Kids STEM Lab: Marble Drops

Marble Drops. So simple. So fun. And, a great time to exercise design, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills while creating a slide for a marble to run down! I stood back for most of the program and watched parents and grandparents work with their kids to create the design their kids wanted for an entire hour. At every STEM Lab, I hope that the activity is engaging enough for kids to interact with adults and learn together as a community. That happened with this program!

The skinny: Great problem-solving exercise that the parents wanted to get in on as much as the kids! So many smiles as kids worked with their adult to create something fun at the library. I drew my inspiration from Coffee Cups and Crayons blog. They have a great video of how her kids did their project, so be sure to watch! This is a great project because even pre-kindergarteners were able to do it, as well as big kids. And, families worked diligently for a whole hour before they felt their design was just right, showed me how it worked, and then helped me clean up before heading home.

 Cost: Maybe $15 at most for the masking/painters tape which we bought new since I was out. Have more rolls on hand than you think you will need. If you can, try to have 1 roll for each child. Masking tape went on sale at Walmart, and I was able to buy multiple rolls for $1 each. I think we had 10 rolls available. The kids did not go through very much tape. So, the cost will be almost free if you are able to re-use the tape for later projects. All the cereal boxes and toilet paper/paper towel rolls were recycled, so no cost for those supplies (I just had to plan ahead, and start saving at my house for the past few months!) I brought out a mix of pom-poms, marbles, and large wooden beads for the kids to test their designs with. We did not have a problem with marbles going all over the floor, but be careful.

Supplies: Dozens of the recycled toilet and paper towel rolls, cardboard cereal boxes, marbles, pom-poms or beads, and masking or painter’s tape.

STEM at Work: Inclined Planes, Simple Machines, Gravity.

How it went: I began the program by having a super short introduction to what we would be doing. I had a small design taped to my easel, and I showed the kids how to tape the toilet paper rolls so that a marble could run from one to the next by gravity. I also showed the kids how they could cut part of their toilet paper roll so they could see inside as their marbles were racing down to the floor. This took about three minutes. Then, I showed the kids a blank wall, all the supplies, and told them to get started.

The kids and adults worked together for an hour. I saw kids experiment with different designs. Two girls tried to cut a hole in a cereal box and tape it to the wall in such a way that the marble would roll to their hole they created. I brought out several stools and our Little Giant ladder for kids to stand on while creating their designs.

 I also tried this program with a class of 5th graders. They loved it! They all worked diligently for 30 minutes, and they came up with great ideas such as two tunnels that merged into one, and another design that dropped a marble into one of three paper towel rolls where were stood upright on the floor. After having this building time, their teacher invited them to check out books. About 5 students stayed behind and kept working on their designs. I told the kids I would leave their work up for 3-4 days, so if they had someone special they wanted to show their creations to, their designs would be left up.

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