Working with a marble run is a tremendous exercise in tinkering… that’s a given. But it’s also a great chance for students to get a taste of overcoming constraints by creating what you need.

In this particular case, the supplies for the marble runs were “suspiciously low in quantity.” (I’ll plead the fifth if anyone asks me how that could have happened :-{) There were not enough ramps and not enough pegs for the paths they were trying to create on the boards. But rather than just tell them it was time to be creative, it was instead time to be constructive – literally.

Students were given an introduction to each of the primary tools they would be using: (1) an oscillating belt sander and (2) a pull saw.

There were other tools used as well, like a clamp and a tape measure, but for the sake of time (and attention) with first graders, I elected to skip a full introduction to those items.

Once introductions were over, students went to their marble run boards to work with their partners. I asked individual students if they were interested in making some new parts, and I got plenty of volunteers :-{) One at a time, I brought kids over to the makeshift tool shop I’d arranged in the Joinery section of Studio(i), and let them choose what they wanted to make. The pegs were simply 1/4″ pine dowels cut into 6″ lengths. The ramps were 11/16 pine cove molding with the bottom right angle removed to create a flat base for the ramps to rest on the pegs.

Students that wanted to make pegs got to sand down the flat cut-off end to a “new crayon” point to make them easier to put into the pegboards. Each student did three of them to help them gain tool experience, familiarity, and confidence along with product craftsmanship.

Students that wanted to make ramps got to choose the length of ramp they wanted for their run – short (8″), medium (12″), large (16″), extra large (20″). Large and extra large were especially popular. They measured out the length of the ramp with a tape measure, and then clamped the piece down (getting an extra squeeze from me). I helped them get a saw groove into the ramp using the pull saw, and then stepped out of their work bubble to let them finish the job.

And a job well done they did!

This first taste of “heavy duty tools” is sure to leave them craving for more opportunities to use them… just what we want!

Here’s a collection of photos showing one student cutting a ramp from start to finish:

Some social media associated with this #MakerEd moment…


Your turn. Any thoughts to share?