Under the Sea in a new way

Students stand outside a swimming pool and look inside at a device
Students at Mellon Middle School launch an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle built from scratch. Photo credit: Matt Mikesell

Under the sea is not just a place for the Little Mermaid!

Earlier this year, students at Mellon Middle School got the chance to participate in SeaPerch, an underwater robotics program created by the U.S. Navy.

SeaPerch is also an educational tool that allows elementary, middle and high school students to construct a simple Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from easily obtainable parts, including PVC pipe, pool noodles and zip ties.

Jeff Graybill, Old Farm Road, brought SeaPerch to the attention of Matt Mikesell, who teaches eighth grade technology and engineering enrichment at Mellon. Graybill, whose son was in Mikesell’s class, works for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Naval Nuclear Propulsion program and is very familiar with the use of underwater robots to examine things humans can’t go near.

Graybill likes SeaPerch’s real-world applications. “It’s a very hands-on project. I think it’s a well developed program that allows them to hit STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) areas all in one project,” he said.

Thanks to a grant from the Mt. Lebanon Foundation for Education, Mikesell was able to purchase enough SeaPerch kits for his students to build 10 robots from scratch. Along the way, they learned basic engineering, design and science concepts, culminating in a hands-on, friendly competition retrieving sea creatures from the bottom of the Mt. Lebanon High School pool.

The exercise encouraged critical thinking, collaboration and creativity.

“It makes learning relevant. It brings real world experience into the classroom and gives them that real world connection. For me, there’s nothing more powerful than that,” he said.

The students were so engaged, they recommended keeping SeaPerch as a yearly project. Since 95 percent of the robots are recyclable, they can easily be used for the future. Mikesell already has all the extra spare parts. “It’s sustainable,” he said.

So, what else is in store for Mikesell’s enrichment students this fall?

The Mt. Lebanon Foundation for Education approved him for another grant—this time to build and fly drones in the classroom. “It’s a really exciting grant opportunity. We have drones that kids will actually build from scratch, just like these SeaPerches,” he said.