Introduction: School Wide STEM: Ball Run

I am part of my school's STEAM Integration Committee. Every year we try to host a couple events for the entire student population to do at the same time. These events are usually reserved for 1/2 days or days right before vacations.

When I say "school wide" I literally mean grades PreK-12. The teams are split up by department (PreK/K, Elementary 1-5th grade, Middle School 6-8th grade, and high school). The point of the doing school-wide STEAM challenges is to get students and adults across campus working together. It's also to show that STEAM/STEM education doesn't have to mean high tech, we don't need expensive tools to create. This is the 4th STEAM challenge we've hosted and every time we use essentially the same core materials: duct tape, cardboard, anything we can pull out of recycling bins. The only thing we paid for was duct tape and bouncy balls ($15 for a pack of 110 on Amazon). Everything else was sourced by emailing to the entire school community asking for what materials we needed and raiding recycling bins :)

This past December we decided to do a Ball Run challenge. Teams had to use the materials to provided to make 8ft or longer ball runs and then collect data that they would share with the rest of the campus.


Bouncy balls/marbles

Clipboard and pre-made data sheets

Contents of classroom recycling bins (lots of them)

Cardboard, toilet paper/paper towel rolls, egg cartons etc.

Water bottles

Pool noodles

Zip ties, clothes pins

All kinds of tape


Rubber bands

Cardboard knives, scissors (these we asked teachers to bring for their groups)

Party hats

Step 1: NGSS/CCSS Standards

This activity addresses Next Generation Science Standards from K-12th grade. Topics include:

K-5th grade

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions

Motion and Stability: Pushes and Pulls

Engineering Design

6-12th grade

Physical Science: Forces and Interaction

Physical Science: Energy


This does not include Math standards, which are addressed in this activity with data collection etc.

Step 2: Layout

Prior to the event, we sent out information for teachers to share with their students ahead of time so no one was walking into the activity "blind".

We established areas around our gymnasium for each group, that way everyone has their own area and when it was time to get into their groups, they knew where to go.

For the event itself, out basic timeline was:

8:30 Welcome, introduction, and review the design challenge and answer questions.

8:40 Split into teams, decide team names, and discuss ideas.

8:50 Build

10:00 15 minute warning

10:15 Clean up

We've found it important over the years to remind students and staff at the beginning that they are responsible for helping clean up the gym. Currently there's only 8 people on the STEAM Integration Committee and it would take us a lot longer if we have to do it all ourselves.

Another thing we've also found important is to remind staff that while they are encouraged to support the students in their design, they should not be "taking it over". The builds should be primarily student made.

Step 3: Materials

Each team received a brown with pre-sorted limited materials (tape, bouncy ball, pool noodles, etc.). We had more than enough cardboard, so teams (1-2 students per team) could come up and get what they needed.

We also had "speciality" materials that were given out in limited quantities as students needed them. I.e., 5 rubber bands or zip ties at a time. This was to prevent materials from being wasted.

The point of the party hats was for each team to put one on when their build was completed so the STEAM judges would know to come over and check things out.

Step 4: Challenges

Students received a sheet with build constraints for their ball runs. These constraints included:

1. Minimum of 8 feet long

2. Minimum of 4 direction changes

We also included additional challenges in case teams finished quickly, which I don't think anyone actually got to due to time constraints.

We also made award certificates for teams.

Step 5: Team Names

The STEAM team worked with each department on campus to pre-made the student groups. When they all arrived, they already knew who their groups were and their first order of business was to agree on a team name.

We pre-group the students because 1) saves time and 2) we can organize materials easier.

Step 6: Data Collection

Each team received a clipboard with information to collecting and entering in data. When each team was done with their data collection, they were to add it to the larger data sheets for all the students to see.

Areas of data collection:

1. Length/width/height of ball run

2. Whether or not bleachers, walls, etc. were used

3. How many moving parts the ball run has

4. How many changes in direction the ball run has

5. Whether or not the ball run was free standing

6. How fast the ball/marble made it through the run

Step 7: Some Results

Not all teams finished adding their results as not all teams finished their ball run in the time we had set aside. But this was a nice way for students to see some of the results from other teams.

Step 8: Reflections

2 hours was not enough. It doesn't matter the grade level or number of students in a group, this activity can and will take longer than 2 hours to successfully complete.

Our last activity, the Duck Boat Challenge, we had basically 3-4 hours and the activity was over in about 2. So this time we thought that 2 hours would probably be sufficient, now we know it wasn't.

STEM Contest

First Prize in the
STEM Contest