To

  • identify the nature of problems
  • use identified strategies to develop a range of possible solutions to everyday STEM based problems
  • evaluate the appropriateness of different problem-solving strategies
  • work collaboratively to solve problems
  • draw information from a range of sources to aid in the solution of practical everyday problems
  • use appropriate design processes and techniques in the context of developing STEM based solutions

The iSTEM Process

The iSTEM Process 8 Cog

The iSTEM process  was developed by the Cessnock Academy of STEM Excellence (CASE) as part of the STEM Industry School Partnerships (SISP) program. It provides consistent language across K-12 schools based on an industry-recognised engineering design process and scaffolds the understanding and application of design thinking.

The SISP program is developing teaching and learning units to embed the iSTEM process into the curriculum. There are different versions of the iSTEM process that vary in the number of cogs. The purpose of the different versions is to allow for the process to be adapted to different stages and different types of problem-solving activities. Teachers are encouraged to adapt the iSTEM process to various aspects of their teaching of STEM



A series of poster designs are available for display in schools and can be found by clicking the button below.

Activity cards and resources, which can be found on the resource page discussed above, are also available to embed design thinking in your classroom. The iSTEM process has been designed to assist in the learning and teaching of STEM from K – 12. It is recommended that the iSTEM process be taught as part of the STEM Fundamentals Unit. Embedding the iSTEM process within teaching pedagogy and learning opportunities, allows for student engagement and positive culture for consistent, ongoing learning and improvement, at a variety of levels from Early Stage 1 through to the Secondary stages.


design is a plan or specification for the construction of an object or system or for the implementation of an activity or process, or the result of that plan or specification in the form of a prototype, product or process. The verb to design expresses the process of developing a design. In some cases, the direct construction of an object without an explicit prior plan (such as in craftwork, some engineering, coding, and graphic design) may also be considered to be a design activity. The design usually has to satisfy certain goals and constraints, may take into account aesthetic, functional, economic, or socio-political considerations, and is expected to interact with a certain environment. Major examples of designs include architectural blueprintsengineering drawingsbusiness processescircuit diagrams, and sewing patterns.[1]

Designing however, is the act of working out the form of something (as by making a sketch or outline or plan). The best way to communicate design in a design process is to be able to draw your ideas. In partnership with Design Nuts and Splat 3D we have developed some resources so that students can learn how to communicate design ideas effectively.

Click on the resource button below to learn how to use a variety of drawing techniques it the completion of a design process.

STEM Learning Activities

Suggested Practical Activity 1: The Marshmallow Challenge


The Marshmallow Challenge is an activity for beginners in design thinking to practice prototyping in testing. The activity, which is planned to run for 45 minutes but can be trimmed shorter, gives groups of 3-4 students an opportunity to experience what it’s like to build together. The facilitator uses debrief questions to draw out lessons on how students work as a team to build together.

You’ll find a lesson plan for this challenge to your right that includes timing, materials, instruction and debrief questions. This material is adapted from Tom Wujec’s excellent activity.

Click the resources page button below to take you to further resources to support the Marshmallow Challenge

Suggested Practical Activity 2: Engineering Encounters Bridge Design Contest

The Engineering Encounters Bridge Design Contest provides iSTEM students with a realistic, engaging introduction to engineering.

The lesson plan designed by the STEM Industry School Partnerships (SISP) program will demonstrate how you can implement this successfully as a short form and highly engaging learning activity.

In this activity students will;

* Learn about engineering through a realistic, hands-on problem-solving experience.
* Learn about the engineering design process – the application of math, science, and technology to create devices and systems that meet human needs.
* Learn about truss bridges and how they work.
* Learn how engineers use computers as a problem-solving tool.

Click the resources page button below to take you to further resources to support the Engineering Encounters Bridge Design Contest

Suggested Practical Activity 3: SISP High Rise Challenge

The Challenge

In the SISP High Rise Challenge students work in teams to build the tallest possible tower (minimum height 500mm) that can support a freestanding tennis ball at the top using the minimum of the available materials. The tower must be able to withstand the wind force from a STELR fan unit at the highest setting.


Click the resources page button below to take you to further resources to support the SISP High Rise Challenge


Suggested Practical Activity 4: Pitsco T-Bot II Hydraulic Arm Kit


The T-Bot® II is a great project for illustrating hydraulic power and mechanics. See how syringes, tubes and water work together to power the parts of this robotic arm. Each control moves one of the T-Bot II’s axes. The four controls can be used one at a time or all at once by a team of students – they can try basic manoeuvres or moving objects as a team-building exercise! This is a perfect exercise for an iSTEM class learning not only about hydraulics but also teamwork.

