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, my students had the question: How do we explore the ocean? This question was timed with our trip to see the 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 wondered if we could build remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, to help us learn how scientists explore the ocean.
After brainstorming with a local marine scientist, Dr. Mikki, I researched underwater ROVs and various ways students could build their own. Luckily, we happened to have a few SeaPerch ROV kits at our school, just waiting to be unpacked and built. With that conversation began what has now become an ongoing STEM project in collaboration with Ocean First Institute and Ocean First Education, Explore ROV (since renamed Project ROV).
The ROV Journey
In year one, my students and I, joined by excited parents, engineering student volunteers, middle school mentors, and marine scientists, built and tested SeaPerch ROVs. A 3-day building process taught students the importance of measuring, collaboration, redesigning, problem solving, 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 maneuverability of the ROVs was important, as the winning ROV to come with me on my research trip to Kodiak, Alaska, where I was a NOAA Teacher at Sea on board the ship Oscar Dyson. The ROV was deployed near our ship in the waters surrounding Kodiak Island, giving students a chance to see the underwater environment, including 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.
What kind of data do scientists need the ROVs to collect?
Students found that scientists needed ROVs to help them collect samples of water, sediment, and sometimes even critters that were found in specific areas. Armed with 3D printing software and a 3D printer, the students created prototypes for ROV attachments. These ROVs and prototypes were presented in a joint community event with all 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students at the Denver Aquarium as students shared their learnings about why people should care about the ocean, and how scientists were sharing this ocean knowledge.
The Future of Project ROV
After spending the past six months in Finland learning about inquiry, STEM, and the overall education system, the future of Project ROV began to take shape. In presenting to schools and educational communities around Finland, there was high interest in building ROVs. In conjunction with Niko Nappu (HiLIFE research stations) and Kimmo Karell (Itäkeskus primary school), students in Germany, Finland, and the USA will continue to explore, collaborate, and share scientific research and ROV design.
My dream is to bring together underwater exploration, STEM, and ROVs to inspire students to engage in real-world, self-designed inquiry projects that they will share with the world.