I am always impressed with how well young children can solve STEM projects and challenges. I started doing a few STEM projects with my kindergarten classes a few years ago and the children loved them. They were always very engaged and I was always amazed by the amount of learning that took place during one of our STEM projects.
Although I did this activity with at kindergarten class at school, you could easily do this STEM challenge at home or with older children. I just love the fact that the project is simple to set up and requires problem solving and hands-on learning.
You don’t need a lot of materials for this STEM project and I encourage you to use what you have. The materials do not have to be exactly the same as the ones that I used.
- Long, Thick Sheets of Wood
- Long, Thin Pieces of Wood
- Large Plastic Clothes pins
- Plastic Bowls
I had these materials from another STEM project we had done, so I was keen to use them again. However, if you don’t have some of the materials, you can substitute and use what you have. Instead of marbles, you could use small balls. Instead of the thin pieces of wood you could use sticks. Even cardboard can be used instead of the thick sheets of wood.
The marbles do pose a choking hazard with young children. Please be cautious when using small pieces and having young children work with them. I know my students and was safe when we used them. Please use caution and always supervise children during activities.
Once you have all of your materials collected, you are done all of the prep you need to do. The rest of the work and building is done by the kids. As a teacher, I like this kind of activity!
I like to get children outside as much as possible, so I used this activity outside during our outdoor learning time. I set up several centres for kids to move freely between. I always included a STEM project or STEM challenge during centre time because I have a handful of children who always choose the STEM activity and I want to build on this interest.
When I repeated this activity at home, I simply gave my kids the materials and encouraged them to build using the sticks and clothes pins. This is not a project that can only be done in the classroom. It is nice to do at home as well because your children will have the resources to themselves to build.
For some STEM projects I give children the materials and challenge them with a specific task. The task for this STEM challenge was create something for the marble to roll down and into the bowl. This sounds simple enough, and it is, but it also requires a lot of trial and error, exploration of gravity, and creating a stable structure.
There is something about marbles and ramps that children are drawn to. Kids knew the challenge, they had their materials so they were ready, and eager, to start creating.
I simply observed what the children did at the centre. I listened as they discussed together their plans and they started by simply rolling the marble down the thick sheet of wood.
Everyone discovered really quickly that simply rolling the marble down the wood usually resulted in it falling off the side. For the times it did get to the bottom, it had too much speed and flew out of the bowl.
I intentionally put the materials by a small wooden play bridge that we have in our outdoor playground. You can simply lean the materials up against a wall, but it helps if there is something that the wood can lean against to help to create ramps.
This ended up being a great lesson on gravity and speed. Through trial and error children quickly noticed that the marble constantly fell off the side of the thick stick when rolled down from a steep height. The marble usually got to the bottom, but did not stay in the bowl.
Next, they lowered the ramp/wood and the marble rolled slower and would stay in the bowl, but typically rolled off the side before it got there. Once children realized this was the problem, the real learning and thinking began!
Children tried lots of strategies to complete their challenge. Once some children noticed that the marble had too much speed, they looked for ways to slow down the marble before getting it into the bowl. Some kids extended their ramp so that the marble had a longer run at the end. This slowed the marble down enough that it stayed in the bowl.
Other children choose to use the smaller pieces of wood and attach them to the sides of the boards using the clothes pins in order to act as a bumper at the sides. This worked really well to keep the marble on the ramp and prevent it from falling off the sides.
Once children were successful with their ramp, they began experimenting with the materials. They tried making a ramp for their marble to go down that would drop into the bowl or make a turn.
Even though the children did not specifically talk about gravity, speed or engineering, they were introduced to so many huge concepts from this simple STEM project.
It is such a simple engineering challenge, but it requires so much thinking and testing! A lot of children ended up flocking to this STEM project and had a blast building and trying different strategies!
Looking For More Ideas?
If you are looking for some more STEM projects for kids or other hands-on activities, check out some of my activities below. I share activities from my classroom and home that have been successful and popular with young children.
If you are looking for printable products, check out my printable break break cards and STEM activities to try with wooden blocks.