Do you remember the thrill of dropping a marble into a maze and watching it roll, spin, and finally end at the bottom of your run? Having your students create a marble run can be a fantastic learning experience for your students, and it makes a great STEM project, too. Believe it or not, you might even be able to the materials for this project absolutely free!
I recently decided to have my 3rd graders design and test marble runs as a part of my Forces and Interactions science unit. I developed the activity to address the Next Generation Science Standard 3-PS2-1: "Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence of the effects of balanced and unbalanced forces on the motion of an object."
When I began looking for materials, I discovered the Marble Run Extreme kit from Marble Genius which looked like the perfect resource for this STEM activity. I was going to order a kit from Amazon.com, but after noticing that many reviewers were able to purchase the kit at a reduced price, I emailed the company to ask about getting a discount. I ended up with something even better than a discount... they offered to send me a kit for free! I also ordered a set of six stopwatches from Amazon that my students could wear around their necks so they could time their runs and make adjustments.
For our first class experience with marble runs, we had large teams and I separated the kit so every team had the essential parts for their marble runs. After the activity, I contacted Marble Genius to thank them, and I raved about their Marble Run Extreme kit. I couldn't believe it when Jeff Forgrave, the founder of the company, emailed me back and offered to send me 10 more kits for free! One kit isn't really enough for an entire class, and he wanted my students to experience a true hands-on STEM lesson where every child could participate in designing, building, and testing marble runs.
The Challenge: Building the Slowest Marble Run
When it was time to start the activity, I divided my students into small cooperative learning groups and challenged them to design the SLOWEST run! I gave each team a set of marble run materials including a stopwatch, and I could feel the excitement and urgency in the room as each team worked on trying to build the slowest marble run in the classroom.
I loved hearing the excitement in my room as I watched how focused and engaged my students were, from high achievers to struggling students. One team discovered that the circular shape with the hole in the middle is perfect for slowing down the marble. I had the rest of the class watch that team’s marble run in action, and I challenged the other teams to match their time and increase it!
Besides creating a run with the slowest time, we tried some other runs. One activity required the students to use all the pieces they were given to create the fastest run, and another criteria was to choose 5 pieces that could be removed from the kit that would help the run to be even faster.
Creating marble runs was fun for my students, and they really loved the activity. But what I liked best was the fact that they were experimenting and making critical thinking choices while exploring Next Generation Science Standard concepts related to forces and interactions!
Marble Run Extreme Kits
Marble Run Extreme kits worked great for this activity! The pieces are easy to assemble, sturdy, and made of colorful transparent plastic! My third graders are 9 years old, and the kits were so easy to use that none of them asked for my help putting their Marble Runs together. We loved watching the marbles as they traveled their way through the run because this kit features transparent plastic, making it extremely easy to watch and film the journey. Because I labeled the parts of each kit, putting the pieces away in the correctly labeled box was easy to do.
If you do this activity with your students, I recommend purchasing several kits so you'll have plenty of materials for your students to use when designing their marble runs. The more marble run kits you order, the more pieces each team has to work with. A total of 4-5 kits would be perfect for a classroom of 25 students so there would be lots of pieces for each team to work with.
If you order enough kits, you could even create a Makerspace in your classroom where your students can design their own Ultimate Marble Runs any way they want to!
Marble Genius Ambassador Program (Free Kits for Teachers!)
If funding for marble run materials isn't available from your school, don't lose hope! The folks at Marble Genius have just launched their Marble Genius Ambassador program, and they're planning to give away over 1,000 Marble Run kits to teachers like me who are willing to use the materials and to help spread the word about them! Interested teachers can request up to 10 free kits in exchange for agreeing to share about their experiences on social media as well as in a school or class newsletter. If you're interested in signing up for the program, click over to the Marble Genius Ambassador page to learn more and get started.
DonorsChoose Funding for Marble Run Materials
You can also explore grants and funding opportunities to obtain the materials. If you teach in a public school in the United States, you could easily write a DonorsChoose proposal for the marble run kits and stopwatches, and there's a good chance it would be fully funded. DonorsChoose.org is a nonprofit organization that helps teachers get funding for classroom materials, and if you aren't tapping into this source of funding, now would be a great time to begin!
I've had 200 DonorsChoose projects funded with a total value of over $100,000, and I've learned a few tricks for getting your project funded successfully. First, try to keep your total materials cost under $350 because small projects are much more likely to get funded. Also, look for match offers and keep them in mind when writing your proposal. For example, your project can qualify for a 50% match if you use your marble runs in an after-school club as described on the Science Everywhere Innovations Challenge page. Another 50% match is available for those who teach at a highest poverty school if they follow the directions for the STEAM Innovation Grant.
To learn more about how to obtain funding through DonorsChoose.org, follow the Caring Classrooms Community on Facebook. Members of this group help and support each other as they work to get their DonorsChoose projects funded. Laura Candler and I are the administrators of the group, and we love supporting teachers who are trying to obtain DC funding. You might also want to watch the replay of the DonorsChoose webinar that Laura and I presented together a few months ago because we shared a lot of helpful information!
Marble Genius Partners with Caring Classrooms
While I was communicating with Jeff Forgrave a few months ago to share my excitement about the Marble Run Extreme kits, I also told him about DonorsChoose and the teachers who make up the Caring Classrooms Community. When he found out about our mission, he offered to sponsor the Caring Classrooms Community with a $500 donation AND 20 Marble Run Super Set kits to give to teachers in our community! Laura and I are so appreciative of this level of support from Marble Genius, and we're planning this giveaway right now. We'll share the details of our Going Marbles Contest soon, and the best way to be sure you're notified is to sign up for the Caring Classrooms email newsletter. Stay tuned for more information soon!