Monday, November 25, 2013

Marble Madness

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. 

1 comment:

  1. So nice to see your write-up about trying marble machines with your students. I especially enjoyed hearing that "These concepts.....sprang naturally from the kids tinkering." That's what it's all about! I also really appreciate that you were able to give it ample time. I know that isn't always easy to do in a school setting, but it helps the kids really internalize what they're doing and the understanding that they develop will be much more durable. So, Bravo!

    I'd like to offer two bits of advice for next time: (1) Try double up the pegboard. We sandwich a small 2x2 in between. It does make the boards heavier and harder to store, but they are more rigid and having two sets of holes helps keep dowels from falling out or coming loose. (We'd be happy to Skype and do a Q&A about construction). (2) Don't get really hung up on the slowing down part. While it's true that we like to use it as a prompt to get people started, their own ideas that come out based on things they're building are often much more interesting and a personal challenge ultimately is more meaningful. We just find it helps people get started, because a completely blank piece of pegboard can be pretty intimidating initially. If it's okay with you, I'd like to blog about your post on the Tinkering Studio site.

    Best of luck when you try it again -- I'd love to hear your reflections then too.

    -Karen Wilkinson (from the Tinkering Studio)