Project ROV: Introducing Elementary Students to Underwater Technology

Latest update May 3, 2018 Started on May 1, 2018

The biggest problem our oceans are facing is not plastic, or marine debris, or overfishing, but ignorance. Our goal with Project ROV is to use underwater technology to inform our local and global communities about the variety of issues our underwater environments are facing.

With building ROVs as the catalyst, students will decide how they will design their ROVs, what underwater environments they will test them in, what underwater issue they want to tackle, and how they will inform the community about their project.

May 1, 2018
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All it took was a few pictures of former students building ROVs to get my current class hooked on ROVs.

“Do they really work?” “Are we really going to build these?” Questions of excitement and joy filled the room as we discussed our upcoming project of designing and building our own underwater ROVs. Little did they know the learning that was about to take place.

We started the students off with learning about underwater technology, and students conducted some of their own research in order to learn what new underwater technology was being used in marine research, and how ROVs have been used. Not only have they been used for quite some time in taking footage, collecting specimen, sediment, and water samples, but they are also used in monitoring fish farms and oil rigs. Students were surprised that a robot could do so many things!

After learning about what ROVs can do, we began to look at ROV design. How were the ROVs built? What did the frames look like? What components and features did they have? What and how many motors do they have? Our student “makers” began creating their own sketches of ROV designs, trying out a variety of different designs and giving each other feedback.

After students had a design they were satisfied with, our first task was to have them build their ROV frame out of pipe cleaners. This allowed them to see their design in a 3D model. They were able to take photographs of their models and analyze each others’ designs. They learned about the various perspectives,using their iPads to document the design with photos of the top, side, and front view of the ROV models.

Next step: Students will decide on the materials for our frames and what they will need to build.

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Good luck! Our high school students on the Aquarius Project would love to chat with your team if they would ever be interested in sharing their work w/ big kids!

Hi Andrea, have you ever heard about the SeaPerch ROV? A few years ago, I helped teach secondary and tertiary education students the process of building ROVs out of PVC, soldering electrical control boxes, driving their own ROVs in the field, and analysing data from the nearby water systems. I was able to do it all with a Build Manual available here:

I hope this is helpful to you and your students!

Expedition Background

The ROV Journey

In 2015, my students and I embarked on a journey to learn about ocean biomes, ocean animals and animal adaptations. After an in-depth project-based learning (PBL) unit covering these concepts, we had the question: How do we explore the ocean? This question was timed with an early premiere of James Cameron’s film, “Deepsea Challenge 3D”, which followed Cameron’s journey in building a human-operated underwater vehicle (HOV) to explore the Mariana Trench. Armed with this curiosity, students were excited to build remotely operated videos, or ROVs, to help them learn how scientists explore the ocean.

After some brainstorming with a local marine scientist, we learned about underwater ROVs. With that conversation began what has now become an ongoing STEM project in collaboration with Ocean First Institute and Ocean First Education, Explore ROV.

In year one, students, joined by excited parents, engineering student volunteers, middle school mentors, marine scientists, and an energetic teacher, built and tested SeaPerch ROVs. A 3-day building process taught students the importance of measuring, collaboration, and reading and following directions.

After students built, tested, and refined their ROV designs, they began the process of designing a series of maneuverability challenges for our pool competition. Each team was tasked with designing a challenge that all teams would put their ROVs through such as maneuvering through underwater hula hoops, or racing to the end of the pool and back. In our final competition event, each team would compete in the challenges and earn points. This was a fun-filled event, as students worked as teams to maneuver their ROVs, and fix problems on the spot. The winning ROV was the ROV that came with me on my excursion to Kodiak, Alaska, where I was a NOAA Teacher at Sea on board the ship Oscar Dyson. While the ROV was not robust enough to deploy directly from the ship, we did deploy it from the dock near the ship and from shore on the island, giving students a chance to see underwater critters such as jellies and fish.

In year two, we added on a new challenge to Project ROV: How do ROVs collect data for scientists? Using 3D modeling software, students were tasked with creating an attachment for their ROV that would collect data necessary for scientists.

Now we are in the third year of the project, and are incorporating partners from around the world. At our school in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, students are not only designing their own ROVs, but also learning about our local underwater environments here in Northern Germany. We are working with our international partners in Finland and the USA, and a local ocean research station in Kiel. Our students will share their learning not only with our local community but an international community as well.


Your work is inspiring to educators around the world!

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