It’s Time For Marble Madness!

Let’s get this ball rolling!

I am fascinated with Rube Goldberg Machines. I remember when Pee Wee’s Big Adventure came out, one of my very favorite scenes was when he woke up, and this elaborate machine made his breakfast. I thought, how cool it would be to wake up to a pancake breakfast every morning, without having to do anything!

Years later, I sat down with my daughter to watch the music video for OKGO’s “This Too Shall Pass”. The video features the band as part of an elaborate Rube Golberg Machine created by engineers from Synn Labs, MIT, The California Institute of Technology, and even NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. My daughter and I sat transfixed as I thought to myself, I really want to make one of those.

I’ve decided that the best way to get to the level of building a Rube Goldberg Machine is to build up my engineering skills. I’ll need to get to know how things move and how electricity works. I’ll have to get well acquainted with physics, and we’ll get to know a bit of math as we play around with spacing, angles, and timing. The best part is, I’ll get to take my daughter along for the ride!

Marble Run Photo Credit: Life Science Centre Workshop

Our first step is to build a marble run. The wonderful thing about a marble run is that you get to watch a marble roll down a giant slide that YOU created! You can make it as big or as small as you like, you can make it flat against a wall, or you can build a 3D platform. Anything in your house is at your disposal and you have the freedom to design anything you like!

We chose to work with a simple design. We would build up against our wall and we would span the length of the entire hallway. We began saving paper towel and toilet paper rolls so that we would have enough for our wall. Once we had our essential supplies, it was time to get busy and get creative!


Materials Needed:

A variety of paper towel and toilet paper rolls.
Household objects (lids, funnels, egg cartons, aluminum foil, etc) to use in the run.
Paint (we used acrylic), stickers, wallpaper, anything that you can use to decorate the pieces of your marble run.
Lots of tape! We used masking tape and double sided sticky tape, but you can use painters tape to get the same effect. Just make sure it won’t damage your walls when you peel it off.


1. Research marble runs. We looked through Pinterest, Google, and Youtube to find out what marble runs generally looked like, what interactive elements people used, and what supplies people recommended. It was really fun to look at the different ideas people had, and then talk about what we would like to do with ours.

2. Draw out some ideas. We didn’t limit ourselves at all on this one. Whether we knew how to build it was irrelevant, we just wanted to see what ideas we could come up with, and get inspired to make an awesome marble run!

3. Start decorating your rolls! Use paint, stickers, wallpaper, scrapbooking paper, anything you have on hand that you can use to make it your own.

4. Cut some of your rolls in half. We kept the longer paper towel rolls intact, and cut the smaller toilet paper rolls in half. You’ll want to cut them lengthwise, as this will give you twice as much material to work with, and you’ll get to see your marbles as they roll down the path!

5. Using your masking tape, start hanging up your marble run. Pay attention to the slope of your rolls. We found that the marbles rolled down much faster than we had expected, so we had to make some adjustments.

6. Be ready to think like an engineer! Marbles will fall out of the rolls, they’ll get caught on edges of connecting pieces, and they’ll get stuck on tape. You’ll find that you’ll be making constant adjustments to fine tune your run. This is all a part of the engineering process. Kat and I both had equal opportunities to come up with solutions to the problems we faced (particularly with the funnel), and I was really happy about the experience of working together as a team on our project.

In the end, you’ll have a piece of engineering in your house that you and your kid(s) constructed! Kat and I played with our run all day, as we added pieces, removed some, and tweaked our run until we decided that it was perfect. We’re saving more paper towel and toilet paper rolls so that we can expand it! Perhaps we’ll run down the second wall, or even connect the two near the ceiling!

Or we can just knock the whole thing down and start all over again. Who knows?

Happy Exploring!

Leave a Reply