Raceways & Rollercoasters – Marble X

Engineering Math Science
Time 1 hour
Age 7 & up
Group Size 4 or more
Tags Balls And Tracks, Building, Experiment,   more...
Marbles Pipe Insulation Problem Solving Roller Coasters Ski Jump Teamwork

Have you ever seen a marble fly?

Children get too few chances to experiment with materials and to design and build objects of their own creation. These Raceways and Roller Coasters activities allow your students these opportunities, and engage them on many different levels as well. Building these tracks and rolling marbles down them help children to develop problem-solving and teamwork skills and touch upon some basic principles of physics like energy, acceleration and momentum.


It is suggested that you try this activity as the third in the “Raceways & Rollercoasters” series, following “Raceways & Rollercoasters – Marble Races” and “Raceways & Rollercoasters – Getting Loopy”.  You can, however, do this activity without having tried the earlier ones.  See the Purchasing and Preparing Pipe Insulation PDF (click here to open) for information on getting the materials ready.

Raceways & Rollercoasters – Marble X

Suggested Materials

  • Foam Pipe Insulation, 3/4″ – 1″ ID (6 feet per team) (see Preparation)
  • Marbles, 1/2″ glass (2 per team)
  • Masking tape
  • Coffee cans or quart-sized take out containers (1 per team)
  • String
  • Wooden craft sticks (2 per team)
  • Yardsticks or Tape Measures (1 per team)
  • Paper, pencils

Make it Matter

Opening Discussion

Ask your students if they have ever seen, been on or heard of a ski jump before. If few or no students are familiar with ski jumps, you can ask if they’ve seen “Moto X” or Skateboarding “Big Air” competitions from the X Games. If using ski jumping, ask a volunteer to draw the shape of a ski jump on the board or a piece of chart paper. What direction does the skier go in after leaving the end of the jump? Do the same for Moto X or skateboarding, though note that a skateboarding ramp is U-shaped—the skateboarder travels straight up, rather than up and out as they do after leaving a ski jump or motorcycle jump. If using a skateboard ramp (called a “half pipe” or “vert ramp”) as your example, ask your students what would happen if the ends of the U-shaped ramp (which are straight up and down) were pointed outward at more of an angle. Would the skateboarder still travel straight up in the air, or would it be different?

The Challenge

Create a jump at the end of your ramp that your marble will fly off of. How far can you get your marble to fly through the air and then land in the coffee can without bouncing on the ground? The marble must also stay in the can once it lands in it.


Make it Happen

Doing the Activity

  1. Group your students into teams of 3 for this activity.
  2. Hand out the materials to each team and either have them choose a space to work or assign spaces.
  3. Unlike previous activities, teams will need to face their tracks away from walls into open space. Teams should feel free to use anything available in the room and should attach their tracks (using the tape) to chairs, desks, the wall, etc. The track must be able to stand without any team members having to hold it up.
  4. Have each team begin experimenting with making their ski jumps/ramps. While they are building, your job is to check in on each team and ask them questions about their process.

Make it Click

Let’s Talk About It

After 10–15 minutes, stop your students and bring them together to share their observations with each other. Is it easy or hard to make a ski jump? Does anyone have any suggestion for the other teams on how to make a successful jump? Look for thoughts on the shape of the jump. Does the angle at the end matter? Do any teams have any of these shapes (see Figure 1)?

Look for suggestions about the steepness of the track as well, and for thoughts on how to get the marble to not bounce out of the coffee can once it has landed in it. This discussion should last no more than 5–10 minutes.


Make it Better

Build On What They Talked About

Have teams continue to attempt to make successful ski jumps. At the end of the session, or when all teams are done, bring all of the teams together to share their results. Have each team show off their ski jump, and ask them to tell the other teams about something that they changed about what they created during the session. Then, have them roll a marble down the jump. If the marble doesn’t land in the can, let them keep trying until they have a successful run. If they are unable to achieve a successful run after several attempts, ask if any of the other teams have any suggestions for things that the reporting team might change, have them make a change and then try rolling again – stay with it until they are successful!


  • It is important that everyone is measuring distance in the same manner. It is best to measure only along the ground – the end of most teams’ ski jumps will be off of the ground. Have teams measure from the point on the ground that lines up with the end of their jump to the coffee can. This will be the measurement of the distance their marble travels.
  • Some creative solutions to the challenge (DO NOT give students these ideas – let them discover their own solutions!):
    1. Teams might put some tape, paper or something else soft into the coffee can to cushion the marble and prevent it from bouncing out.
    2. Teams might create a “backboard” or funnel on the can, helping to guide the marble in.
    3. Teams might find creative ways to keep the end of the jump angled, like using tape, craft sticks or string to add support.
  • Try the Raceways & Rollercoasters – Super Coasters activity next to take everything kids have learned and create fantastic roller coasters out of these materials.
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