Who is ready for a STEM activity involving science, engineering, and fun! This activity allows your children to explore building a marble track and learning a bit about gravity and velocity. This STEM learning activity will keep your kids engaged for hours. Get out a pencil and paper to begin designing like a true architect; here we go!
- PVC piping or plastic Solo cups
- 2 Plastic funnels
- Painter’s Tape (if using plastic cups or paper towel tubes inside)
- Twist ties and whole punch (if using cups outdoors on fence)
- 2 Plastic Tupperware containers to catch the marbles
- Suction cups from the dollar store (if using PVC piping)
Ahead of time an adult needs to prep the activity with adult tools. If using PVC piping, drill a hole a bit smaller than the stub on the suction cup. If the suction cups don’t fit tightly in the drilled holes an adult should adhere them with superglue. If using plastic Solo cups, cut the bottom out and some also in half. If you are doing this outside, punch a hole in two sides at the top so you can use twist ties to tie it to a chain link fence. Another option is to use paper towel rolls instead of plastic cups, they are just not as durable.
Now you have all your supplies ready for the kids. Ask your kids to make two separate tracks, similar to a marble run or hot wheel track. Show them how to adhere the pieces to the wall, sliding door, or fence. If you are nervous about the painter’s tape on your wall you can always make it on a door or fridge. Once they have finished, ask which track will get the marble to the bottom the fastest. Why do they think that; which pieces are faster or slower? Then try it out! Was their prediction right or wrong? Can they adjust one track to make it faster; what pieces will they need to move? Once they’ve exhausted this road of play, you can encourage more interaction by asking them what other objects they could send down the ramp and would it go faster or slower than the marble.
STEM Learning Through Play: What’s Happening?
STEM activities are the perfect definition of learning through play. Kids think they’re playing and then you throw in a question and wrench that makes their wheels turn a bit more. They may need to make a new hypothesis with the change; always encourage recording data through pictures or writing notes. You can even be the scribe as they rattle off ideas.
So, what STEM learning can you unfold in this activity? Well, gravity is certainly involved as the marble goes down the track and ends up in the container. If you added an extra object, why does one go slower on the same exact track? You can also discuss the angle of the ramps and how when those were altered the marbles’ speed changed. Teach them a new word, even if they don’t fully understand the process of velocity.
Alter for Extended Play
This can be done outside with water and scoops; use a few drops of food coloring to discuss color mixing. In the Winter if you’re stuck inside, try it with dried peas or beans for a fun scoop and dumping activity. You could even try two different items and see which goes fast due to shape, size, or weight; the STEM learning and discovery continues! The PVC piping will last longer if you want to reuse this activity many times. Small piping doesn’t cost too much at a hardware store. You can superglue suction cups, from the dollar store, on the back so it can stick to a sliding door for indoor play.
STEM learning happens all around us in everyday activities. Put on your scientist, architect, or lab goggles and you will probably realize it was part of your last activity. You can find it at the beach when building sandcastles, all the way to playing grocery store with a cash register. Now it is your job as a caregiver to expand the child’s mind by asking open-ended questions.
About The Author
Kelsey Dickson has over 15 years of experience working with children as a nanny, preschool teacher, and now a mother. She has her degree in Early Childhood Education and works for Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny as the eLearning Manager. Check out our online childcare classes, such as Baby Sign Language and Sleep Coaching 101! In her free time she enjoys gardening with her son, going for walks with her husband and dog, and discovering local wineries in New England.