Protect the oceans with design and technologies

This learning sequence explores how the Nekon family in The Deep television series - and real world scientists use - technology to support the navigation, exploration and protection of our oceans. 

Design thinking is used by inventors, engineers and creatives to help solve complex problems, come up with imaginative solutions and develop new products that meet people’s needs. Following a design thinking sequence, students will write their own design challenge and carry out a range of tasks to design a solution to that challenge.

TASK 1: What is technology?

As a class, discuss what you think of when you hear the word ‘technology’. Now look it up in a dictionary, does this fit with your existing understanding? 

Today we often think of technology as being objects that are electronic and digital, but we are actually using technologies whenever we draw on scientific knowledge or methods. Sometimes it is helpful to think of technology as the tool we use to help us do something. This includes technology such as a knife and fork to a car, from a compass to a smartphone. First Nations peoples in Australia were the creators and experts of many innovative inventions, tools and and technologies for the water, including methods to navigate the oceans. You can learn more about this in the extension task below.

As a class, watch the scenes below from The Deep Series 1 Episode 12: ‘Phantom Sub’. In these scenes Fontaine is attempting to use technology from the past to navigate and travel from one place to another. For sailors and explorers today, it is still important to know about these tools and techniques, just like Kaiko explains in the episode.

As a class or in your small groups, create a mind map answering the following questions:

  • What technology do you and your community use to navigate along a journey today?
  • What are other contemporary technologies you know about that help people to navigate?
  • What are some technologies that people may use to navigate from one place to another before your lifetime. Do you know of any technologies your ancestors used for navigation?

    Extension task:

    Learn more about how First Nations people invented and use tools and technologies when navigating the oceans through the links below:

    TASK 2: Technologies used by scientists

    Scientists around the world use a vast array of different tools and technologies to help them learn more about our oceans. This includes learning about different plants, animals, ecosystems and environments. 

    As a class, watch this video from the Australian National Maritime Museum that describes several different types of technology that scientists are using to create maps of our oceans, as well as why mapping the ocean is important.

    Extension task:

    Learn more about some other technology that CSIRO scientists use and how it has changed over time. This also includes vessels, robots and autonomous equipment that could inspire your own inventions.

    TASK 3: Protecting our oceans

    Before we design a solution, we need to understand the problem that we are trying to solve. Let’s look at some of the environmental issues that the Nekton family have witnessed in The Deep. Break the class into six groups and assign one of the following clips to each group. 

    Group 1: Fishing lines, nets and pots
    Group 2: Oil and illegal dumping
    Group 3: Unidentified floating objects
    Group 4: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch
    Group 5: Illegal fishing and underwater mining
    Group 6: Changing oceans and climate change

    In your groups, watch the clips, discuss the following questions and identify your design challenge: 

    • What is the real-world problem the Necktons are facing?
    • What else do you know about the impact that these issues are having on marine animals and ecosystems?

    Identify the problem the Nektons and our oceans are facing, then write a design challenge statement that requires a solution using technology. For example, if your problem is that there are too many discarded fishing nets in the oceans, your design challenge statement could be: Design a piece of technology that will identify and remove discarded fishing nets from the oceans.

    Group 1: Fishing lines, nets and pots

    The following clips are taken from Series 1 Episode 14: ‘Junior Nektons’. They explore the impact of fishing lines, nets and pots, and how they can catch and entangle animals by mistake.

    In this episode, Ant and Fontaine are visited by some young fans on the Aronnax. Together they rescue a whale calf and explore how fishing materials can impact ocean creatures. Watch these clips to explore this impact on the whale calf.


    Group 2: Oil and illegal dumping

    The following clips are taken from Series 3 Episode 9: ‘The Race’. They  explore the impact of engine oil spills and illegal dumping on marine ecosystems.

    In this episode, Ant wants to test the limits of his technology and swim faster than the fastest fish in the sea, the sailfish. However, a deadly oil spill threatens to destroy these speedy creatures. Watch these clips to explore the impact of oil spills on marine ecosystems.


    Group 3: Unidentified floating objects

    The following clips are taken from Series 4 Episode 8: ‘Unidentified Floating Objects’. They explore the impact of unidentifiable floating objects (UFOs), like shipping containers on the oceans. 

    In this episode, Devil Daniels is copying all of Ant’s ideas and even has his own fish pet. Meanwhile, the Nektons are busy recovering shipping containers that have fallen off a large cargo ship. Watch these clips and discuss the impact of discarded objects in our ocean.


    Group 4: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

    The following clips are taken from Series 4, Episode 9: ‘At the bottom of the Gyre’. They explore The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an enormous collection of marine debris floating in the Pacific Ocean.

    In this episode, Ant has created a clever machine to clean up a large oceanic rubbish dump but his machine has been eaten by a creature. Watch the clips below to learn more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.


