NASA Robotics Activities Motivates Students to Excel

Robotics is a way of life today. Robots are everywhere. They’re in your home (even in your bathroom), your doctor’s office, your bank, your favorite place to shop, and your school. Of course, they are a major and critical component of NASA’s exploration of our Earth and the universe in which we live. Life would be much different without robots.

The focus here will be robotics in your classroom. But first, let’s take a quick trip back in history and learn where “robots” first became part of our lives. In 1921, a Czech author, Karel Capek, introduced his play, R.U.R. (Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti). In English, this is translated into “Rossum’s Universal Robots”. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, called roboti (robots). Robots were introduced to the world. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, robots in industrial manufacturing became widely used and robot popularity grew. Think of the many movies and TV programs you have seen that featured “robots”. Unfortunately, the wide use of robots in pop culture gave us a false conception of what robots are actually like and how they function. Pop culture represents most robots as “anthropomorphic” (human-like) in appearance and reasoning. In reality, most robots we actually see and use every day are not very human-like at all. Robots can be simply defined as “an automatically operated device or machine that replaces human effort.” So, based on that definition, let’s look at some common robots we use every day – a laptop computer, our smart phones, your car, traffic lights, a washing machine / dryer, etc. I’m certain you could think of several more. These certainly aren’t human-like.

NASA uses robots to replace human effort in one of the harshest environments known, space. NASA has sent robots to planets in our solar system and some have even ventured outside our solar system. Robots are also currently used on the International Space Station (ISS). More information on NASA Robotics can be found at the website:

NASA Robotics has extensive education resources. These resources include classroom lessons, videos, interactive learning programs and online professional development opportunities for educators, formal and informal, in grades K-12 and at the university level. An excellent online resource to begin our Robotics Education journey is the NASA Robotics Education website:

To get started, we’ll look at a few of the education resources featured on the NASA Robotics Education website.

• Lesson plans for all grades:

• Robotics career profiles:

• Robotics image gallery:

• Robotics multimedia:

• Robotics related sites:

Let’s not forget that Robotics is an excellent tool for teaching Engineering Design in your classroom. Engineering Design is a common topic across each grade level in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Several of the lessons featured on the NASA Robotics Education website integrate Engineering Design.

Also featured on the NASA Robotics Education website, is an exciting interactive site, “Rover” (, that guides students through basic robot programing. Students are programming the Mars Pathfinder rover to “retrieve” specific samples on Mars. For each level they successfully program the rover, they are then allowed to move to the next level. Each level is a little more challenging.

NASA Robotics Education also features a free app, “NASA Lunar Electric Rover Simulator” ( With the “NASA Lunar Electric Rover (LER) Simulator”, you don’t need a driver’s license, but you still need to buckle up as the LER Simulator gives you a glimpse of what it might be like to support the activities of a functioning Lunar Outpost.

We basically have just scratched the surface of NASA’s Robotics Education resources. There is much more that can be identified and applied to your existing curriculum. Hopefully, the resources featured here will only just begin your exciting journey of NASA Robotics Education exploration. Also, don’t forget to check out the NASA STEM Educator Professional Development Collaborative (EPDC) webinar schedule for online NASA Robotics professional development opportunities (

Enjoy your Robotics learning adventure.

Steve Culivan
NASA Educator Professional Development Specialist
John C. Stennis Space Center, MS