Here’s a STEM challenge that’s super fun, doesn’t require fancy materials, and can be completed in an hour or two. Build a marble track out of foil, bamboo skewers, and duct tape! The only other thing you’ll need is styrofoam to use as a base. We have a friend who receives shipments of medical supplies who was able to hook us up with LOTS of styrofoam. If you don’t know anyone like that, try checking with retailers who might receive shipments with styrofoam packing.
I would recommend this STEM project for kids ages 8+.
We started with these materials. I put out of box of toothpicks, but we didn’t end up needing those.
First, we taped together 6 styrofoam sheets to make an area for our marble run. Then we started building the channels for the marble to travel along.
To make them, we folded sheets of foil in half, then in half again. Then we folded the edges over to make them stronger.
Then we started building! We built in sections, with two skewers at the junction of each section. We used strips of duct tape to attach the foil to the skewers.
Tip: If you wipe the blades of your scissors with a baby wipe, they will easily slice through duct tape.
To make the track turn, we used small sections of foil and taped them together at an angle. You can only change the angle a little with each section, so it took 3-4 sections to make a complete turn.
Another option would be to make wider foil channels for the turns so that you can bend them without losing too much surface area. It’s a good challenge for kids to work out!
Here’s our completed marble track:
Owen had a great time sending marbles down the track!
Now, if you’re looking for a sturdy marble run that kids can play with (especially younger kids) this is definitely not the most durable option. If that’s what you’re looking for, check out our PVC marble run and cardboard box marble run. But it is a big win for cost of materials, and for being an engineering challenge that kids can construct themselves. I would recommend this project for ages 8+. Middle schoolers would be ideal. 8-10 year olds may need some help, but will still enjoy the challenge.
We used a large box of foil, and I’d estimate that one large box of foil would be enough for at least 4 marble tracks. You would only need one pack of skewers per class since they usually come 100 to a pack. Then you’ll just need duct tape and styrofoam. If you don’t have styrofoam, you might be able to stick the pointed end of the skewers into cardboard, but I’d try that out first. Another option would be to use modeling clay to make round balls. Then stick the skewers into those to stand them up.
Have fun building! Here are some more budget STEM ideas:
- Build a Self-Supporting Bridge with popsicle sticks
- Demonstrate force and motion with a Balloon Pinwheel
- 5 Engineering Challenges with Clothespins, Binder Clips, and Craft Sticks