Top
Looking for STEM for One Resources?

All You Need to Know about Marble Runs

Have you tried a marble run yet?

The very first time I pulled out foam tubes and marbles and mentioned roller coasters I knew my students were hooked on STEM forever. That challenge is their very favorite and it’s one they ask to repeat all the time.   It’s a fun one, but in my mind, I always wanted to create a different kind of roller coaster. Could we try something with tubes? So, one day I gathered together a bin of about 6000 cardboard tubes and rolls of masking tape and we got to work!

Marble Runs- a perfect STEM Challenge for upper elementary students. Two materials- cardboard tubes and tape! Very challenging and so fun!

You need three things:

  • LOTS of cardboard tubes
  • Large cardboard pieces or foam board
  • Masking tape and lots of it  

That’s all. Seriously. Okay, ask parents to send in the cardboard tubes from toilet tissue rolls and paper towel rolls. If you really want to get a ton of these, just mention that this is material they can send in and IT’S FREE! That’s what I did and I have enough tubes to last until the end of time.  

TIPS: You really need good sticky masking tape, but you are going to use a lot of it so get some at Wal-Mart. It’s in the painting department and they have rolls that are 96 cents. For the cardboard pieces, I used packing boxes that I cut apart with a razor blade knife. You can probably ask your cafeteria to save their boxes for you. If you decide to use foam board, get it at the Dollar Tree. The cardboard or foam board is for the base of the marble run.

Here’s what you do: 

Show your kids some images of marble runs to give them an idea of what to do. I showed images of upright runs that resemble roller coasters and also images that are taped to a wall or the front of a table. (Just search on You Tube and you will find plenty of videos.)

 Give them the materials and sit back and watch what happens!

Coasters with tubes- a perfect STEM Challenge with only two materials- cardboard tubes and tape! Very challenging and so fun!

If you happen to have any really long tubes you will have groups that try to use them. Trust me, that really long tube in the photo are sometimes difficult to work with. They will stay upright without using a lot of tape.

TIP: Definitely plan on teaching students how to create a flange. I will link you to a post at the bottom of this that shows many ways to attach cardboard.

Coasters with tubes- a perfect STEM Challenge with only two materials- cardboard tubes and tape! Very challenging and so fun!

How do you join tubes together?

Kids found some clever ways to do this. Mostly they cut a slit into one tube and slipped the second tube into it. We had a lot of cutting tubes in half to make the paths.

We also learned to do a layering technique to make the turns in the marble path. Take a look at this photo!

Marble Runs- a perfect STEM Challenge with only two materials- cardboard tubes and tape! Very challenging and so fun!

Students used tubes cut in half lengthwise for most of their paths. We learned to use whole tubes on corners to prevent the marble from jumping off the path.

Many students wanted to make the entire marble run with whole tubes. This turned out not to be very fun, however, since you cannot see the marble moving. Also, if the marble gets stuck inside it is hard to find!

I did eventually create a building rule that did not allow using a lot of whole tubes.

Coasters with tubes- a perfect STEM Challenge with only two materials- cardboard tubes and tape! Very challenging and so fun!

This photo is showing you a finished marble run that worked great. Cancan see a paper cup at the end of the pathway? It is there to catch the marble at the end.

We chased a lot of marbles because they leap off the paths easily.

TIP: Give every group a different color of marble and 4-5 of them. When one gets away it is easy to find out which team needs it1

Marble Runs- a perfect STEM Challenge with only two materials- cardboard tubes and tape! Very challenging and so fun!

The very best part of this challenge is listening to the teams cheer when something works! They are so thrilled when that hard work pays off.

The sharing time for these projects is essential! Every team wants to show off their working marble run.

TIP: The base that the run is built on needs to be a sturdy piece of cardboard so that you can move these projects.

So, are you brave enough to tackle this one?!  

  • It was messy!
  • It took two weeks, which meant I had to store all those marble runs for a week. Yes, 5 classes of stored marble runs.
  • It used a lot of tape. 
  • The cardboard was free.
  • Did the kids learn anything? Are you kidding? They learned a TON!
  • And I will add that this one was completely, entirely, no doubt about it, 100% engaging!

I am going to have to say that the mess was far outweighed by the enthusiasm for this project and the end results! Messes can be swept up and the learning was priceless! 

Links to more posts about coasters or cardboard:

Marble Runs- a perfect STEM Challenge for upper elementary students. Two materials- cardboard tubes and tape! Very challenging and so fun!

Comments

  1. The Teacher's Desk 6 says

    Oh my gosh! It's like you read my mind, Carol! This is the STEM challenge that I had sort of picked out to do next with my sixth graders. I've been collecting tubes since Christmas and think I might have about enough. Now to get that tape! I'm thinking of asking parents to supply colored duct tape… the mess at least will be decorative! LOL!

    Angela