Teacher Area

Lesson Plan: Reverse Engineering of a Common Product

Time Frame

10 Days


This reverse engineering activity will provide an opportunity for students to take apart a common device that includes electrical and mechanical elements; two different brands of single use cameras. They will then use the knowledge they have gained to create a systems diagram for the complete device. Students will create reassembly instructions and diagrams to share with partner schools. Partner schools will attempt to reassemble the device using the instructions provided.

In each class, half the students will diassemble a Fuji camera and half the class will disassemble a Kodak camera. It is important that you obtain both devices. You may further divide each half of the class into smaller teams, if desired, so that small groups of students work with one of the devices. Later, students will reassemble the other device using reassembly instructions that a different school has created. For example, if you have 6 teams of students in your class with 4 members each, 3 of the teams will disassemble the Fuji camera and 3 teams will disassemble the Kodak camera. Later the devices will be swapped and each team will attempt to reassemble a different camera than they initially disassembled. You will need to have one device for each team of students.


By the end of this activity, students will be able to:

  • Analyze the component systems and subsystems of a device and classify them as mechanical or electrical.
  • Classify the component parts of the device according to their materials and recyclability.
  • Create a systems diagram to describe the operation and control of the device.
  • Identify the purpose of subsystems as input, process, output, or feedback.
  • Explain product lifecycle in terms of technological impacts.
  • Follow instructions and diagrams created by others to reassemble a common product.

Teacher Prep


  • Fuji and Kodak single use cameras
  • Safety glasses
  • Small screwdriver
  • Gallon size zip lock bags
  • Black electrical tape


  • Require students to wear safety glasses throughout the activity.
  • To prevent electrical shock, tell students that they should not press the flash button. Students using the Fuji camera should remove the cardboard cover and the AA battery before pressing the shutter.
  • For both kinds of cameras, tell students to cover the lens with a small piece of black electrical tape and use the shutter and film advance wheel until “0” (zero) appears. This will aid in disassembly and make it possible to use the film later on.
  • Students using the Kodak camera should remove the battery immediately after opening the camera.
  • Collect the batteries and film for future use.


  • Reverse engineer both kinds of cameras yourself to anticipate where students might need help and the kinds of questions they may ask.
  • Be sure to have students read the Introduction to Systems Engineering article or cover the content of it through class discussion. Refer to the glossary to clarify the meaning of technical terms.
  • Mention that most engineering students participate in a reverse engineering activity during their undergraduate education. This activity along with other resources in the module will help students learn about systems and systems engineering.
  • A small screwdriver will facilitate disassembly. It should be used carefully to avoid damaging parts.
  • Tell students that they should document each step of the disassembly process using notes, drawings and/or digital photography. They need to prepare a set of step-by-step directions that accurately describe how to disassemble the camera.
  • They should identify the function of each part and give it a name based on its purpose and appearance.
  • When the students have completely disassembled the camera and prepared the directions they should begin to reassemble the camera. At the same time they should develop a set of reassembly directions that will be exchanged with other schools participating in the project.
  • Encourage the teams to work together to produce a final disassembly document for each kind of camera that can be posted by students in other schools.

Systems Engineering Materials and Activity Sheets

** (Used with permission from Professor Eirik Hole, School of Systems & Enterprises, Stevens Institute of Technology.)


  • One device per team
  • Small flat head screwdrivers for the class to share
  • Pliers
  • Small storage containers, envelopes, or bags to hold smaller parts from the devices
  • 8-1/2"x11" or larger white paper to create systems diagrams (note: larger paper may be easier for students to use and include more information)
  • Large bins or containers to collect metal, plastic, and other parts for recycling at the end of the activity

Curriculum Standards

New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards

  • Standard 5.1: Scientific Processes
  • Standard 5.4: Nature and Process of Technology
  • Standard 5.7: Physics
  • Standard 5.10: Environmental Studies
  • Standard 8.2: Technological Literacy

ITEA Standards for Technological Literacy

  • Standards: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13

National Science Content Standards

  • Unifying Concepts and Processes in Science
  • Science as Inquiry
  • Physical Science
  • Science and Technology
  • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

Activity 1: Letter of Introduction

Explain that students from around the world will be all be doing this project at the same time. Each class will be put "to the test" by attempting to reassemble a single-use camera, based on the instructions and diagrams created by a partner school. To kick off the project, have students compose a class letter of introduction to be shared with other participating classes by posting it in Collaboration Central. Things to include in the letter of introduction include:

  • Name of your school, subject, and grade level of your class.
  • Location of your school including city, state/province, country, latitude and longitude (so other students can pin-point your location on the map).
  • What are your schools strengths?
  • What are your schools challenges?
  • What technological resources do you have available to you?
  • What do you think your school could most contribute to this effort?
  • What are your goals and expectations in participating in this collaborative effort?
  • What do you wish to learn from this first meeting?
  • Any other information that you would like to share about your city, school, and community.
  • Note: If possible, conduct a phone or video conference in lieu of introductory letters.

