Category: William Penn Charter School – Internship Program

Making a Marble Ramp!

General Topics: Physics, Engineering, Simple Machines, Kinetic Energy, Architecture, Design, Geometry
Grade Level: 6-8

In this activity we built marble ramps. This exercise teaches students how to plan a design and how to build it, and how gravity, acceleration and momentum affect objects. This is an exercise designed around creativity and problem solving.


The students are given a cardboard base to start, extra cardboard to build their towers to give the ramp its height, scissors to cut the cardboard, stencils to base curves from, construction paper to make their ramps, and tape and hot glue to hold it all together. Because there is no one way to build these ramps, the students have to get creative: do they want a zig-zag slide, do they want a loop-de-loop? Each group gets to choose what they want each of their ramps to look like.

Also, here is how we divided the activity into digestible components in order for the students to grasp each piece of the whole instead of getting lost and losing interest:

  1. Creating simple ramp
  2. Measuring momentum based on angle of descent
  3. cutting out & assembling stencils for spiral ramp
  4. Designing and creating loop
  5. Assembling final marble ramp

What did we learn?

  • Observe how gravity, force, counter force, speed, and mass play a role in the making of our marble ramps.
  • Show that the project can be done with the tools the have.
  • Students learn what works for their ramp and are able to think about what went wrong, and then fix it. 
  • Try complex things.

Things to keep in mind for future activities:

  • Facilitate the process of what it means to work together, for example: each person has a specific job or task, part of a whole.
  • The fun is where the problem is. Allow students who have trouble visualizing, to explore their ideas by making. 


Making a Geodesic Dome!

General Topics: Geometry, Architecture, Physics
Grade Level: 6-8


In this activity we explored the process of building a geodesic dome with straws by: a) observing a picture, rather than by following a set of instructions; b) working with the other students in their groups; and c) observing the other groups, ideas were bounced back and forth which helped inform their own design.


Each group was given a bag of plastic straws, a roll of masking tape, scissors, and a picture of a geodesic dome. We then explained each group how to make triangles from the straws and tape, and then how to add other triangles to those triangles to make hexagons. After that, each group was given free reign to decide how to continue. Occasionally we had to remind the students that everyone in the group needed to participate, but we did so in a way that promoted teamwork, suggesting that some students who were being left out of the creative process could be helping in a way that suited their level of creativity, rather than telling the students who were taking most of the responsibility to let go.

What did we learned?

  • How domes are constructed
  • How to transform an idea into a tangible object
  • When something goes wrong, not to give up but to try something new
  • How to work together to achieve a common goal

Things to keep in mind for future activities: 

  • Some of the students wanted a plan beforehand.
  • Rather than teaching the students how to follow instructions, the activity became a lesson in thinking about a problem and how to solve it.
  • Having a finished example of the geodesic dome for students to see that the project is possible to complete, could help facilitate the process.