The T-Bot II can be used for a range of ages and educational concepts – from showing third graders how to work together to helping college students explore load and effort forces.

This unit requires the school to purchase a Pitsco T-Bot II available in Australia from Kookaburra Educational Resources

Click the resources page button below to take you to further resources to support the Pitsco T-Bot II Hydraulic Arm Kit



Filed Guide to Human Centred Design
IDEO Field Guide to Human Centred Design 14 MB
The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design reveals our process with the key mindsets that underpin how and why we think about design for the social sector, 57 clear-to-use design methods for new and experienced practitioners, and from-the-field case studies of human-centered design in action. The Field Guide has everything you need to understand the people you're designing for, to have more effective brainstorms, to prototype your ideas, and to ultimately arrive at more creative solutions.
Green 6 week guide
DSG Inventing Green 6 Week Guide 17 MB
DESIGN SQUAD GLOBAL's club gives kids the chance to build fast airplanes, Earth-friendly sneakers, powerful wind turbines, and two bonus projects. The guide supplies everything you need to run a 6-week sustainability-focused club. Ages 9 - 13. For more information
DSG Green Guide
DSG Inventing Green 12 Week Guide 22 MB
After building fast airplanes, Earth-friendly sneakers, and powerful wind turbines during the first six sessions, kids bring a sustainability mindset to finding their own solutions to problems in their community. DESIGN SQUAD GLOBAL gives you everything you need to run a 12-week sustainability-focused club. Ages 9 - 13. For more information
DSG 6 Week Guide
DSG 6 Week Guide 45 MB
DESIGN SQUAD GLOBAL's original engineering and invention club gives kids the chance to build earthquake-resilient structures, a helping-hand tool, and other design projects. The club guide supplies everything you need to run a 6-week program. Ages 9 - 13. For more information
Mission Solar System
DSG Mission Solar System 4 MB
NASA and DESIGN SQUAD NATION team up to inspire a new generation of engineers. This guide has six space-based hands-on challenges for school and STEM clubs. For more information
DSG Teachers Guide
Design Squad Teacher's Guide 3 MB
Written especially for middle school teachers of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), the Teacher's Guide has 11 activities divided into three units-- force, electricity, and sound-- topics found in nearly every physical science curriculum. For more information
DSG On the Moon
DSG On the Moon 5 MB
Written in collaboration with NASA, this guide has six activities that bring engineering and NASA's moon missions to life. Two activities—Launch It and Touchdown—are for grades 3-8 (and work well at events). Three activities—Roving on the Moon, Heavy Lifting, and On Target—are for grades 6-12. One activity—Feel the Heat—is for grades 9-12. For more information
DSG Activity Guide
DGS Engineering Challenges 9 to 12 Year Olds - Activity Guide 4 MB
Ideal for use in STEM fundamentals and STEM club programs, workshops, and events, the Activity Guide has five versatile activities that require little facilitation and are manageable with large numbers of kids. For more information
10 Engineering Challenges for 9 to 12 Year Olds Educators Guide 11 MB
Organised by theme, the Educator's Guide has 10 activities focused on electricity, force and energy, structures, and simple machines. For more information
DSG Ivent Guide
DSG Invent It, Build It 5 MB
Spark the inventive spirit of kids with this guide's six activities, designed to show how invention improves people's lives. More resources
DSG Event Guide
DSG Even Guide 3 MB
Geared especially for use at events, the Event Guide includes five activities, an event checklist, tips for working with kids and volunteers, colorful signage and certificates, and an event evaluation form. For more information


Mirko Azis speaks to the basics of IBM Design Thinking in this 10 minute video. The Key’s to IBM Design Thinking; Hills, Playbacks and Sponsor Users are presented and the IBM Design Loop is explained.
Want to learn by seeing how experts brainstorm? See brainstorming in action with IDEO's Toy Lab. This brainstorm - about attracting more visitors to a zoo - was recorded as part of a course by IDEO U: From Ideas to Action. In the larger lesson on Ideation, we share more about Brainstorming and other IDEO favorite ideation methods. We also share more about the philosophy around Ideation as a key part of Design Thinking.
IDEO, a leading design innovation company, is well known for their brainstorming methods. In this video, members of the IDEO Toy Lab demonstrate a typical brainstorm meeting.
A short video expanding on Problem Solving in the film industry. The filmmaker David F. Sandberg talks about Problem Solving on the Shazam commentary track (Shazam is now available on digital and if you buy the iTunes version you get a commentary track along with the other extras). Everything from Shazam is copyright Warner Bros/New Line Cinema/DC
Anywhere Maths top 3 problem solving strategies that can help when solving word problems.