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.

Design Challenge:


Learners will discuss, research, design, build, and showcase a model ocean exploration device from LEGO bricks or other found materials. Work in teams to research the variety of ocean exploration devices including the tools on E/V Nautilus but don't forget the Build-A-Bot Inspiration Slidedeck for more ideas!  Brainstorm what type of tool learners want to make, what their device will do, and why there is a need for this tool. 

STEM Learning Module:

Hercules Illuminating The Dark

Five activity stations and demonstrations guide students through different examples of light refraction and ask follow-up questions to engage their analysis skills. 

Sunlight rarely travels more than 200 meters (656 feet) deep into the ocean. Vast unexplored regions of the ocean are perpetually dark. Bringing light deep into the ocean introduces challenges, but also the chance to make many discoveries.  Explore the phenomena of colored light, phased absorption of different wavelengths, and other impacts on light underwater with the following five activities.

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:

Ocean Drifters Teaching Animation

Ocean drifters measure currents and other parameters, such as temperature and salinity, to further deepen our understanding of the oceanic environment. The main difference between the two major types of ocean drifters are their placement in the water column. As their name suggests, surface drifters remain in the top one meter (three feet) of the water column whereas deepwater drifters are suspended to a certain depth below the water surface to track subsurface currents. 

Design Challenge:

Robotic Arm Kit Activity

In this activity, you will build a small-scale hydraulic robot arm to move blocks and witness this fluid dynamic system in action.

On E/V NautilusROV Hercules relies on a hydraulic pump to activate its two manipulator arms.

Design Challenge:

Ocean Motion & the Attitude Sensor Project

How E/V Nautilus responds to open ocean waves and its orientation called the ship’s attitude. Sensors on the ship work to collect the variables of heave (up and down motion), pitch (front to back seesaw motion), and roll (side to side motion) of the vessel.

In this project, learn to build a Raspberry Pi©-powered sensor to collect pitch and roll data of your platform, just like the attitude sensor on Nautilus!


STEM Learning Module:

Save Yourself - Sacrificial Anodes

Students will investigate how rates of chemical reaction rates - galvanic corrosion - vary among different metal types with and without the addition of sacrificial metal. This is a redox reaction example suited well for upper-level students. Students will learn how anodes protect E/V Nautilus and the ROVs Hercules and Argus from corrosion.

STEM Learning Module:

A Sinking Feeling

Use the “Think, Try, Make, Redesign” engineering model to build a neutrally buoyant vehicle from everyday materials like ketchup packets, washers, spare change, and rubber bands. In this perseverance-building challenge, students explore material properties to explore what makes something float, sink, or find neutral buoyancy. Students will learn how buoyancy impacts Exploration Vessel Nautilus and our ROVs as platforms for exploration.