Activity 2: Pre-Disassembly

Explain systems engineering and global engineering using the resources shown below.

Both brands of cameras should be purchased and used for this project. Divide your class into at least two teams of students. Each half of the class will receive one of the devices -- either the Fuji single-use camera or the Kodak single-use camera. Each half of the class may be further divided into smaller teams, if desired, with each team working with one of the devices. The ideal team will be made up of 4 members.

Have students follow the directions on the student lesson web page for Activity 2. Make sure that they answer the Pre-Disassembly Questions before proceeding to take apart their device.


Activity 3: Disassembly

Explain the purpose of a systems diagram. Tell the students that they will be creating a systems diagram for the device that they have been assigned to take apart during class. Explain how systems and interactions can be displayed using a systems diagram and provide an example. Point out how different shapes may be used to illustrate different types of subsystems and that arrows or lines may be used to show connectedness and/or interaction between subsystems.

Here is a useful systems diagram designed for technology education teachers and students:

Explain how students should proceed with taking apart their device. Caution them to be aware of sharp parts. Assist the students if necessary with removing or taking apart difficult pieces.

Have the students organize the component parts of their device on their desk or work area according to their subsystem. Caution them to not lose track of small parts. Continue until all major components of the system have been dismantled. Students should only go as far as to dismantle to major subsystems. For example, the major subsystems of a disposable camera may be: power/battery, film advance mechanism, lens, and flash.

Have the students continue the deconstruction of their device all the way down until they can classify a component as metal or plastic. If more than one class period is needed to disassemble the device, Store the devices in a place where the students will be able to access them for the next class session, if necessary.

Once the students have completed taking apart their devices they should answer the Disassembly Questions.


Activity 4: Assembly Instructions

Review concepts related to creating a systems diagram with the students.

Have the students sketch a systems diagram for their device. Discuss the sketches briefly and then have them move on to create a more final version of the diagram. Initial sketches should be done by hand and final versions may be done either by hand or using computer software (note: Microsoft Word and PowerPoint include drawing tools that may facilitate creating diagrams with specific shapes). Remind students that they may use different shapes or colors to enhance their diagram for purposes of explanation and illustration.

After the students have completed the systems diagram, explain the concept of a product lifecycle to them. Discuss the concept of "appropriate technology" in terms of the lifecycle of a product. These terms are defined in the Glossary.

Students should then create a complete set of assembly instructions for their device. They may need to practice assembling it as part of that process but they should leave each device diassembled when they are finished. The instructions may include diagrams, images, photos, or any other information that would be essential for another team to reassemble this device.

Once each team has completed their assembly instructions, have them collaborate with other like teams in your class to select or refine one complete set of instructions for that particular device. For example, if there were 3 teams each working on the Fuji camera, they should now convene as one large group to review each of the team's assembly instructions and pick the best set of instructions or work together to come up with a modified set of instructions based on all teams' input. One final set of instructions for each device will be posted to Collaboration Central or to a Google Doc.

Collect the component parts in ziploc bags or other storage container so that all the components for one device remain together. The bags will later be distributed to other teams for them to reassemble using a partner school's instructions.

Activity 5: Assembly and Collaboration

Distribute the disassembled components for each device to class teams so that each team has a different device to work with. Have students review the reassembly instructions for this device that have been provided by a different school. Each team should reassemble this product given ONLY the instructions provided. Teams should discuss the aspects of the directions that are unclear or incorrect and revise the collaborative document as necessary. When each team is successful assembling the device, they should let the other school know! Each school should review the revisions to the original documents.

The project concludes when:

  • Teams in your class successfully assemble the new device based on another school's instructions and
  • A partner school successfully assembles a device based on the instructions that your class provided.

Collect the component parts in large bins. Explain to the students that you will see to it that the items are disposed of properly and according to local laws.


Grading rubric for systems diagram (descriptive statements):

  • The systems diagram includes all systems and subsystems properly labeled.
  • The interactivity of the component parts is correctly indicated.
  • Mechanical and electrical components and subsystems are labeled correctly.
  • Input, process, output, and feedback subsystems are labeled correctly.

Students may also prepare a brief report that compares what they expected to find inside the camera before and what they found during disassembly.

Follow-up Activities

  • Students may create a display board by mounting the components of their device and including brief explanations of how the parts interact and work together.
  • Schools could create a collaborative Google Doc or Wiki.
  • Assign the students to bring in a device from home that they can take apart. Advise them that they will not be able to put the item back together, so ideally it may be something that is no longer in working condition. Explain that the device must contain, at minimum, both electrical and mechanical components. Examples may include an old personal CD player, a film camera, an electric toothbrush, or a small computer printer.

    Note: some devices such as VCRs may contain large capacitors and other items that may maintain an electrical charge even after they are unplugged or powered off. Always read device labels carefully before taking items apart.