Authentic Tasks

Reverse Engineering


Authentic assessment starts with an authentic task and is something the technology education world has been a proponent of for many years. In technology education we strive to develop curriculum that is project based and real world. Authentic tasks tie the classroom to the real world and shows students that what they are learning in the classroom can and is used in real world applications. ("Write a Great Authentic Task") The reverse engineering project I have my students do is the same process used by engineers to understand a failed product, learn how a competitor’s product works or to reproduce drawings and models that have been lost or damaged. According to Willbert “Something is considered authentic if it is a believable replica of something else with significant value.” (Wilbert, 2013) My students keep an engineer’s notebook, create working drawings and look for ways to improve their products just like an engineer would. When students are given the chance to do real world projects that mirror what professionals do [in my students’ case engineers] they see the value of the task or project outside of school. (Wilbert, 2013) Authentic project based creative learning provides ownership of student learning and pride in a student's work.

Read the article Below from the American Society of Manufacturing Engineers

Great Video from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Reverse Engineering at APL: Working Backward to Propel Innovation Forward


I have students complete reverse engineering as a culminating project for my Intro to Drafting & Design class. They are required to bring a product from home. It can be anything from a small engine to a set of Legos. Students start the project by making a visual, structural and functional analysis of the product. This can entail taking the product apart, looking for manuals on the internet, searching for YouTube videos about their product and reading manufacture descriptions from websites. Students take picture of their product assembled and disassembled, create a parts list and enter all of the information they find out about the product in their engineer’s notebook. The notebook is a big part of the process. Engineers are required to keep them when they work on products and students need understand the importance of proper documentation. I check their notebook each week and act as their senior engineer, checking their entries and signing off on their progress to date. After they perform their analysis they begin to 3D model all of the parts in AutoDesk Inventor. They have to measure and sketch the parts as they work. Precision is key because all of 3D modeled parts need to fit together when they are finished. This provides a great self-check for the students. If parts do not fit in the assembly they have to go back and see where they went wrong. After student complete the 3D model of the assembled product they create a set of working drawings for the assembly and all of the individual parts of the product. After they have completely document the original product they look for ways to improve the product. These improvements are then sketched and 3D modeled. Then they complete a second set of working drawings to show the improvements they have made. Students then have the option to use our 3D printer for fabricate the new improved parts of the product.

Sample Engineer's Notebook

This notebook should be bound. No loose items. All entries should be done in chronological order and written in pen. All entries need to be dated and signed. All added items (pictures, document) need to be permanently attached to the notebook and signed.


  1. Find a product or have students bring in products to reverse engineer. I have my students 3D model all of the parts in their product but students could just take a product apart and document what they find with pictures and written notes to understand how it works.
  2. Decide how you want your students to document their work. I have them make entries in their engineer’s notebook but it could also be done digitally on a Google Doc.
  3. Have students make a visual, structural and functional analysis of the product before they take it apart. They should take pictures of the product, record overall dimensions, find out what materials and finished are used to make the product, and learn how it functions. This will all go in their engineer’s notebook and should include a written description, parts list and photos.
  4. Have students disassemble the product. Make sure they take pictures and sketch parts as they go and enter them with notes in their engineer’s notebook with annotations.
  5. If you have 3D modeling software you can complete the next 3 steps if not skip to step 9.
  6. Have students 3D model each part of the product.
  7. Have students create a 3D assembly of the modeled parts.
  8. Have students create a set of working drawings for the product that includes an exploded assembly with parts list and balloons, and dimensioned drawings for each part.
  9. Have students make recommendations for improvements to the product. These could be visual, structural or functional improvements. If you have 3D modeling software they can design the improvements and make an updated set of working drawings that show the improvements. If you do not have the software students can sketch design improvements with a set of written notes.
  10. Have students create a presentation to the class about their product and the improvements they are recommending. This report could be in the form of a slide show, presentation board, movie, website or whatever form students want to use that shows their work


Wilbert, M. (2013, April 19). Authentic Assessment in Action. Retrieved November 20, 2014, from

Write a Great Authentic Task. Retrieved November 20, 2014, from

Reverse Engineering at APL: Working Backward to Propel Innovation Forward

JHU Applied Physics Laboratory

Published on Nov 26, 2013