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STEM Activity: Take a Deep Dive Into Fun for National Submarine Day

STEM Activity: Build a Model Submarine

In honor of National Submarine Day, we are celebrating all things submersible!

Use recyclables to design a submarine model, a watercraft capable of renewing its own power and breathing air, or a submersible, which is usually supported by a surface vessel or platform. If you design a submersible, consider drawing your own inspiration from Alvin.


Materials Needed

  • Cardboard
  • Markers
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Tape
  • Coin battery and LED lights (optional)
  • Flashlight (optional)


At-Home Instructions

  1. Find a large cardboard box to turn into a model of a submarine or submersible.
  2. Research the many different types of submarines and submersibles and use your findings as inspiration for your own original design.
  3. Design a model using a scale where one inch equals one foot. For example, since Alvin is approximately 23 feet long, create a model that is 23 inches long.
  4. Discuss what types of special features a submarine or submersible might have. This can include features that already exist and ones you may invent.
  5. Add an optional control panel with prototype circuitry, working lights (e.g., LEDs powered by coin batteries) or other fun features.
  6. Design grabbers or other tools for the front of the submarine model that can collect samples from the ocean floor.


Educators: Use this activity in the classroom with these modifications

Consider engaging students in this design activity by creating a larger-scale model (e.g., four feet of Alvin equals 1 foot on your model, thereby creating a five to six-foot model) that might also function as a reading nook or activity corner. Might your students design portholes for easy viewing (e.g., using clear or blue cellophane) and have a comfortable mat to sit on inside? Perhaps ocean books could be placed inside or outside. Multiple classes could work on different parts of the design. This activity could also be used on Earth Day as a prop to encourage children to think about the health of our oceans and planet.


What are we learning?

In this STEM activity, students are given the opportunity to practice their design-thinking skills and create solutions to problems a submarine might encounter while diving deep beneath the surface of the ocean. Because each submarine mission involves different objectives, children have the chance to customize their vessels in different ways depending on the goal at hand. This need to continuously learn, improve and change is essential to all STEM careers, and is a part of what makes the field so exciting!



Alvin was invented by National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductee Harold Froehlich. This research vessel can hold three people and dive to over 14,000 feet! One of its amazing claims to fame is that it has granted people access to previously unreachable ocean depths and enabled groundbreaking research. It is equipped with lights to brighten the pitch-black surroundings, a camera that captures the experience, and a sensor that detects the direction and strength of the ocean current, which is important for navigating Alvin safely. This STEM activity is also inspired by Inductee John Philip Holland, inventor of the submarine. His submarine design purchased in 1900 by the United States Navy would become the model for the Navy’s fleet of submersibles for the next several decades.


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