This lists the logos of programs or partners of NG Education which have provided or contributed the content on this page. Program DEEPSEA CHALLENGE

  • Tips & Modifications


    Check in with groups frequently as they are developing their proposed solutions and concept drawings. Students will need encouragement to push their solutions further and to include more detail.


    During the research phase, check in with students and guide their research as needed to make sure they consider areas where there are hydrothermal vents as potential dive areas. These areas tend to have greater biodiversity than other places in the abyssopelagic zone. Students could select a known hydrothermal vent or pick an area that is likely to contain vents.


    You can simplify the activity by assigning students a dive location instead of having them research to find one.

    1. Activate students’ prior knowledge by reviewing what they know about pressure.
    Ask students to define pressure and to give a formula expressing pressure. Introduce or re-introduce students to James Cameron’s DEEPSEA CHALLENGE expedition to the Mariana Trench and have students explain how pressure affected the expedition. If necessary, have students visit the provided DEEPSEA CHALLENGE website to become familiar with the expedition.

    2. Watch a video to introduce one of the design challenges the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team had to address.
    Provide students with the following focus questions prior to watching "Cracking the Code": What was the big challenge James Cameron describes? Why was this challenge unexpected? What was the problem with commercially available foam? Have students take notes as they watch the video, and use the questions to launch a discussion at the end of the video. Explain that this was just one of many design challenges the team faced.

    3. Distribute the Engineering Process handout and review the steps in the process with students.
    Explain that students will use the engineering process to solve a design problem similar to the one James Cameron’s team solved. Explain that although the engineering process has seven steps, students will only complete the first four steps in this activity. When reviewing step 1, go over constraints and considerations, and give examples of both. Constraints are absolute requirements or limitations in a design or decision-making process. If a choice or solution doesn’t meet the constraints, then it must be eliminated. For example, if you are shopping for new bookshelves for your living room, there will be a size constraint. The bookshelves must be small enough to fit in the available space in your living room. Any bookshelves that are too big must be eliminated as a choice, even if they are otherwise perfect. Considerations are desired, but not necessary, elements in a design, solution, or decision. Considerations can be used to rank choices and solutions. For example, if your living room has a lot of dark wood, the tone of the wood for your bookshelves would be a consideration; you might prefer to have dark wood so that it will match the other wood in the room. However, you wouldn’t necessarily eliminate a shelf just because it has lighter wood.

    4. Have students redefine the problem description from the Problem Scenario: Design a Submersible handout in their own words.
    Read aloud to students the problem description section of the Problem Scenario: Design a Submersible handout. Explain that in this activity students will use the first four steps in the Engineering Process handout they were given earlier to plan and design a solution to the problem presented in the scenario. Provide students with the Design a Submersible: Design Rubric and review it to be sure students understand the expectations. Divide students into small groups and have each group define the problem in their own words per step 1 of the handout. Invite groups to share their problem definitions with the class, and then go over the problem definition provided on the Problem Scenario: Design a Submersible handout. Briefly review the concepts of constraints and considerations. Have each group list constraints and considerations for the problem. Have groups share their ideas with the class, and then provide the final list of constraints for the problem as listed on the Problem Scenario: Design a Submersible handout.  

    5. Have students conduct research that will help them solve the problem.
    Have groups brainstorm questions they have, information they need, and keywords and topics they could use to conduct research to solve the problem. Have students record their ideas as described in step 2 of the Engineering Process handout. Tell students to consider all aspects of the problem in their research, including dive location and vehicle design. Have students use the provided websites to research basic designs for underwater submersibles and explore different materials available for constructing a submersible. To help them determine a good location for the dive, have them read the National Geographic Education encyclopedic entry about hydrothermal vent communities. Have students record detailed notes and research summaries as described on the Engineering Process handout.

    6. Have students propose a solution.
    Have students look at their lists of constraints and brainstorm ways to address each constraint in their designs, based on their research. If necessary, have them return to the research step to gather more information. Once students have identified ways to address each constraint, have them plan out their solutions and explain them as described in step 3 of the Engineering Process handout. Tell students that their solutions need to contain profiles of their dive locations, including a map of the location, the maximum depth of the location, the pressure they will need to withstand, the anticipated water temperature, the life forms they might see, etc. Have all students map their locations using the MapMaker Interactive and add labels to record basic information about the dive sites. Their problem solutions should also include basic design information for their vehicles and how the designs will address the constraints of the problem.

    7. Have students develop a design.
    Have students create detailed concept designs for their submersible vehicles based on their proposed solutions. They should draw and label their designs as described in step 4 of the Engineering Process handout and write brief reports explaining how their designs will work to solve the problem. Remind them to address the constraints and considerations of the project in their drawings and reports and to be as specific as possible in their drawing and labeling.

    8. Have students present their concepts to the class.
    Review with students the peer review expectations and the concept of constructive criticism. Give each group time to present its proposed solution and concept design to the class. Allow students to ask questions and to give feedback to each group. Following the presentations, give groups time to make adjustments to their designs based on feedback.

    9. Discuss the design process.
    Discuss the design process with students. Ask: What would you have done differently? What worked well? What was most challenging for you? Note that students should keep all documentation from this activity in preparation for the next activity.

    Alternative Assessment

    Observe students and their notes throughout the process and provide feedback as needed to focus their designs. Use the Design a Submersible: Design Rubric to assess students’ location profiles, descriptions of the problem, and concept designs and reports.

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    • Physics