Hands-on Activity: Edible Rovers – High School

Contributed by: Integrated Teaching and Learning Program and Laboratory, 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, designing, building and displaying their edible rovers to a design review. To begin, they evaluate rover equipment and material options to determine which parts might fit in their given NASA budget. With provided parts and material lists, teams analyze their design options and use their findings to design their rovers.

Engineering Connection

As engineers solve problems, they follow the steps of the engineering design process. To build any engineered object (such as rovers, bicycles, music players or amusement park rides), engineers gather information and conduct research to understand the requirements of the problem. 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. If students are currently enrolled in Algebra 1, they should be able to graph linear functions from data and find linear functions from a graph. If students are currently enrolled in Geometry, they should be able to determine the area and perimeter of a shape and be able to determine angles between lines. If students are currently enrolled in Algebra 2, they should be able to formulate interest equations and complete probability problems.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Design and construct an edible Mars rover.
  • Use graphing methods and Algebraic expressions to effectively compare information.
  • Describe the function of a Mars rover's scientific instrumentation.
  • Understand/explain the engineering process behind designing and fabricating a Mars rover.

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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.

  • Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Calculate and interpret the average rate of change of a function (presented symbolically or as a table) over a specified interval. Estimate the rate of change from a graph. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Interpret the parameters in a linear or exponential function in terms of a context. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • (+) Use permutations and combinations to compute probabilities of compound events and solve problems. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Apply geometric methods to solve design problems (e.g., designing an object or structure to satisfy physical constraints or minimize cost; working with typographic grid systems based on ratios). (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Established design principles are used to evaluate existing designs, to collect data, and to guide the design process. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Refine a design by using prototypes and modeling to ensure quality, efficiency, and productivity of the final product. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Interpret the slope and the intercept of a linear model in the context of the data. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Attributes of two- and three-dimensional objects are measurable and can be quantified. (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Examine, evaluate, question, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media to investigate the history of the universe, solar system and Earth (Grades 9 - 12) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Each group needs:

  • 2 tablespoons of cake icing
  • 1 sheet of 18" x 18" wax paper
  • 2 sheets of paper towels
  • 2 plastic straws
  • 1 plastic knife
  • 1 plastic spoon
  • 6-8 toothpicks
  • Graphing calculator (if using Algebra 2 Worksheet)
  • 2 Edible Rover Worksheets (for appropriate math option: Algebra 1, Geometry or Algebra 2)
  • 2 Rover Scientific Instrumentation Options – Math Worksheets
  • 3 Graham Crackers (body)

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

  • Various types of candy/cookies
  • Card board or paper plates
  • Straws
  • Foil

Note: The following types of candy/cookies are excellent for this activity: Oreo's™, 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. Call on the student pairs 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 explain that in the following activity, they get to make up their own dimensions. 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

Day 1

Note: The questions are the same on the three different worksheets unless otherwise specified

  1. After the introduction, have students complete the first three questions of the appropriate Edible Rover Worksheet (Algebra 1, Geometry or Algebra 2). Explain to students that it is essential to choose a combination of instruments that are useful and will keep them within their budget. Give each group an Edible Rover Instrumentation Worksheet for referencing the instruments they have to choose from and their costs (they do not actually have to complete this worksheet; it is only there for reference and to help them set up calculations).
  2. Have students begin designing their Mars rover by starting with the body. Have students brainstorm the design of the body. Ask them what factors they considered (e.g., aerodynamics, style, distribution of instruments, etc.) Have them design the shape of the body and add its dimensions on the appropriate Edible Rover Worksheet (question 4). For the Algebra 1 and 2 class, students can make up the length of lines. For the Geometry class, students must determine the length of lines and the angles between them by using their knowledge of properties of triangles or by using Sin, Cos and Tan.
  3. Have the students determine the area of the body using the dimensions they created on the appropriate Edible Rover Worksheet (question 5).
  4. (Geometry Class) – Have the students determine the perimeter of the body of their rover.
  5. (Algebra 1 Class) – Now that the students have a design for their body, tell them they have to choose what type of material (from Table 1 of their worksheet) to use for their body. Have them complete the graphing exercises (questions 6-8) to determine the cost differences between the different materials. (Algebra 2 Class) – Have the students study the Table 2 of annual interest rates for the cost of each material. Have them graph and develop equations to represent the cost of each material over a period of (t) years (questions 6-7).
  6. After the students analyze the cost of each material, have them choose which material they are going to use. Remind them to consider their cost and weight constraints, as well as the amount of weight the body will need to hold to support the instruments.
  7. (Algebra 2 Class) – Explain that engineers often have a lot of constraints but at the same time a lot of possibilities. For example, when building their rover they might only be able to put five instruments on the rover, but how many combinations could they have (question 10)?
  8. Have groups brainstorm a design for their edible rover. Explain that they have material constraints (depending on the candy that was brought in), 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 Rover Scientific Instrumentation Options – Math Worksheet.
  9. Have groups sketch a picture of their final edible rover design in the space provided on the appropriate Edible Rover Worksheet. This sketch should include labels and dimensions of the major parts.
  10. Next, have students fill out the material chart on the Edible Rover Worksheet with their group.Have students list the steps they will take to build their rover.

