Online shopping is all the rage nowadays, and you know what that means…. a huge number of cardboard boxes! Before you throw away your next box, here is a fun idea for you: challenge your kids to build a cardboard structure for marbles to roll through, over, and into.
I always knew my kids liked to tinker, but I was surprised how much entertainment they got out of this simple project. From youngest to oldest, they stopped by the box multiple times a day to adjust, make improvements, roll our twenty marbles down the contraption, and just hang out discussing how they could improve it.
In this STEM activity, there is plenty of opportunity to talk about inertia. Even very little kids quickly learn a simple truth: what comes up must come down, but it takes a bit longer to master the concept of inertia, or the fact that an object in motion will stay in motion.
Inertia is responsible for moving the marble up the incline and into the tunnel (for the second leg of the journey) in our configuration. The heavy marble moves down the first slide at a great speed, and it doesn’t stop when it gets to the bend but keeps moving and jumps inside the tunnel because the object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force (like a child’s grabbing the ball or friction).
We included a video so you can see what I mean…
Let’s jump right in. Scroll down to see printable kinetic energy, gravity, and inertia resources from our archives. Let me know if you use this activity. I would love to hear how it goes for you and your kids!
STEM Building Challenge
What you need
Tape, craft glue, playdough, or glue gun
Odds and Ends from your recycle bin (i.e., egg cartons, plastic lids, etc.)
Washi tape for decoration (optional)
What to do
- Tell your kids they will be designing and building a structure for marbles to roll through, over, and into.
- Place all your materials on a flat surface (floor or table). If your kids are not used to STEM challenges, they will probably try to use all the offered materials as is. Instead, give them a hint that:
– cardboard toilet paper rolls can be cut in half lengthwise to create chutes or…
– egg cartons can be cut into little cup shapes to catch marbles or …
– part of it can be used to add a bridge.
You can help them cut, bend, and modify supplies to create new forms and inspire creativity.
- If your kids have a hard time getting started, tell them that they can build a slide for marbles to follow. They can use playdough, tape, glue, or anything else to prop up a part that presents a smooth sloping surface. My kids ended up using tape and various supports to create the starting point.
- One challenge your kids are likely to run into in the early stages of their design is that once a marble rolls down the chute, it stays down. Here is your cue to jump in with a well-timed comment.
You can ask:
How could you make the ball move in this direction?
How did you make the ball go down this incline?
I wonder if there is a way to make the ball go faster.
What is the problem we’re trying to solve? (In my house I’ve heard: The marble is boring. It only goes down. This is no fun!).
What are the constraints? I don’t know! Gravity. Friction. Dah, it has nowhere else to go because it reached the side of the box!
What is the goal we have for this challenge? To make the marble move longer, not just go down and stop.
There are many solutions to these problems!
A scientist named Newton came up with a valuable set of laws that help us understand how things move. One law he described is that once an object is underway, it will keep moving.
When the marble is on top of our track, it has potential energy. When the marble runs down the track, the potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy. How can we increase kinetic energy? There are two ways: mass and speed. We can’t increase the mass of our marbles (we’re stuck with the ones we’ve got), but we can increase speed. How can it be done?
What if we move the chute to a higher point?
Try different designs. We found that adding 3 rolls of washi tape created a perfect speed for our purposes.
- Send marbles through the sculpture and analyze your work. Are you happy with your run? Can you make adjustments to make it better? We found that we needed to make a smoother transition for the marble to bounce off the wall and go up and down the second chute.
We used washi tape to smooth out the surface, and it did the trick. In a few days, my kids painted the slide, and that made it even smoother, and showed how much they cared about this project!
- If you feel inspired, decorate your structure with washi tape or paint it.
- To extend the play and increase kids’ enjoyment, invent marble games. How many marbles can you get down the shoot in a specified amount of time (like 10 seconds)? How many times can you clap between dropping the marble down the first slide and the moment it stops moving? What obstacles can you come up with for your marbles?
- At the end of the day, close the lid flaps and slide your box under the bed. The next day it will be ready for you to play again.
FREE All About Gravity printable pack!
It includes science facts page, gravity crossword puzzle, creative writing, gravity art, and gravity word search.
Potential and Kinetic Energy Crossword Puzzle
Types of Energy Word Search
YOU CAN DOWNLOAD AND PRINT ANY OF OUR PRINTABLES IN THE FREE LIBRARY OF RESOURCES. CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR PASSWORD.