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Marble Madness—Start your school year with fun marble STEM projects

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) will likely be high on your children’s curricula this year.

Whether you have a child who embraces all things STEM or one who can’t stand any of it, you can create some really cool things at home to play with that use STEM concepts but don’t feel like educational endeavors.

My girls and I took a rainy day recently to have some fun with marbles. One piece of 20- by 30-inch foam board ($2 at Michaels) lent itself to making marble mazes and a Newton’s Cradle. We also bought a bag of marbles and a package of wooden dowels, totaling about $10. Everything else—straws, glue, Popsicle sticks, string, and rubber bands—we had at home.

You could easily add more obstacles like tunnels, ramps, bumps or holes to make the game more difficult.
The best part of these marble games was that we already had most of the materials, and it was fun to create them using whatever we had on hand.

Marble MazeIMG 0195

Materials: Foam board, Straws, Marble, Glue

This was a quick and easy project and the kids had a lot of fun laying out the mazes. They were also happy that they only needed to wait till the glue was dry to play with them. To start, cut two 10- by 10-inch squares of foam board. Then we glued straws around the borders of the squares. Finally, we laid out the maze with sections of straws and glued them down. As soon as the glue was dry the kids could play with the maze.

This super simple project gave the kids a good challenge as they mapped out their own mazes. It could also be made with LEGOS or other building toys, and could be made more difficult by building a drop-in at the beginning of the maze, or adding obstacles in the maze like tunnels or holes.

Newton’s Cradle
Materials: Foam board, Popsicle sticks, 5 marbles, Glue gun, Dowels, String

IMG 0197The Newton’s Cradle is a little more complicated than the maze. We created our “cradle” structure by gluing wooden dowels into the foam board, then gluing popsicle sticks to the tops of the dowels, creating two horizontal surfaces. Then we glued dowels across to create the rods from which the marbles would hang. Creating the “cradle” was the easy part, and the structure could easily be created with Tinker toys, LEGOs or other materials you have around the house.

Hanging the marbles proved more difficult. We used some neon string from a bracelet making kit that had a little give, but wasn’t too stretchy, which worked well. First we measured the strings, then using the glue gun, attached marbles to the strings at their midpoint. Then we tied the strings around the dowels.
Adjusting the strings so that the marbles hang at the same height and in a straight line is tough, but after a lot of tinkering, we got them straight enough that the marbles clacked appropriately!


Pinball Gamepinball rev bumpers

Materials: Foam board, Popsicle sticks, Glue gun, Marker, Paper towel tube

The pinball game is the most difficult of the marble games we made. It would be great for kids ages 10 to 12.
Using a 10- by 20-inch piece of foam board, we glued borders around the outside of the board using foam board strips. Then we glued a parallel strip down to form the marble chute that starts the game. We then stapled a rubber band on the outsides of the chute and set a marker cap inside it with the marble on the other end of the cap to form a plunger to shoot the marble.

Once we got the plunger working properly, we added obstacles to the game. Using a paper towel tube, we cut half circles and glued those to the pinball board, assigning points to each half-circle cup. Instead of trying to engineer flippers, we chose to give each player turns to try to accumulate the most points. (Picture at right is a good example of how to make a game with flippers.)

Inspired for some STEM fun of your own? Head to our STEAM Fair on September 21, 2019!

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