Posted by: dbjaquith | March 8, 2015

Marble Mazes

Marble Maze Design

About half of our fifth graders are designing marble mazes over a five-class period. Working in teams or by themselves, alongside others, students learn to plan, test hypotheses, revise, learn from each other and develop strategies. They are discovering many parallels between art and science, especially engineering. Students value their time in the 3D Design Studio because they have few other opportunities in or outside of school to build things. In the words of one boy: “I persisted because victory is VERY sweet and I know our maze will be awesome!”

Many hands are needed to build larges mazes!

Many hands are needed to build larges mazes!

Students Name the Parts of their Marble Mazes
Bumpers and walls
Marble holder
Shutes and shoots
Slopes and straight sections

“I looked at some pictures to get an idea for my maze.”
“The video gave us ideas for turns.”
“I learned by observing other people’s mazes.”


Marble mazes require lots of table and storage space!

Marble mazes require lots of table and storage space!

Strategies for teamwork (in students’ own words)
Trying different options and techniques
Changing the plan to make it better
Trial-and-error: Some of it worked and some of it didn’t
Combined my ideas with my partners
Repairing and adding to our maze
Working out every kink in our maze
Upgrading for better performance
“When our first plan didn’t work we came up with a new one on the spot.”
“I am engaged because I am having fun with my friend and that makes me persist, to continue working with him.”

Shutes and shoots

Shutes and shoots

Strategies for improved marble maze structures (in students’ own words)
Cutting paper rolls in a segmented way to make turns
Using tactics to make bumpers
Supporting a ramp with string
Elevating the ramp so it will run faster
Reinforcing parts of the maze
Using a pole to hold up another pole
Adding supports so it will not fall

Team Design Ideas (in students’ own words)
Causing one marble hit another into the end zone
Making pins for marble bowling
Adding higher levels
Figuring out how to make the marble fly through the air and land nicely in the cup
Designing a twist so the marble stops on the cardboard
Adjusting the speed by adjusting the ramps


Marble Maze Design connects naturally with Next Generation Science Standards for fifth grade:

5-PS2-1   Motion and Stability: Forces and Interaction
5-PS2-1. Support an argument that the gravitational force exerted by Earth on objects is directed down. [Clarification Statement: “Down” is a local description of the direction that points toward the center of the spherical Earth.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include mathematical representation of gravitational force.]

3-5-ETS1-1   Engineering Design

3-5-ETS1-1. Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.


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