Kids like to build stuff. If you put a bunch of materials in front of them with a task, they will dutifully carry it out (although you may need to work on the clean up bit…). This month’s Simple Science Experiment involves your child building a marble race with easy to find materials.
Make ramps out of cut up cereal boxes. Cut them about 1-2 inches wide and however long the box is. Fold the pieces lengthwise so it makes a long “v.” Your child might want toilet paper and paper towel cardboard tubes. If you have a funnel large enough for a marble to fit through, bring it out! Get a few marbles (you never know when one might roll under the couch). You’ll need plenty of tape and some chairs or boxes to tape the ramps to.
If you don’t know what a marble race is, it is a series of ramps, loops, turns, straight-aways, etc. upon which a marble rolls to the bottom. I use this activity in my classroom at the beginning of the year to foster teamwork and design ideas, and the “race” is not a fast race, but the slowest marble to the bottom is the winner. Of course, your child might only be building this with a sibling or alone so just ask to see how long they can make the marble roll until it hits the floor.
Put the materials out on a table and pose to your child that he or she will be building a marble race in the house. If they need ideas on how to start, set some chairs next to each other for them to start with. However, you might soon see them including the walls, piano, table, staircase, etc. in their mad building! (Make sure you have enough ramp materials if you have “that type” of kid.)
You will notice a lot of testing, retesting, redesigning, etc. as the activity goes on. Perfect science thinking right there!
Encourage your child to be creative with the design. See how many drops they can include (not one continuous ramp), see if they can include a loop-the-loop, etc. If you want to watch something creative and fun with them, go to Youtube and search for “Ok Go This too shall pass.” It is a brilliant music video using a kind of a marble race. This is a Rube Goldberg device, that is in sync with the music and is done all in one pass. If you wonder why the guy is in red paint at the beginning, you will understand at the end.
The good thing about these materials is you can easily save them for another day. Just pull off the tape, stack a few ramps together and put them inside toilet paper tubes. Put it all in a paper bag in the closet and when it starts to rain again, get the bag out.
I hope you enjoyed this simple experiment and learned a little bit about designing, testing, re-testing (i.e. “Engineering”). If you have more questions about this, or need tips about science fair ideas around this topic (or others), contact the author.
Steve Davala is a middle school science teacher who likes to write and work with Photoshop. He’s got two kids of his own and subjects them to these science activities as guinea pigs.