Academic journal article Science Scope

The Justin Time Challenge

Academic journal article Science Scope

The Justin Time Challenge

Article excerpt


Engaging students in both science and engineering practices can be a daunting process. The call to integrate the practices, advocated by the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), challenges teachers to promote student analysis and explanation through innovation (NGSS Lead States 2013). Teachers can facilitate student exploration of the NGSS practice of Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions through the use of engineering-design process (EDP) challenges. EDP activities are an effective entry point for engaging students in both science-knowledge content and the engineering-design process (Roehrig et al. 2012; Mentzer 2011). In this article, we discuss the Justin Time Challenge, an EDP activity combined with music that engages students in learning and understanding both content and process. The activity is also an effective way to enhance collaboration and teamwork within the classroom while supporting students' development of communication skills.

Several engineering-design process templates exist for classroom use. We often use one from Design Squad (2014) (Figure 1). We feel this template is grade-appropriate for middle school. Other engineering-design process templates can also be found for free online (see Resources).

For students who are new to engaging in engineering in the classroom, it may be beneficial to discuss the steps within the design process prior to starting Justin Time or any other EDP challenge. The discussion provides an opportunity to highlight how the engineering-design process contrasts with science practices. Students often initially struggle to identify how science and engineering are similar and different. An explicit discussion about how science is conducted to produce knowledge and answer questions, while engineering is conducted to solve problems and produce technology, supports the NGSS goal of linking science and engineering practices (NGSS Lead States 2013; see Addressing the Next Generation Science Standards sidebar). In our discussions, we focus on how science and engineering practices can be seen[right arrow] throughout the engineering-design process.

The Justin Time Challenge is ideal for use in grade 6. It supports the NGSS science and engineering practice Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, building on students' K-5 experiences (NGSS Lead States 2013). The challenge requires students to apply scientific disciplinary core ideas of force and motion from NGSS standard MS-PS2 to design devices. We recommend placing this lesson at the beginning of a unit on forces and motion. The focus of the lesson is not on developing a deep understanding of periodic motion, but rather on the practices of "fair" design testing and identifying and controlling variables. The data collection within the lesson promotes understanding of the NGSS crosscutting concept Cause and Effect, as the relationships examined are used to predict motion in student designs (NGSS Lead States 2013). Prior knowledge of motion is not needed for the lesson.


The Justin Time design challenge asks teams to create a device that keeps time with a popular song (download the student activity packet online at middleschool/connections.aspx). We use Justin Timberlake's "Not a Bad Thing" because the song's clean lyrics and consistent tempo make it a good fit for the task. (We encourage teachers to use the activity as an opportunity to expose students to new and different music or to excite students by using music they like. Teachers can play the music as students enter the classroom. Points to consider for song selection include clean lyrics, consistent tempo throughout the song, a strong downbeat within the song that students can identify, and the popularity of the song. The Billboard Hot 100 chart can provide a starting point.)


When introducing the design task, we clarify the challenge's goal: to design and build a device that keeps time to the beat of Justin Timberlake's "Not a Bad Thing. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.