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Rover Design Challenge

Grades 4-8, Engineering, Social Studies, Geography, Science

Lesson Overview

In this activity, students design and build electric toy Rovers that run on monorail tracks. It can be set up for learning about real geography and cultures, or for a creative experience where students invent a new land. The Rover challenge is also an engaging way to practice the Engineering Design Process on a flexible challenge while learning 3D modeling on Tinkercad.

The Rover is a small vehicle with a base and four pins to guide it on a monorail track. It uses hobby gear-motors and wheels that are easy to find online, reasonably priced, and reusable. Shaft extensions for the motors can be 3-D printed from the Tinkercad files linked in this lesson. The Monorail track is made from an inexpensive plastic electrical conduit that is available at hardware stores or online. Several track challenges are provided in this lesson plan. Students design and build the Rover and/or the Track, creating track features that depict the area they are exploring and adaptations to the Rover that help it perform on the journey.

This project is structured to follow the Engineering Design Process (EDP), a process that helps designers in any discipline create solutions to problems. While there are many ways that people solve problems, designers often use the EDP because it offers a clear roadmap for them to follow as they work towards a solution.
First, designers Define the challenge they are facing, then Learn more about the problem and Explore existing solutions. It’s tempting to skip these first few steps and head straight into brainstorming, but don’t! When designers take the time to understand the problem clearly, they come up with much better solutions. The Design phase is where brainstorming happens. Designers brainstorm multiple possible solutions, then develop a few of them into more detailed plans. Encourage your students to plan at least 3 of their potential ideas before choosing a design direction and starting to Create a product based on their design. If they hit any roadblocks trying to create their first design choice, they’ll be able to revisit their alternate design plans and choose a new direction - without starting from scratch. Designers then take time to Observe their design and see how they can Improve it. We strongly recommend that students have an opportunity for at least 2 Create-Observe-Improve cycles. When students feel they have to “get it right the first time,” they are less willing to take risks and be creative. By repeating the cycle, they have a chance to fix flaws and adopt successful ideas from classmates, and in fact, they’re practicing what professional designers really do. A good design cycle builds in time for the designer to Reflect on their product and the process of making it, looking for learning habits and insights that will help in future challenges. When the work is complete, designers are ready to Share. They bring their work into the real world, by posting, publishing, presenting, or exhibiting - or giving or selling if appropriate! - what they’ve made. For students working through a design process, a real audience helps students connect their learning and work experiences to the world outside the classroom. For Makerspaces and Maker projects, in particular, this is hugely important for building confidence in every student and a sense of community among Makers. To help students work through this process, be sure to build in planned “stops” at each step for students to record their thoughts and progress as they work through product iteration cycles.

Essential Question(s)

How can the Engineering Design Process be used to efficiently and effectively create a machine to meet a specified challenge?

How can an electric toy car (the rover) and track be used to help students learn academic content?

Skills Taught:

  • Engineering Design Process
  • Additional Academic Topics Researched by Students
  • Basic electronics
  • Basic Prototyping Skills

Time Required: _____ Hours

Materials Needed:

  • 3D Printer and filament.
  • DC Gear Motor (on Amazon called Gear Motor for Smart Car Robot, GR 1:48.
  • Wheels that fit the motor shafts, usually available with the motors.
  • Flex Tubing, ⅜” to ½” outside diameter, such as electrical conduit from a hardware store.

  • On/Off Switch
  • Battery pack - 3V (2 AA batteries)
  • Motor shaft extensions printed from Tinkercad file
  • Tinkercad
  • Misc. Arts+Crafts materials (cardstock, corrugated plastic sheets, hot glue, markers, etc.)
  • Timekeeper

Step 1: ​Define


The Engineering Design Process (EDP) is a respected process for solving engineering and other critical thinking challenges. Students will learn and practice transferable skills involving creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking. The EDP is a guide to problem-solving and leads the user to effective solutions in an efficient manner. In this activity, students design and build a toy Rover powered by an electric motor. It is powered by a single electric DC gear-motor and follows a monorail track made out of flexible tubing. Students also have the opportunity to design the track and various obstacles and features for the rover to encounter during its travels. The challenge can simply be a made-up land, or the class can build it as a significant historical or geographic region. The rover body, features of the course, and the items the rover encounters can all be related to the theme.
Through building a rover and its challenge course, students will be practicing engineering design, critical thinking, teamwork, as well as basic electronics.


Design an electric toy rover and track/course to complete challenges. Student teams consider scoring options and plan a strategy to earn points based on the performance of their rover on the course they create.

Sample Challenge 1 - Geography and Culture

Road-trips and tours are popular with vacationers that like to explore and learn about new places. To prepare for such a trip the adventurer may need to outfit their vehicle with special features, plan a way to navigate the expected terrain, and/or plan how to store items they collect along the way.

Students create a rover with features that help it in its tour of a specified region. The rover may need to navigate terrain specific to that region, visit significant sites, and/or collect typical artifacts from the region.

The rover design challenge is an engaging activity for a class on geography and culture. It includes aspects of technology, engineering, and electricity, and can serve as an interdisciplinary activity.

Students will:

  • Build a rover as per the instructions here, or design their own.
  • Learn about the people in the area and design artifacts that represent the culture of the civilizations
  • Research the geography of the region and create terrain, physical features, and artifacts as expected in the region.

Sample Challenge 2 - Mars exploration

For years, scientists have been looking for signs of life on the red planet. Numerous NASA missions have been looking for signs such as bacteria and other microscopic life forms. Most important, the Mars rovers and probes are looking for one other key piece of evidence: liquid water. Life cannot exist without it from what we know, and surface geography has indicated that water once flowed over the surface of the red planet. On their journey, these rovers will encounter many obstacles including mountains, craters, valleys, sand drifts, and more. Learn about the history of the search for life on the Red Planet. Discuss the reasons for the study of celestial bodies such as other planets. Are we alone in the universe? Consider the implications such a study would have for the future.

Students study the geography and features of the regions of Mars: Olympus, the South Cap, Tharsis, Cassini Crater, Acidalia Planitia. They create landscapes and tracks to show this geography and build rovers to perform discovery challenges.

The Challenge is set up so there is not 1 winner, but levels which students can try to attain, as they might in sports or martial arts. Student designers can create rovers that earn points in different ways, creating track or rover features that earn points for performance. Track features can include rough terrain, bridges, and underpasses, or seesaws. Rover features include carrying, plowing, or collecting objects such as foam blocks or action figures.


Students must build a working rover and track that can perform the suggested tasks and earn points


Complete the project in the time allotted, with the materials provided

In the example scoring, 25 points = Road Racer, 35 points = Road Master, 50 points = King/Queen of the Road

See PDF Below.

Student Product / Learning Goals

Students can be involved in 2 types of activity - designing the course and designing the track. They can practice the engineering design process by using 3D Printers to make “parts” and “tools” for a moving rover or research a topic and apply their knowledge to design obstacles and challenges for this rover to cross.