15min STEM: Cardboard Marble Run

15min STEM: Cardboard Marble Run

cardboard marble run

The cardboard marble run 15min STEM activity really is incredibly simple to resource. All you need is a marble, non-marking tape and a good supply of cardboard tubes. If you’re planning to do this activity then we suggest you start collecting tubes NOW! Click here for the 15min STEM Cardboard Marble Run activity sheet.

Resources gathered, you will need to cut each tube in half to create a ‘slide’. Variety in tube length and width is great and adds to the fun of creating the maze. You will also need to locate an appropriate vertical surface on which to build your maze such as a wall or door. Non-marking tape is brilliant for both securing the tubes to the wall and making sure that this activity doesn’t leave an eternal legacy on the wall! In a classroom setting, you will ideally have enough tubes to split the children into small groups to create their maze.

 

Before you get going, we suggest you look at some examples of marble runs on google images. There are also lots of engaging marble run videos on YouTube such as this video from the James Dyson Foundation. Encourage children to observe the following:

  • Each tube needs to be at a slight vertical angle to keep the marble moving
  • The more vertical the angle, the faster the marble moves
  • Each tube needs to join or be close to the previous one to prevent the marble from dropping through the run

Observations complete, it’s time to let the children have a go! As with all of our STEM activities, there are a great deal of skills that they will learn in the construction process. As well as applying their knowledge of angles and forces, children will develop ‘soft’ skills such as problem solving, communicating as a team and perseverance.

This activity can be differentiated depending on age and ability. Here are a few ways to vary the challenge:

  • Your marble run must take exactly a minute to complete
  • You must have a 90 degree angle in your marble run
  • Adjust the materials used inside the tube to create more/less friction (for this challenge, you will need to provide a selection of materials; fabric, sandpaper, bubble wrap, paper, silver foil etc)

What is happening?

Gravity is the force pulling the marble to the ground. As it rubs against the cardboard tubes it creates an opposing force called friction. Friction is a force between two surfaces that causes a moving object to slow down. The more friction, the slower the marble will move. We can observe how the marble changes direction and pace due to the different shaped and angled tubes.

‘Real World’ Applications

This challenge required the children to think like engineers when designing their marble run. Engineers sometimes use cardboard themselves in the design stage in order to test their ideas. There are many examples in engineering of ways in which materials and angles are used to create speed. For example, a velodrome is designed for maximum speed. Its tilted angle and shiny wooden surface helps the bikes to glide across it. Likewise, a bob sleigh has steel runners and races along an angular track made of ice. These two materials have minimal friction, allowing the bob sleigh to reach top speeds.

For the Cardboard Marble Run activity sheet click here

For more 15min STEM activities click here

To try our lolly stick marble maze activity click here

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