This week, our marble set has been working overtime. We engineered a wall of pipes and tracks to run our marbles down, and we’ve been using it to explore how potential and kinetic energy work. We began with a short track at the base of the wall and tested marbles to see if they had enough energy to make it to the end of the track. We experimented with two different sizes of marble and with starting the marbles at different heights on the wall. Then we added extensions to our track until we settled on which marble and which starting point would get us the greatest distance along the track.
Later, we added turns in our track to see how forcing the marble to change direction affected our result. Another variation we tried involved putting a small square of wood at the end of the track and seeing whether the marble arrived at the end of the track with enough energy to knock over the square.
We also tested how energy can be transferred from one object by placing a stationary marble on the track and crashing another one in to it. We took several slow-motion videos of this so we could clearly see how the marbles interacted with each other.
This activity was very engaging for our three-year-old, and he came up with most of the experiments and variations himself. Now we just have to teach him to write so that he can record his results! Maybe next week…
It’s difficult to find wooden marble sets like this — ours came from my grandparents’ house — but click on the photo for a link to one that’s currently available on Amazon!