This program is run/sponsored by the Navy (Office of Naval Research, to be exact), which makes this post just a little bit of a shameless plug. Just sayin’ that up front.
I am extremely bummed out that, due to wrist surgery, I can’t participate in the local program this year. Since, you know, unmanned-underwater-vehicle-building with kids tends to take both hands and a mind clear of painkillers. There’s always next year, though!
Now onto the good part – it’s a really, really awesome STEM outreach program. I’ve participated in the program in various capacities before, and both the kids and their adult advisors loved it. Or at least they did as far as I could tell.
The fifth graders were unabashedly enthusiastic about it, whereas the high schoolers were a bit more subdued, in that “I think this is cool, but I can’t let anyone know I think this is cool, so I’m gonna shrug a lot and doodle circles on the ground with my big toe” kind of way.
The idea is that each team builds a remote-controlled mini-submarine from a kit. There is some leeway allowed in the design, so they can experiment a little to see what works best. Then they can take their creation to a competition, where they are judged on how well it performs on an underwater obstacle course (usually in a local swimming pool).
Teams can be individuals or up to a whole class in size, but generally it works best with around four kids per kit. Kits can be purchased for under $200 and a toolkit is recommended but can be shared among groups. There is often grant money available.
A portion of the competition is also an interview segment, where judges ask questions to see how well the kids understand what they’ve built (how does the motor work, why did you place that piece there, etc.). Points are also given for teamwork, team spirit, and how they present a record of their work – usually a log of some sort describing their efforts, and maybe a science fair type poster, depending on the team.
The competition part goes all the way up to the national level. Teams can come from schools, church youth groups, Boys & Girls clubs, scouting organizations, JROTC units, a couple of kids from the neighborhood, you name it.
The SeaPerch challenge is adaptable to age ranges from 5th grade through college freshmen, and various size groups. It helps develop fundamental skills in areas including physics, electronics, mechanics, engineering, teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, fluid dynamics, buoyancy, robotics, and – most importantly – how to glue PVC pipe together. Seriously, it really is both fun and educational.
For more information or to find a competition near you, check out the SeaPerch Website.