In the 2015-16 school year, Hudson teacher Rusty Laracuenti (Alumnus, The Hudson School Class of 2004) found himself challenged to adapt his high school and college-level physics and engineering curriculum to work with fifth graders. “I found that the traditional physical science curriculum was not as effective for me,” Rusty says. “I knew whatever we did had to be hands-on.”
“When I learned that my class would make a marble run, I was overjoyed. I love marble runs and wanted to get right to work. I have learned much more about 3D modeling and I am continuing to do so.” -Fifth Grader
This highly-anticipated fifth grade project definitely fit the bill. “The overwhelming enthusiasm from the students has been a driving force behind the development of the Marble Run Project and, indeed, the creation of it,” Rusty says. “They’ll never forget this experience.”
Now completing its second year, the marble run is a long-term, multidisciplinary collaborative design project, where students are tasked with designing a functioning 3D printed component of the marble run that represents a simple machine. Fifth graders get a chance to experience the engineering design process from start to finish to learn all about simple machines in an interactive, hands-on experiment.
Hudson’s space constraints and student collaboration in project design led to the innovative, entirely vertical design of the marble run system. A bulletin board is divided into equal sections, which are randomly assigned to each student. Within their sector, students are required to create their own custom pieces that demonstrate the mechanical advantage of one of the six classical simple machines. Not only do fifth grade students do the design work, but must collaborate and communicate with their neighbors in order for the entire marble run to work seamlessly.
But, the hardest part about the project is the marble run must run continuously. This means that levers and even pulleys must have a built-in way to reset themselves to their original position. “I think the power of this concept is in the timing,” Mr. Rusty explains, “ If you print a few pieces in advance you can spend a day or two exploring on a bulletin board or blackboard. Spend a week and change the objective each day (timing, speed, accuracy, collaboration…). Or just “run” with it and spend two months or more designing custom pieces and perfecting the design.”
Fifth Graders Partner With Hudson’s 11th and 12th Grade Advanced Engineering Students
In addition to the physical marble run, students conduct experiments and create presentations about simple machines as the project progresses. They record audio presentations that discuss the design process and, of course, teach visitors about simple machines. The audio presentations are triggered by a virtual touch screen that was designed and built by Mr. Rusty’s Upper School Engineering II class. Using a depth sensing camera and clever coding the board now “sees” visitors and can be programmed to trigger audio clips when users perform certain actions.
“Yes, [hands-on projects] are by far more important because we learn as we do something and that is superior. We see the results as we make them. We may fail and that is also part of learning. We may be frustrated in the beginning, but the more hand-on projects we are involved in, the better our chances to improve our learning skills and be ready for the challenges in the world.” -Fifth Grader
Click here to see more photos and videos of the 2017 Marble Run Project in action, and here for a pdf of the curriculum design. Student designs are posted here on Thingiverse. The entire project can be found here. You can find the profile of the first Marble Run here.