Day 2

  1. Have students show the project manager (you, their teacher) their design for approval. During this time, ask the students questions about why they choose certain materials or why they designed their rover a certain way.
  2. 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.
  3. Give groups time to assemble rovers. Remind students that their rover must be to scale with the dimensions they determined on the first day.
  4. 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 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.
  5. Allow students time to enjoy eating their design while they finish filling out their appropriate Edible Rover Worksheet.

Attachments

Safety Issues

Remind students not to play with the plastic knives or toothpicks, as it is possible to poke themselves or their neighbor.

Troubleshooting Tips

Distribute the cake icing to students rather than let them scoop out their own amount. This will ensure that students do not take too much icing. Note: If appropriate, the icing could be pre-measured for each group and placed on a small paper plate.

To prevent the class candy from "disappearing," review students' rover design plans before letting them retrieve the necessary candy. Also, review the design of the body of their rover before allowing students to proceed to make sure it will not be too difficult or too easy to find the area of the body.

The strength value for each material is simplified for the sake of this exercise. Students should read the values as the amount of weight the material could support per square meter. They should also assume that the weight of the instruments will be evenly distributed across the body of the rover.

For the Algebra 1 Worksheet, cost and material values are in the negatives so that students can get a better feel for the x-y plane and the four quadrants of the graph. Therefore, it is advised to explain to students that material costs could never be negative and realistically their graphs would remain in the first quadrant, but for the sake of becoming accustomed to the x-y graph and different quadrants, they will be observing graphs with negative material values.

For the Algebra 2 Worksheet, question 7, students will need a graphing calculator. Have the students copy the graphs from their calculator as best as possible. If students do not have graphing calculators, have them graph several points for each interest equations and connect the points. Also, teachers can choose not to require a written graph but just have students answer the questions.

If the activity needs to be shortened teachers can remove questions 4 and 5 from the Algebra 1 and 2 Worksheets. Instead, tell the students that they have to choose an area for the body of their rover between 3 m2 and 3.5 m2. After they choose the area of the body of their rover, they can proceed as if they had designed the body of the rover. For the Geometry Worksheet, Teachers can take out questions 7 and 8 and tell the students that the cost of the body of their rover will be $138,000.

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 the body of their rover and 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.

Drawing: Have students draw a sketch of their rover on the Edible Rover Worksheet (question 11). 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 13).

Post-Activity Assessment

Re-Design Practice: Have the students list any design or fabrication changes they would make to their rover using question 15 on the Edible Rover Worksheet.

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.htmlor 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

  • For students in Algebra 1, encourage basic shapes for the body of the rover.
  • For students in Geometry, encourage difficult shapes for the body of the rover.
  • For students in Algebra 2, encourage moderate difficulty in the shapes of the body of the rover.

References

Activity adapted from "Edible Rover": Mars Education Program, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Arizona State University, Mars Activities, Teacher Resources and Classroom Activities, November 30, 2006. http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/classroom/pdfs/MSIP-MarsActivities.pdf

Viotti, Michael. National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, The Mission, Mars Exploration Rover Mission, "Spacecraft: Surface Operations: Instruments," June 13, 2005, accessed November 30, 2006. http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/spacecraft_surface_instru.html

Watanabe, Susan. National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, The Mission, Mars Exploration Rovers, "Latest Rover Images," accessed November 30, 2006. http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/mer2004/fact_sheet/mars03rovers.pdf

Contributors

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

Copyright

© 2006 by Regents of the University of Colorado.  

Supporting Program

Integrated Teaching and Learning Program and Laboratory, 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: May 18, 2017

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