Kindergarten's Marvelous Marble Runs

Step inside Chapin’s Lower School Science room on any given day and you’ll enter a world of exciting inquiry and hands-on learning where questions abound and mistakes are encouraged. In their science classes this winter, Kindergarten students explored the world of engineering by constructing marble runs – which they described as “roller coasters for marbles” – making thoughtful discoveries along the way.

Early on in their study, these students learned that in order to get a marble to move they needed to create speed with an incline, and to get a marble to turn a corner they needed a bumping block to help it change direction and keep it from falling off of the ramp. Their teachers, Lower School Science Head Teacher Joanne Hwang and Lower School Science Associate Teacher Delia Rollow, also shared with them the importance of stability when building and how to determine if a structure is stable or unstable.

After mastering these challenges, the students put their design know-how to the test by completing marble run scavenger hunts! They studied runs that were pre-assembled by their teachers and removed the pieces that they felt were not necessary. “That part was tricky,” Ms. Hwang noted. With perseverance and their critical thinking skills, these young engineers eventually got the hang of it!

This exciting exploration was done in preparation for one special event… a “Marvelous Marble Run Party” with the students’ teachers, parents, and other special friends. In their classes leading up to the big day, the girls reviewed maps of different marble run paths and practiced recreating them using paper towel rolls, masking tape, and wooden blocks, essentially building smaller versions of the runs they would be designing at the party. At home, they collected household items, like empty egg cartons, paper towel rolls, cereal boxes, and paper cups, until they had assembled a reserve of recycled marble-run-building supplies large enough to accommodate their entire class.

When the day of the marble run party arrived, the girls gathered in the Lower Level Dining Room with their teachers and guests and prepared to use their engineering skills to build their own giant marble runs!

After everyone had broken into groups, each group was given a large piece of cardboard, taller than the Kindergarten girls themselves, to use as the base for their run. Their instructions were projected onto a large screen in the front of the room:

1.     Draw a marble run design on your board with chalk.

2.     Grab your bin of supplies.

3.     Use the supplies to build your run (on top of the chalk outline) and test with marbles.

4.     Adjust until the marble is able to complete the run.

With upbeat music playing in the background, the students and their guests eagerly got to work! Smiles and laughter mixed with intense concentration as they worked carefully to create their marvelous marble runs. After drawing the shape of their runs onto the boards, the adults began cutting and adjusting the supplies with scissors and X-Acto knives while the students attached them to the boards with colorful, patterned duct tape.

To serve as reference during the build, Ms. Hwang and Ms. Rollow created an “inspiration board” with suggestions on how to create tunnels, ramps, turns, drops, and more. The groups problem-solved when their marbles got stuck or fell off of the runs by studying this board and creating various solutions. “It really works!!” one student shouted with excitement as her group’s marble successfully rolled through the run.

Each group worked at its own pace until eventually the entire Lower Level Dining Room was full of completed and fully functional marble runs. In addition to being fun to look at and to try, the finished products demonstrated the many introductory engineering lessons these Kindergarten students have learned in their first Chapin year!