Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

Who should participate?

WaterBotics is ideal for girls and boys ages 12-18. The curriculum is flexible, and can be used in an intensive, one-week summer camp experience or as a sequence of science or technology classes in middle and high school. The non-programming track of WaterBotics has also been used with upper elementary students. Our research has shown WaterBotics to be engaging for both girls, boys and for students ranging from special education to gifted and talented. Instructors are able to tailor the curriculum according to their needs and objectives, and to the level of sophistication of their students.

How long is a typical implementation of WaterBotics?

There are currently two implementation tracks for WaterBotics -- one with programming activities included -- and the other without. The programming track typically takes 20-26 hours to complete. For the non-programming track, the implementation time is reduced to about 14-18 hours.

What equipment and materials are needed?

For a detailed list of equipment needs, cost estimates, and ordering information, please see the WaterBotics Equipment web page. 

What is different about this robotics program? What makes it unique?

There are four features that distinguish the WaterBotics curriculum from other robotics programs for K-12 students:

  • The ability of teams to do rapid prototyping due to the ease of assembly and disassembly of the LEGO® components, making is possible to quickly design-build-test-redesign;
  • The novel missions associated with the underwater environment that present students with intriguing but unfamiliar problems to solve and that require team collaboration;
  • The integral and explicit focus on science, engineering, IT learning, and 21st Century skills for which learning is scaffolded through mastery of increasingly complex missions; and
  • The use of a culminating showcase event in lieu of a final competition in which students demonstrate their robots, describe their design goals, list the achievements they successfully completed, identify areas for improvement, and receive supportive feedback and encouragement from their peers.

Why robotics in the water?

As recent headlines have shown, engineers are increasingly called upon to deal with complex, non-traditional, and previously unforeseen challenges. The underwater environment of the WaterBotics program gives students a sense of both the known and unknown challenges that real engineers face every day.

For those students who have participated in land-based robotics projects, the complexities of the underwater environment present unique demands that challenge even the most experienced robot designers. Tasks such as getting the robot to float or sink, keeping it upright, compensating for the effects of water pushing against it, and getting it to move in three-dimensions, are novel challenges that correspond to specific science topics, such as buoyancy, drag, stability, and three-dimensional movement. Experiential learning of these concepts, combined with online simulations and other resources, provide students with hands-on and minds-on resources to master these topics. 

Why use LEGO® materials?

Both students who have used LEGO® parts and components before, and those who have not, find them easy to learn and intuitive to work with. This makes it possible for them to quickly construct prototypes, test them, make appropriate changes, and test again. Being able to quickly progress from an idea to a working prototype is critical to the project's effective implementation, especially with students who have never previously experienced design or engineering activities. In addition, the great variety of LEGO® pieces allows for a nearly infinite number of solutions to a given task. This enables students to be highly creative and innovative and results in an amazing variety of robots by the project's end. 

Is WaterBotics best implemented in a classroom environment or an out-of-school setting? 

As part of a National Science Foundation-funded scale-up grant, WaterBotics has been used with thousands of youth nationwide. The results from a research study of 1,500 youth indicate that 49% participated in classroom settings while 51% participated in out-of-school settings, primarily summer camps. WaterBotics is suitable for implementation in either environment. The WaterBotics curriculum contains detailed instructions for implementation in both classroom and out-of-school environments. Materials include planning guides for program scheduling, equipment needs, location and workspace arrangements, and appropriate staffing needs and training. 

Do I need to have prior experience with robotics or LEGOs® in order to use WaterBotics?

No prior experience necessary! Detailed instructions and guidelines are provided with the WaterBotics curriculum.

I’m interested in using WaterBotics in a summer camp for girls. Will this appeal to them?

Through a National Science Foundation grant, Stevens has worked with the National Girls Collaborative Project to adapt WaterBotics for informal learning environments, such as summer camps, with a particular focus on girls. Our research has shown WaterBotics to be engaging for both girls and boys. WaterBotics also stimulates interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career options. In previous studies, about twice as many middle school students listed engineering as a career choice after participating in WaterBotics programs, with a larger increase among females than males. Additionally, the percent of female middle school students in science classes where WaterBotics was taught who reported that they liked science best increased significantly after completing WaterBotics (40 percent to 58 percent). 


What important concepts does WaterBotics teach?

WaterBotics fosters an active, discovery-based learning environment that integrates many scientific, engineering, information technology principles, and 21st Century skills:  

Gears and Gear Ratios
Action/Reaction Forces
Mass, Volume, and Density
Inertia and Stability
Ratio and Proportion
Critical Thinking
Engineering Design Process
Iterations and Design Cycles
User Interface Design
Testing and Troubleshooting
Synthesis/Analysis of Problems
Switches (Conditionals)
Data Types
Flow Charts


How does WaterBotics align with the Next Generation Science Standards?

WaterBotics' focus on the engineering design process aligns well with the engineering design standards called for in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Please see the WaterBotics National Standards web page for the specific engineering and physical science standards that are addressed by WaterBotics and the connections to project activities and practices. Several other national standards are referenced as well. 

What is the difference between the WaterBotics Programming Track and the Non-Programming Track?

There are two ways to implement the WaterBotics project—a programming track and a non-programming track. The programming track makes use of the MINDSTORMS® NXT module, sensors, and software, while the non-programming track relies instead on the Power Functions infrared (IR) remote controllers. The design challenges are exactly the same in each track. The only difference is whether students design and program their own controllers to manipulate their robot or whether they use an IR controller to manipulate it.

The length of time needed to successfully implement the curriculum varies with the age and abilities of the participating youth and which track is used. The programming track was designed or girls and boys from Grades 7-12 (ages 12-18) and takes approximately 20 - 26 hours to implement. The non-programming track may be used with younger students or for programs that require less time. Implementation time for the non-programming track is approximately 14 - 18 hours.

The equipment cost for the non-programming track is significantly less than the programming track because the MINDSTORMS® NXT modules are not needed. For a detailed list of equipment needs for both tracks, please see the WaterBotics Equipment web page. 

What does the WaterBotics curriculum license include?

The WaterBotics curriculum is available for purchase for a fee of $200 per instructor. Each instructor is then issued a username and password to access the curriculum (available as a PDF download) and the WaterBotics website that has additional resources for educators such as online simulations, videos, sample programs, and survey and assessment instruments. The curriculum includes both the programming track and non-programming track. Please see the Curriculum License web page to purchase WaterBotics.