Activity or Mini-Lesson:

Ocean Exploration Course for Middle School

This guide shares the sequence of suggested activities, lessons & learning modules for a 9 week-long Ocean Exploration class (quarter-long elective), designed for middle school students. It can easily be adapted for an after-school club, a summer program, or a segment of a middle school science course. Lessons can be completed as outlined below, but can also be broken up to accommodate class schedules. The activities are designed for hands-on learning and to facilitate a greater understanding of the need for continued ocean exploration.

STEM Learning Module:

Introduction to Ocean Exploration - Stations of Learning

Use this lesson to introduce students to how & why we explore the world’s oceans. Dr. Robert Ballard’s TED Talk establishes a connection encouraging all viewers to cultivate a collective desire to explore the ocean and to stress the importance of continued exploration. 

Activity or Mini-Lesson:

Painting Rainbows On The Seafloor

In this hands-on STEAM activity, students will learn about modern multibeam mapping SONAR technology and the data products created using maps from a 2017 E/V Nautilus expedition to the Revillagigedo Archipelago in Mexico. After examining and interpreting different bathymetric maps produced by the Corps of Exploration, students will paint their own watercolor bathymetry in this art integration activity.

Teaching Animation or Graphic:

ROV Explainer Graphic Poster

Learn about the features of Remotely Operated Vehicles which help the Corps of Exploration understand our ocean world. 

Learn more about the ROVs and different technologies used in the Nautilus Exploration Program here

Activity or Mini-Lesson:

Shapes Of The Seafloor

Using the 5E method (Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend, Evaluate) students will gain an understanding of why seafloor mapping is a valuable tool in ocean exploration. With Play-Doh and shoe boxes, students will create their own simulated seafloor and use skewers to measure various depths to resemble what an ocean floor would look like.  This unit connects well to learning topographic maps and landforms. 

Activity or Mini-Lesson:

Tools Of The Trade

Introduce your students to ships of exploration and some of the technology at sea using the 5E method (Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend, Evaluate). Using videos and various websites, students will look at the differences between Remotely Operated Vehicles and Autonomously Operated Vehicles. Extending this lesson, use every day items like scissors, toothpicks, and magnets, to design and build a model crane and pulley system like the one E/V Nautilus uses to launch ROV Hercules and ROV Argus for expeditions. 

Teaching Animation or Graphic:

Multibeam Cutaway Teaching Graphic

Nautilus is equipped with an acoustic echosounder that simultaneously collects bathymetric, seafloor backscatter, and water column backscatter data to enable identification of areas or features of interest and the production of high-quality seafloor maps at depths to 7,000 meters (23,000 feet).

Whether focused on a canyon, seamount, or shipwreck, creating a map allows us to identify potential targets, cutting down exploration time and boosting our mission efficiency.

Teaching Animation or Graphic:

Telepresence Teaching Graphic

E/V Nautilus is equipped with a high-bandwidth satellite communication system that can transmit data to an unlimited number of viewers and scientists ashore who remotely stand watch with us.

Design Challenge:

3D Printable E/V Nautilus

Use this 3D design to print your own E/V Nautilus


Nautilus is equipped with some of the latest technological systems, helping to advance the frontiers of ocean exploration. The 68-meter (223 foot) ship is equipped with all of the latest in ocean technology and can host a 33 person science team, in addition to 17 crew members.