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Underwater Rovers

Building an underwater rover teaches skills in design & encourages students to explore marine architecture & ocean engineering principles.

Building underwater rovers is a hands-on, educational experience that integrates all aspects of STEM. Students build rovers comprised of low-cost, easily accessible materials. Students learn engineering concepts, problem solving, design skills, and teamwork. Because they are able to see the real-world application of this project, student engagement is high and the learning is meaningful!


Information on this page is provided by the innovator and has not been evaluated by HundrED.

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January 2019
Through this project, we learned to work better as a team. You can't do this project on your own so you have to work together effectively! Everyone on our team was able to identify their personal areas of strength.

About the innovation

Why underwater rovers?

Almost every educator has heard of STEM and integrates these principles into their lesson pedagogy. STEM projects, like the Underwater Rover project, increases student engagement and encourage the development of real-world skills like collaboration, problem-solving, communication, perseverance, and career connections.

Involving students in an underwater rover project ignites their primal curiosity and satiates their innate desire for learning. Students become deeply invested in this project as they learn about the real-world applications and investigate the scientific principles behind the project. Ben Mardell, a researcher at Harvard University, reports that, "Kids learn through their senses," and "they like to touch and manipulate things." Most teachers and administrators will agree that when you combine activities that require movement, talking, and listening, it activates multiple areas of the brain at the same time increasing retention rates.

Underwater rover kits are purchased from a retailer or comprised from materials that schools have on hand or can obtain easily. Students learn about the Engineering Design Process, review vocabulary terms, and learn the importance of underwater rovers before building a real underwater rover! As a culminating event, students compete in the Underwater Rover Olympics.

The underwater rover project connects to many of the Common Core Math and English Language Arts Standards along with the Next Generation Science Standards. In addition, this project has many STEM career connections for students. The White House issued a press release in 2012 that stated, "The United States will need approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than are projected to graduate over the next decade."

Personally, I came across the idea of Underwater Rovers a few year ago while perusing the Internet for real-world STEM projects for my students. We had done a lot with STEM building challenges, but most of them were one day activities that lacked cohesiveness and my students were becoming complacent and their interest in STEM was beginning to fade. As John Dewey stated, "If we teach today's as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow."

My middle school gifted students were itching for something more challenging and comprehensive. The underwater rover project is just what they needed! Their attitudes towards STEM have completely changed through this project. They see the value in this project because of the real-world connections. The students can enthusiastically answer the questions: "How does this project connect to the real world?" and "Why are we doing this?" I have noticed an increase in their work ethic because they see the connection to their future career interests. They are more willing to work hard because they are invested in this project and can see the benefits of working through a project like this.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that teachers who implement hands-on learning projects in their classrooms out-perform their peers by more than 70% of a grade level in math and 40% of a grade level in science (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).

Check out the Steps and Posts below for tips and resources for introducing underwater rovers into your classroom.

Implementation steps

Building Background Knowledge

The attached PDF is an example of a background building application that can help students to develop schema about underwater rovers. Students can work in their underwater rover groups to complete this task.

Introducing Vocabulary
The attached PDF shows an example of some of the vocabulary terms that can be integrated into the underwater rover project.
Engineering Design Process

There are a multitude of Engineering Design Process posters and acronyms available online. This is a sample version that has worked well with my students during the underwater rover project:

  1. ASK - What is the problem? What are possible solutions? What have others done?

  2. IMAGINE - What are the possibilities? What else can be done? What is the best solution?

  3. PLAN - Is the plan possible? Where should I start? What materials are needed?

  4. CREATE - Can a model be made? Have I followed the plans? Does it meet the goal?

  5. IMPROVE - Does it work? What will make it better? What can be done differently?

  6. COMMUNICATE - Are changes needed? What do others think? Is the problem solved?

Teams are encouraged to keep a Design Notebook. In real life, engineers keep notebooks to document their ideas and steps taken to arrive at a solution as well as to provide proof for inventions they create. For the underwater rover project, the purpose of the notebook is to record notes, document important information, and to track the team's overall progress. These notebooks can be simple or complex depending on the needs of the students. The notebooks can be comprised of notebook paper, a simple notebook, or a computerized document.


I demonstrate how to use the equipment and then allow a student to demonstrate to ensure that the students understand how to safely use the tools for their intended purpose.

As a review, I use Kahootto play a review game with the students. Kahoot is highly engaging for all learners and brings out a helpful competitiveness between the students. This informal assessment lets me know if my students are ready to move forward with using the tools safely.

Building the Rovers

We have had a lot of success using the SeaPerch RoverKitsThey are relatively inexpensive and come prepackaged in kits for each team. There are many other rover kits available on the Internet and you are encouraged to investigate to see which rover kits best meet the needs of your students. Schools also have the option of using materials that they have on hand combined with purchasing select components (i.e. motors, batteries, etc.) separately.

Research shows that hands-on experiences increase student performance and motivation. A meta-analysis of 15 years of research on the advantages of hands-on learning in over 1,000 classrooms, demonstrated that students in activity-based programs performed up to 20% higher than groups using traditional or textbook approaches. The greatest gains occurred in creativity, attitude, perception, and logic (Bredderman, 1982).

Underwater Rover Olympics

There are many options for Underwater Rover Olympics. If there are other schools in your community who are also building underwater rovers, consider inviting them to your event! If possible, invite parents and administrators to your culminating event. Students love sharing their learning with others and parents, especially at the middle school level, desire to be involved! This chart shows three examples of events that you might consider using in your Olympic competition.


Obstacle Course -A series of underwater rings are placed in the pool for the rovers to navigate. These can be easily made from PVC pipe.

  • Directions -The rover must travel through each of the 3 rings, surface and return through the 3 rings. Fastest time wins.


  1. The rings must be traversed in order, closest to the wall first.

  2. The rovers must move under their own power. It is prohibited for a team member to pull or attempt to maneuver the rover using the tether.

  3. Time is stopped when the rover returns and touches the wall. It is not necessary for the rover to be on the surface at the finish.


Finesse Test -Diving rings, or similar objects, are placed at the bottom of the pool for the rovers to retrieve.

  • Directions -Sunken objects must be retrieved and placed into designated bins. Points will be awarded based on the rubric.


  1. Find the objects and return each to the designated bin.

  2. Time is stopped when the rover returns the last object to the bin.


Search & Rescue -Small floating boats, army men, or similar objects, are placed on the surface of the pool for the rovers to rescue.

  • Directions - Boats must be rescued and brought to the pool deck using the rover.


  1. Boats are “rescued” when they have been returned to the pool deck.

  2. Time is stopped when the rover returns the last boat to the pool deck.


It is wise to have one student in the water during the Olympics. We have typically asked a high school student who is on the swim team to assist. If rovers become stuck or pieces fall to the bottom of the pool, the swimmer can easily return them to the students.


Setting up a Rehabilitation Station for use during the Olympics is important. This station should contain spare parts and tools for students to use in the event that something breaks during the project. Consider including items such as:

  • soldering iron & solder

  • epoxy

  • propeller shafts

  • extra batteries

  • safety goggles

  • general tools such as screwdrivers, vise grips, pliers, etc.


The type and quantity of awards can be tailored to your population. In addition to awards for the categories listed above, consider awarding such as Best Teamwork, Most Creative Rover, etc.
A sample rubric is shown in the attached PDF. It is important to note that using this rubric is optional. For example, if this project is part of a graded course, the rubric will be helpful. If this is an after school club, the rubric would probably not be as useful.
This PDF shows an example of a reflection activity that students can complete after finishing the rover project.

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