Build a marble run with an unlikely material… play dough! There are actually two STEM challenges with marbles and play dough in this post, and they are both a ton of fun for a wide range of ages. Best of all, the materials are cheap and can be used again on another day.
Here’s a video that shows both of the STEM challenges in this post! Below the video, you’ll find instructions for each one.
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Challenge #1: Play Dough, Cups, and Craft Sticks
Recommended Age: Ages 10+ as an independent project (would be best to do in groups) or ages 6+ with adult help.
Can you build a marble run with a play dough path? Paper cups make the perfect material for supporting the structure, and they can be cut to any height. The play dough is easy to mold and shape into curved pathways, and if the marble bounces over the side, you can easily make the side a little taller. All in all, it’s such a great material to work with!
In general, I prefer to make homemade play dough. For this project, however, I think that store bought works slightly better because it’s a little more firm. You’ll need 4-5 cans per marble run, so if you’re doing this with a STEM club or class, you may want to make your own play dough to save money. Then again, making that much would take a lot of time. The cans pictured were 50 cents each at Walmart.
I also purchased the paper cups at Walmart – 99 cents per pack in the party aisle. Not pictured are wide craft sticks and masking tape (I hadn’t decided yet that we would need them when I took this picture), but they are definitely necessary.
Kids can use scissors to cut the cups down to whatever height they’d like for supports. I recommend starting at the bottom and working your way up.
We found that a cookie sheet (a super cheap one) made a nice base for our marble run. You could also use a large, flat cardboard box. The nice thing about the cookie sheet is that you can easily remove the tape from the cookie sheet and cups and use them again.
As we started building taller, we needed a little more support for the play dough pathways. We found that putting a craft stick under each section made it much more stable.
When we got to the top, we had to join a couple of cups together to make the supports taller. We used duct tape for that.
Here’s our finished marble run! This took about 45 minutes to build, maybe less. Great project for a rainy day, and also a good length for a class period or after school club.
Here’s one more view of our finished marble run.
Challenge #2: Cookie Sheet Marble Run
Recommended Age: This challenge is super awesome for younger kids (ages 6+) and it’s fun to work on either alone or with a partner.
This project was inspired by a similar project in the book STEAM Play and Learn. If you haven’t checked out this book, you should! It’s written by my friend Ana over at Babble Dabble Do, and it’s full of 20 hands-on STEAM projects for preschoolers.
The set-up for this challenge is so simple. Just prop up one end of a cookie sheet using a couple of building blocks or chapter books. Then roll play dough into “snakes” and build pathways for the marbles to roll down!
So much fun! After awhile, Owen stuck his fidget spinner in the midst of the marble run. This makes a really fun addition! The marble lands in one of the sections, which spins the spinner and dumps the marble out on the other side.
Have fun tinkering with marbles and play dough!
Be sure to stop by and check out STEAM Play and Learn for more hands-on tinkering projects!