Hands-on Activity: Edible Rovers

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

A sketch of the Mars Pathfinder rover. The rover has a rectangular shaped body and six wheels, which lift the body off the ground. Attached to the top of the rover body is a flat solar panel. There are also two small cameras and an antenna attached to the rover.
Figure 1. The Mars Pathfinder rover.
copyright
Copyright © http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/classroom/pdfs/MSIP-MarsActivities.pdf

Summary

Students act as Mars exploratory rover engineers. They evaluate rover equipment options and determine what parts fit in a provided NASA budget. With a given parts list, teams use these constraints to design for their rover. The students build and display their edible rover at a concluding design review.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

The engineering design process is a series of steps that engineering teams use to guide them as they solve problems. To build any engineered object (like rovers, bicycles, music players or amusement park rides), engineers gather information and conduct research to understand the needs of the problem to be solved. Then they brainstorm many imaginative possible solutions. They select the most promising idea and make a final design that includes drawings, and decisions on the materials and technologies to use. They create and test many prototypes, making improvements until the product is the best it can be.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Students should be familiar with some of the basic parts of a Mars exploratory rover. Additionally, students should be familiar with the concept of dimensions and tolerances for part assembly.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Design and construct an edible Mars rover.
  • Create a written plan for building an edible rover.
  • Describe the function of a Mars rover's scientific instrumentation.
  • Measure the four rover wheels and determine the range of wheel measurements, and use that range to determine a reasonable dimension and tolerance for the part.
  • Understand the engineering process behind designing and fabricating a Mars rover.

More Curriculum Like This

Edible Rovers – High School

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Come On Over Rover

During this lesson, students discover the journey that a Mars rover embarks upon after being designed by engineers and before being prepared for launch. Students investigate the fabrication techniques, tolerance concepts, assembly and field-testing associated with a Mars exploratory rover.

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Are We Alone?

Students are challenged with the task of establishing criteria to help look for signs of life. Student explorers conduct a scientific experiment in which they evaluate three "Martian" soil samples and determine if any contain life.

Middle School Activity

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Design involves a set of steps, which can be performed in different sequences and repeated as needed. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Test and evaluate the design in relation to pre-established requirements, such as criteria and constraints, and refine as needed. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multidigit decimals using standard algorithms for each operation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group should have:

For the class to share (divided between student groups):

  • candy

Note: The following types of candy/cookies are excellent for this activity: Oreo's™, graham crackers, Kit Kat™ candy bars, string licorice, gumdrops, peppermint candies, Life Savers™, marshmallows, jelly beans, Fruit Roll Up™ snacks (Blue and Yellow).

Introduction/Motivation

Start the activity by asking students why it takes so long for NASA to develop and send a Mars rover to the Red Planet? (Possible answers: Rovers are very complicated machines, it is very expensive to send missions to Mars, or there are several steps that must occur before a rover is sent on a mission.) Ask students if they know the steps of a rover project? (Answer: engineers have to design the rover, then it has to be manufactured (or fabricated/made), then the rover has to be assembled and field tested.)

Next, ask student pairs to brainstorm a list of the parts on a Mars rover, and write their answers on the board. (Possible answers: body, brains, temperature controls, arms, wheels, energy source, communications, Panoramic Camera, Abrasion tool, Spectrometer, X-Ray Spectrometer and Microscopic Imager.)

Now have student pairs describe the function of each part of the rover. (Answers: Body: protects the rovers "organs"; brains: computers that process the rover's information; temperature controls: heaters and insulation of the rover; arm: a robotic arm used for extension; wheels: attached to the legs and allow rover movement; energy source: solar panels and batteries; communications: antennas for communication with NASA; Panoramic camera: a camera mounted on the head, front or back of the rover to take pictures; abrasion tool: can scrape rock to bring back samples of Martian rock; Spectrometer: can identify any minerals that contain iron; X-Ray Spectrometer: can take x-rays of rocks and soil so NASA will know what elements are in the rocks; Microscopic Imager: shows very small details of rocks and soil on mars.)

After discussing the parts of a Mars rover, show students the Rover Parts Identifier Handout-Overhead (attachment), and review the rovers' parts using an overhead projector. This will help re-familiarize students with the major parts of the rover. At this time, you may also want to review with students the definition of dimensions and tolerances. Lastly, explain to students that they will be in charge of their own rover project. It will be their responsibility to design and assemble an edible Mars rover!

Procedure

Before the Activity

  • Buy (or collect from students) all food items to be used the day before starting the activity.
  • Measure a single item from each package of cookies or candy and record this measurement. For example, if you have a package of Oreo's, measure the diameter and the thickness of a single Oreo cookie and record these values.
  • Create a handout or write on the board the food items available to students for building their rover. Also list beside each item their associated dimensions. Call this list "Material Constraints."

