Looking for unusual use for the items in your junk drawer? This project was something I participated back in school and now have used successfully in the engineering and technology courses I teach as well as a STEM camp during the summer. There is a lot of freedom on how to get this project completed and produces very unique and different results from each student. There are a few specifications that I give and then I let the student find anyway possible to get it done. The rules are adjustable but mine go like this :
1) The marble must make 3 turns minimum.
2) The marble needs to move upward at some point.
3) Something must move in the box besides the marble.
Step 1: Gather Materials
Most STEM projects include a brain storming an planning phases. Some questions that should be pondered is what items do we have? what items would be useful? how can I move upward against gravity? how will I attach each piece to the box? what can I make move? what could go wrong?
The goal is usually spend as little money and use items from around the room or their house. it is hard to gather supplies because each student, or groups of students will have different ideas. some MUST HAVE ITEMS: include a cereal box, tape, hot glue, and a marble. Other Useful Items: that i have seen used include skewers, plastic cups, balloons, paper clips, extra cardboard, paper rolls, paper, post-its, pencils, brass fasteners, rubber bands, string, toothpicks and other small toys from mouse trap ect.
Step 2: Prepare the Box
This step should be the same for all students. This sets the stage for their imagination to be built inside the box. start off by cutting out the front face of the box. Leave about a 1/4 inch around the edges for extra strength. if you cut all the way to the corners it could become flimsy. Next we cut a whole in the top of the box to drop the marble in. I also taped the top of the box closed for extra strength. you will need a hole in the side of the box towards the bottom to let the marble out but i would suggest waiting till the end. Measure twice cut once.
Step 3: Choose Your Path
Again, Every student is encourage to get this done their own special way. Having a strategy or a main plan of action through out could help. You should start from the top down and check each level multiple times with the marble. The marble needs to be able to repeat the same path, if it keeps doing different things each time you drop it in then you will have problems later. I choose to use two skewers next too each other like rails for the marble to roll on. The skewers get wider towards the end of the row so the marble drops down to the next one. takes some adjusting but I liked that I can stick it through the box instead of glue and tape. Cups cut in half the long way and toilet paper rolls work really well also.
Step 4: The Jump / Beating Gravity
This usually ends up being the trickiest part of the project. It takes planning and patience. This could be the main event of the box and usually where greatness happens or catastrophic failure. That is lightly over dramatic but it is a highlight. I used the extra cardboard i had to make a simple ramp in this example. I am not picky how far upwards it goes but the further you let it drop the more speed you will have to go upwards. I have used a balloon stretched over a cup to make it bounce before. some students make very small bumps in the road which is ok but not the most exciting. no chance my marble will land back on the skewers itself so i used half a solo cup to catch the marble. A small hole at the bottom lets the marble out back onto the skewers.
Step 5: Add Some Movement and Bring It Home
There are so many options to complete this task so i usually do it last. I glued pieces of paper clips to the skewers then taped extra cardboard to them in the path of the marble. They spin slightly and get out of the way of the marble. I Added a paper trap door on top of the cup the breaks open when the marble lands. I count that as movement and didn't mess up the marbles path. Finally on the way out of the box i added a doggy door that swings open.
After the students finish their project it is encourage to let them show it off in the front of the room for a final test and possibly their grade. Give them three tries to successfully complete the whole maze or they go back to the drawing board. I find this to be rewarding for all students involved. There is a lot of ownership of their own work and that really sticks with them. 20 Years since I was assigned this project and I still gravitate towards it. Please share ideas and other options in the comments.