This marble machine project from The Tinkering Studio at the Exploratorium kept my 8th graders busy for the first month of school. We used their creations to learn and understand concepts such as speed, motion, and acceleration. These concepts proved just the beginning because ideas like friction, gravity, and force sprang naturally from the kids tinkering.
The goal of the challenge was to create a course that would take a marble from the top of the board to the bottom "catch" as slowly as possible. The biggest challenge ended up being completing the boards. Leaving the boards in the classroom often led to "surprises" the following day. Materials fell off, boards were touched, and students often had to go back to go forward. Next year, I want to spend more time collecting materials, storing the boards, and stressing the idea of slow movement.
The highlight of the project was the final museum day. Many students from other classes came to my room to play the machines through the course of the project, but the museum day was a final showcase. The 8th grade students enjoyed presenting their machines, and the sheer joy of the younger visitors was self-evident. The audience showed the students how much the students accomplished.