With the Students

  1. After the introduction, have students complete the Scientific Instrumentation Options Math Worksheet. Explain to students that it is essential to choose a combination of instruments that are useful and will keep them within their budget.
  2. Have groups brainstorm a design for their edible rover. Explain that they have material constraints (they only have certain materials they can choose from), just like a real engineer. Tell students that they will also have cake icing, toothpicks and straws available to assemble their rover. Remind students that their rover should include all of the required parts and chosen scientific instrumentation from their Scientific Instrumentation Options Math Worksheet.
  3. Have groups sketch a picture of their final edible rover design on the Edible Rover Worksheet (question 2). This sketch should include labels and dimensions of the major parts.
  4. Next, have students fill out the material chart on the Edible Rover Worksheet (question 3) with their group.
  5. Using the Edible Rover Worksheet, have students list the steps they will take to design and build their rover (question 4).
  6. Have students show the project manager (you, their teacher) the design for approval.
  7. Once students have an approved design, give them a piece of wax paper, 2 tablespoons of cake icing and any needed straws (no more than 2) and toothpicks (no more than 8). Additional icing can be distributed to groups if they run out.
  8. Give groups time to assemble rovers.
  9. Once rovers have been built, have groups display their rovers to the project manager for a design review. During the design review, have students describe the parts of their rover, and also have them discuss what they liked and disliked about their design. This could be done as a group presentation in front of the class if time allows.
  10. Allow students time to enjoy eating their design while they finish filling out their Edible Rover Worksheet.

Attachments

Safety Issues

Watch that students do not poke themselves or others with the plastic knives or toothpicks.

Troubleshooting Tips

Distribute the cake icing to students, rather than let them scoop out their own, to ensure that they do not take too much. Review students' rover design plans before letting them retrieve the necessary candy. If two days are used to design and build the rovers, use the first day for rover design and the second day for rover assembly.

Assessment

Pre-Activity Assessment

Brainstorming: In small groups, have the students engage in open discussion. Remind students that in brainstorming, no idea or suggestion is "silly." All ideas should be respectfully heard. Encourage wild ideas and discourage criticism of ideas. Ask the students:

  • What are the parts of a Mars rover? (Possible answers: body, brains, temperature controls, arms, wheels, energy, communications, Panoramic Camera, Abrasion tool, Spectrometer, X-Ray Spectrometer and Microscopic Imager.)
  • After writing the parts of the rover on the board, have students describe the function of each part of the rover. (Answers: Body: protects the rovers "organs"; brains: computers that process the rover's information; temperature controls: heaters and insulation of the rover; arm: a robotic arm used for extension; wheels: attached to the legs and allow rover movement; energy source: solar panels and batteries; communications: antennas for communication with NASA; Panoramic camera: a camera mounted on the head, front or back of the rover to take pictures; abrasion tool: can scrape rock to bring back samples of Martian rock; Spectrometer: can identify any minerals that contain iron; X-Ray Spectrometer: can take x-rays of rocks and soil so NASA will know what elements are in the rocks; Microscopic Imager: shows very small details of rocks and soil on mars.)

Activity Embedded Assessment

Brainstorming: In their teams, have the students engage in open discussion to determine the design of their edible rover. They should decide which materials they will use for each part. Remind students that no idea or suggestion is "silly." All ideas should be respectfully heard. Encourage wild ideas and discourage criticism of ideas. Have each student answer question 3 on the Edible Rover Worksheet.

Drawing: Have students draw a sketch of their rover on the Edible Rover Worksheet (question 2). The sketch should be labeled and include dimensions of the basic rover parts.

Procedure Practice: Using the Edible Rover Worksheet, have students list the steps they will take to design and build their rover (question 4).

Post-Activity Assessment

Re-Design Practice: Have the students list any design or fabrication changes they would make to their rover using question 7 on the Edible Rover Worksheet.

Bingo: Before class, write out a list of 24 vocabulary words (relating to the lesson or activity) and their definitions on a sheet of paper. At the end of the activity, write the 24 vocabulary words on the board. Distribute the provided BINGO sheets (see attachments). First, have student fill in one square with the word FREE. Then, have students fill in the remaining 24 squares on the BINGO sheet with the given vocabulary words. It is advisable to have students use a pen when filling out the BINGO sheet. Cut up the piece of paper, which you have used to write out the 24 vocabulary words. Place these pieces of paper in a bowl or hat and remove one vocabulary word at a time and call out the word and definition. Have students mark off the words as you go. The first student to get five in a row (vertically, horizontally or diagonally) wins BINGO!

  • Possible vocabulary words for this activity include:

Table with vocabulary words

Activity Extensions

Assign a part of the Mars rover to each group (body, brains, temperature controls, arms, wheels, energy, communications, Panoramic Camera, Abrasion tool, Spectrometer, X-Ray Spectrometer and Microscopic Imager.) Then, have each group research their assigned rover part using the following web pages:

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/spacecraft_surface_instru.html or http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/mer2004/fact_sheet/mars03rovers.pdf

Once students have completed their research, have them create a research poster and have them present the information to the class.

Activity Scaling

References

Activity adapted from Edible Rover: http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/classroom/pdfs/MSIP-MarsActivities.pdf

Spacecraft: Surface Operations: Instruments. http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/spacecraft_surface_instru.html

NASA Facts: Mars Exploration Rover. http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/mer2004/fact_sheet/mars03rovers.pdf

Contributors

Chris Yakacki; Geoffrey Hill; Daria Kotys-Schwartz; Malinda Schaefer Zarske; Janet Yowell; Denise W. Carlson

Copyright

© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder

Acknowledgements

The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education, and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: July 18, 2017

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