    Group 5: Illegal fishing and underwater mining

    The following clips are taken from Series 4 Episode 10: ‘Walking with Fish’. They explore the impact of illegal fishing and underwater mining on traditional cultural practices.

    In this episode, we meet Dhia and Zaka from the Bajau Laut peoples of the oceans surrounding Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Dhia tells the Nektons about a fish that walks the ocean floor. Watch these clips to explore how illegal fishing and underwater mining can impact sea creatures and sustained cultural water practices.

    Additional resources for Group 5


    Group 6: Changing oceans and climate change

    The following clips are taken from Series 4 Episode 11: ‘Getting Warmer’. They explores the impact on animals from our changing oceans and climate change.

    In this episode, Ant and Fontain rescue a polar bear from the middle of the ocean. How did it get there? When they bring the polar bear on board to move back to its natural habitat, they discover it’s close to giving birth. Watch these clips and think about why the polar bear was so far from its home.


    Briefly share your group's findings on the environmental problem and your design challenge statement with the class.


    Extension task:

    If you have time, or in a following lesson, your group can then conduct further research into this issue. Groups could then create and deliver a short presentation about the environmental problem, including outlining your design challenge statement.


    Extension task:

    To learn more about some of the impacts associated with our changing oceans, watch this video from the Australian National Maritime Museum as a class.

    TASK 4: Brainstorming

    Now that you have identified the problem and have your design challenge statement, work through some design thinking activities to find a solution. The next stage in our design process is to come up with many ideas. Using your problem solving skills, you will generate as many solutions to your problem as possible, then narrow this down to one solution to take into the next task.

    Equipped with sticky notes, each group should come up with twenty to thirty ideas or solutions to your design challenge in five mins. Set a timer and have everyone write at least one idea per sticky note per minute and display them on a table or wall. This part of the activity works best as a quiet task. 

    Once that is done, have a quick group discussion about your ideas. After this discussion, give each group member four small stickers (dots or stars work well). Individually place your sticker on the four sticky notes you are most interested in exploring further. Hopefully one or two ideas have the most stickers and the group can decide which idea you are going to take into the next stage of the design thinking process. If you are finding it difficult to decide, you could take a vote or attempt to combine the two top ideas.

    TASK 5: Define our challenge

    Are we all on the same page? Have a broad discussion as a group about your chosen idea.

    Group members should individually write answers to the following questions. Next, compare answers in your groups to ensure everyone has a clear idea of what they are aiming to achieve. 

    • Who is it for?
    • What will it do?
    • When will it be used?
    • Where will it be used?
    • Why do we need it?

    As a group, clarify any differences of opinion so that everyone has a shared vision of what you are aiming to achieve. There should still be room for differences to your ideas, as teams will usually test different versions of their solutions.

    TASK 6: Prototype

    As part of a design thinking process, teams produce a number of smaller versions of a product or sometimes just parts of a product. This is called a prototype and it is an experimental phase. Creating prototype models and draft solutions can help designers to find problems that can then be updated before a final product is created. 

    Either as individuals or in your groups, draw a sketch of your prototype technology. You can do this either on paper or using a digital device. Label the key parts and answer to the following questions:

    • What does it help the user do?
    • How does it help to solve the environmental issue?

    Extension task:

    Create a 3D model of your prototype using recycled materials or components you already have in the classroom or at home (such as recycled materials, blocks or other construction toys). This can help designers get a feel for what the final result may be like to use.

    TASK 7: Iterate and improve

    No prototype is perfect, even the Nektons need to continually improve on their new designs. In the episode ‘Mermaids’, Professor Fiction and Fontaine developed a new suit called the Mimic Knight and in the episode ‘At the bottom of the Gyre’ Ant creates the robot, RIC, to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. As a class, watch the following scenes from these episodes.

    After watching these clips, work individually to pick one of these inventions and fill out the Rose, Bud and Thorn table below to evaluate the Nektons’ prototype. This reflection tool can help identify things as positive, having potential or needing improvement.

    Rose - things that are working well, something positive Bud - areas of opportunity or ideas yet to be explored Thorn - anything that isn’t working or needs improvement
    - - -

    You should then repeat the Rose, Bud, Thorn activity, thinking about your prototype and how you think it may behave. You could then use this analysis to further develop your idea and create a new and improved prototype.

    Extension Task:

    You could then use this analysis to further develop your idea and create a new and improved prototype.

    TASK 8: The pitch

    Now that you have your design, imagine you are explaining it to the Nektons and the World Oceans Authority with the aim to receive funding to further develop and test your invention. 

    Each group should develop a 1-2 minute pitch to share their prototype with the class. This visual presentation should aim to explain what the problem is and how your design will solve it. It should also be interesting and engaging for your audience, so they remember it. While developing your pitch, consider the following questions as well as what additional materials (such as drawings and references images) could be included:

    • Who is it for?
    • What will it do?
    • When will it be used?
    • Where will it be used?
    • Why do we need it?

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