Marble Machine

The Marble Machine is one of the best MakerEd projects you could hope to unleash upon a group of students or adults. It does not plug into the wall or need recharging, does not connect to wifi or the Internet, and can be used by young and old alike. It takes less than one minute of direct instruction on the nature of the challenge and a showcase of the parts. After that, a primal instinct takes over to get the marble to the bottom of the board, no matter the amount of frustration that ensues, and hard fun is had by all.

My friend Joseph helped me build my Marble Machine using plans from The Exploratorium. The pegboard surface is rugged but lightweight, solidly constructed.

After Joseph and I finished constructing it, I took it home and turned my three year old loose on it.

In addition to some of the parts The Exploratorium suggests, I upcycled an egg carton into a spinning cup contraption.

Next, I brought it to school. The students quickly devised a way to get the marble from the top to the bottom, but it traveled very fast. The Maker Club played with it on several occasions, and it was sometimes available during rainy indoor recess.

The faculty liked playing with it once, too. Notice that they are timing themselves on the iPhone.

The faculty also tinkered a new use for the clothes pins that drastically slowed the marble's descent down the chutes.

The faculty set a record of a little over 6 seconds for the marble to travel top to bottom.

Next, I unleashed the Marble Machine at the Westport Library's Teen Maker Monday workshop. All but one of the five students arrived late, so I only had to teach one person how to use it. Four of the five students were completely engaged for an hour and twenty minutes, refining the design, tinkering, engineering, and persisting without any assistance from me.

Clothes pins helped keep the marble from overshooting the elbow joint.

The level of cooperation of collaboration was impressive.

Here is their first record-breaking run, at 7.54 seconds!

Afterwards, the students were challenged to break the 10 second mark.

The final good hack for the evening was using some of the split foam tube as a marble chute.

Their final run took nearly 9 seconds!

Build a Marble Machine today! It is a great hand-on activity that absorbs everyone in the room. People are naturally drawn to the challenge because there is no learning curve. People stay with the challenge because though it seems simple, it is devilishly difficult! Perfect hard fun.