Turn it Upside Down: Introduction to Computer-Aided Design

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 13, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Two or three fifty-minute class periods


Computer-aided design is a tool that has greatly influenced the field of design. In this activity, students will explore roller coaster design, computer graphics, and architecture. They will focus on understanding the connections between mathematics, science, technology and innovation.

National Standards

Standard 9. Level IV. Understands the general nature and uses of mathematics5. Understands that new mathematics continues to be invented even today, along with new connections between various components of mathematics 8. Understands that the development of computers has opened many new doors to mathematics just as other advances in technology can open up new areas to mathematics 9. Understands that mathematics often stimulates innovations in science and technology
Engineering Education
Standard 12. Level IV. Understands the techniques, tools, and technologies related to the production of technical drawings Benchmark 9. Uses computer-aided design methods to construct technical drawings (e.g., operate CAD software, manage data, store and retrieve drawings) Knowledge/skill statements 1. Uses computer-aided design methods such as CAD software to construct technical drawings
Standard 3. Level IV. Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual Benchmark 8. Knows the role of technology in a variety of careers
Standard 13. Level IV. Understands the scientific enterprise Benchmark 6. Knows that creativity, imagination, and a good knowledge base are all required in the work of science and engineering
Standard 1. Level IV. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 5. Uses strategies to address writing to different audiences (e.g., includes explanations and definitions according to the audience's background, age, or knowledge of the topic, adjusts formality of style, considers interests of potential readers) 
Standard 7. Level IV. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts 1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines, essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules, speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps) Standard 4. Level IV. Gathers and uses information for research purposes 2. Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics (e.g., news sources such as magazines, radio, television, newspapers; government publications; microfiche; telephone information services; databases; field studies; speeches; technical documents; periodicals; Internet)
Listening & Speaking
Standard 8. Level IV. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 3. Uses a variety of strategies to enhance listening comprehension (e.g., focuses attention on message, monitors message for clarity and understanding, asks relevant questions, provides verbal and nonverbal feedback, notes cues such as change of pace or particular words that indicate a new point is about to be made; uses abbreviation system to record information quickly; selects and organizes essential information) 4. Adjusts message wording and delivery to particular audiences and for particular purposes (e.g., to defend a position, to entertain, to inform, to persuade) 5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources)
Working With Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening: 

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.


Students will do the following:
  • conduct Internet research
  • learn about the history of computer-aided design
  • evaluate and analyze information from multiple information sources
  • work in collaborative groups to collect information
  • create a presentation
  • make connections between technology, mathematics and innovation


  • Internet websites


  • computer with Internet access


Building Background What is Computer-Aided Design?

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with background information on computer-aided design. 1. Divide the class into groups, and ask each group to collect ten facts about computer-aided design. Provide the students with the following resources to use in collecting their facts:   2. As a class, read the article entitled "Catching Them Younger" that highlights the experiences of high school students using computer-assisted design. This can be accessed at https://www.memagazine.org/backissues/may03/features/catching/catching.html After you have finished, discuss the students' reactions to what they have read. 3. Ask the students to share what they learned about computer-aided design with their classmates.

Steps for Learning Experimenting With Computer-Aided Design

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to experiment with computer-aided design projects. 1. Divide the class into small groups and tell them they are going to conduct Internet research on the ways computer-aided design is used in real world situations. Tell the students that they must create a presentation sharing what they have learned with their classmates.

Group One: Roller Coaster Design

  • Annenberg CPB Learner.org
  • Funderstanding Roller Coaster

Group Two: Digital Design  

  • LEGO Digital Designer
https://ldd.lego.com/ Click on the "Download" button

Group Three: Architecture

  • Frank Lloyd Wright Architect Studio 3D
https://architectstudio3d.org/AS3d/design_studio3d.html 2. Ask each group to create a presentation to share information about their explorations. Tell the students that the presentation should contain information and images highlighting what they learned about computer-aided design. 3. Provide time for each group to present its presentation to the entire class. 4. Lead a class discussion using the following questions as guidelines:
  • What did you learn about the nature of mathematics?
  • What role have computers played in the world of mathematics?
  • How does mathematics stimulate innovations in science and technology?
  • How did the tools you worked with incorporate creativity, imagination, and a good knowledge base?



Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their presentations. You may wish to use the following as an example. -Rate how effectively you explained the use of computer-aided design in your presentation. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how well you explained the tool you used. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate the overall clarity of your presentation. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated your ideas. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate your creativity. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Activity One: Engineering Excitement
Have your students explore the "Project Lead the Way" website at  https://www.pltw.orgread
This non-profit organization focuses on promoting interest in engineering in middle schools and high schools.
Activity Two: Roller Coaster Designer: An Interview in the Working World
Ask your students to read the article entitled "Dream Job: Roller Coaster Designer," which can be viewed athttps://www.salary.com/careers/layouthtmls/crel_display_Cat10_Ser186_Par285.html?searchfor=salary&searchtext=roller+coaster+designer. After reading the article, have your students write in their journal about why or why not a roller coaster designer would be their dream job. What about it would they find interesting? What would their strong points be?
  1. I like the connection to the engineering website investigation and roller coaster article read after the lesson. This gives the student more opportunities to explore design after the lesson. The students may get extra credit by presenting their findings to more students. During their presentations, they can review computer-aided design.

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