Best.group.STEAM.project.ever. Hands down this playground sized DIY Marble Run was one of the highlights of the STEAM camp I ran this summer. Not only did the kids get really excited about sending handfuls of marbles down the run, they were enthusiastic about building it AND problem solving when the marbles got stuck.
A central component of STEAM education is learning from your peers and working as a team to solve problems. And nothing encourages teamwork like a GIANT project! We had kids ages 4-13 working on this, happily assisting each other and trying out ideas. The kids also evenly divided themselves into various roles, switching off from testers to designers to helpers and it was a wonderful process to watch unfold!
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Playground Sized DIY Marble Run
- Step One (Adults Only) Prepare the pool noodles by slicing them in half carefully using a box cutter. You want the sides to be as equal as possible, however you may end up with one half having taller sides and the other one having short sides. Leave some pool noodles intact
- Step Two Bring the pool noodles, duct tape, zip ties and marbles to the playground and start building! Ask the children to choose a starting point in a location well above the ground.
- Step Three Use duct tape to connect pool noodle sections and zip ties to fasten the noodles to fences, posts, etc.
- Step Four Test and revise. Test out the run and see if it’s working. As a team make adjustments to areas where marbles get stuck.
The Engineering Challenge
A DIY marble run is a wonderful engineering challenge. It’s an invitation to test out design ideas and get a hands-on understanding of velocity. I loved how much fine-tuning it required from the kids and that their enthusiasm for the project helped them work past the problems. They floated ideas like making loops and really high drops and I encouraged them to test each idea to see how it worked. Inevitably they got a really quick understanding of why certain sections were failing i.e. sides too low, angles too steep, not enough marble speed, and were able to modify those areas to get make a successful run.
Marble runs are also an easy way to explore the scientific concept of velocity, which is the speed of an object going in a certain direction. The marbles will not make it down the run if they have too little velocity, meaning they slow down too much over bumps and turns to continue moving OR if the track cannot contain the velocity of the marble. If you have a marble running very fast on either a steep angle or a track section with low sides, it will hop off the track.
Kids love marble runs. Period. I have two store bought marble runs and we have made our own version out recycled materials here and playing with them is always met with enthusiasm! Here are some suggestions for more marble run fun:
If you need a group project that will keep a variety of ages engaged and working together you have just found it!
A giant sized DIY marble run would also be great for families to tackle together or even for a party activity (hello family reunion). And if you don’t have a play structure to work off of get creative by attaching the run to trees, bushes, fences and lawn furniture!
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