Marble Machine Material Amounts


Marble Machines is a really new (and really fun!) experiment on the floor of the museum in the Studio right now. Marble Machines is different from many other exhibits at the museum in that it is mostly constructed from the visitors imaginations and realized on the walls of the museum with the materials we provide. What we put out there for visitors has an impact on what they can create. The Studio Group has carefully selected sources of inspiration, enthusiasm and interest in the space- there is a video of Pythagora Switches looping on a monitor for visitors to watch, there are Explainers excitedly building in the space (sometimes), and there are common materials (like wooden molding and PVC pipe) used in new ways. Now that we are comfortable with these basics in the space, we have started to experiment with more variables. One that I have become particularly interested in while facilitating this activity in the mornings is the amount of materials available. Since the activity can be done in so many different ways, there are no magic numbers (like, "we need 20 wooden tracks, 12 metal pipes and 3 marbles!") So how do we figure out how many materials we do need?

So far, the clues I have found most important and useful in trying to figure this out are...

  1. The amount of materials on the walls and
  2. The amount of materials in the cart

Today when I walked into the space this is what I saw on the bottom of the cart where we have been keeping the long wooden ramps:

Anemic Wood Runs

To borrow a word from a previous email on this topic, the first word that popped into my mind was "anemic". I don't mean any offense to whomever in the studio took some of the materials out of the space. There could be good reasons for removing many of the stuff, but to me, it didn't look as much fun! So I went and got more and added them to this space to make it look less empty and more hopes that this full container of ramps would somehow encourage fullness of ideas... The "After" photo is below. To me, it seems more inviting. But what do the rest of you think? Maybe to others it just seems like a bigger mess to keep organized...


The top of the compartmentalized cart was also more sparsely filled when I found it today (the photos I took of this didn't turn out, sadly). One thing I noticed that was almost M.I.A. (there were only a handfull left out there) was the brightly colored plastic tubes that fit together. I actually am personally not a fan of these tubes and Ryan and I were just discussing yesterday if we could just take them all away. To me, these tubes felt sort of "fake" and "un-PIE-like" since they are not really a found material or easily bought from the Home Depot like pegboard or molding. But, I do see a ton of little kids immediately attracted to them who just sit there and put the tubes together and take them apart even without marbles and walls involved, so maybe that is important too

Anyone else have thoughts on how many materials we need?

Ah, it was I who took some of the materials away! I had done this awhile ago but then after Maker Faire, it seemed that a lot of the materials made there way back into the space. I figured it was an oversight and not a reaction to fewer materials.
Yes, the colored tubes got pared down quite a bit and yes, they are a favorite which makes the idea of taking them away a little bit of a dilemma. I think your point about the tubes being a little too special and unfamiliar is a good one- there are so many people inspired to make the marble walls at their homes and it seems important that the materials look like everyday things. And while I do like to see people (especially the little kids) enjoying building things with those tubes, I think if they weren't there, they would have no problem finding something else to play with. With the colored tubes it seems like people make them very complex and not very marble-run worthy- it's more about putting them together and less about doing something with them. I think there is a problem with this- I think the mostly unusable tube structures add to frustration and make things overly complex and messy. Yes, I'm all for open-endedness leading people to do totally divergent activities- just not to the detriment of the intended focus. I am in favor of taking them away as an experiment! Anyone mind if I do?
As for the ramps, maybe I pared it down too much. My goal was to have enough out there so that it wasn't such a heap. I wanted it to be thin enough so that you could actually see that they were all a little different and help people sort through it without having to madly dig and dump stuff on the floor.
Thanks for the input on the adjustments- I'm going to be working more on the materials storage and really want to strike the right balance between open-ended and structured.

I'm glad we're both thinking about paring down materials and about how many ramps and such we actually want there! I am all for experimenting to see how it goes without the "pre-packaged" looking bright plastic tubes!

To throw something else materials-related out there: Explainers have been noticing that kids have been doing a lot more building at the storage island and this is preventing them from taking materials over to the pegboard walls and building there. Maybe this stems from the possibility that we've made the island too fun? Sometimes little kids play at the marble chute that puts the marbles away and are so entertained they never make it to the walls. Also, I've noticed that now that there are wooden dowel stands with a pipe on top of each (to label where things go), some kids start interlocking pipes with these and just building on that. Using fixed materials in the compartments to show where things go still seems like a good idea; how can we re-design it so kids don't spend all their time building on the island?

Wow! Nice one! But did you know all the different kinds of lifts for a marble run? Read on!
Lifts of a marble

Let's go through the lifts of a marble machine. Here are some of the more common lifts
-Helix lift. Also known as the 'professional' lift, it is an Archimedes screw that lift marbles instead of water. A spiral lift and a pole in between, it can lift marbles easily if turned the right direction! Most people attach a motor to the bottom.
-Chain Lift. Not so popular, chain lifts are very much like the bicycle chain - two gears stretching one chain, with a force turning the gear. However, unlike the bicycle chain, some chain units have hooks to lift those marbles!
-Circle lift. Not so good, it lift marbles in holes in a circle. The holes are drilled downwards and the top half of the lift is covered! when it reaches the top, the marble just drop down onto the track!
Here are more of the less common ones.
-Stair lift. Really, nice to watch! the steps slope towards the next step! There are two pairs of stairs. One inside the other. One pair goes up and down while the other stay still.
-Pump lift. Well, the pump lift is a hollow tube and a mechanism that pushes it up. First, the mechanism block the bottom hole of the tube and let the marbles fall down a hole in the mechanism. second, the mechanism move to the tube and pushes the marble up the tube and move back to the track end.
-Lift. a bit like the stair lift, I'll show you how it operates. There are two sections of the lift, really symmetrical. When the marble is let into the lift, one section rise up and tip the marble into the other section. The other section does the same. Find out more at !

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