Slammin’ Science Pinball Project

The Science teacher on my 8th grade team, rock-steady rockstar Mary Gamache, put together a great collaborative project you might want to consider.

It began when Mary was brainstorming STEM project ideas for the upcoming end of the school year. She wanted to come up with an innovative, hands-on, and engaging way for students to apply their understanding of principles like motion, force, friction, energy transfer, etc.

She searched online and found the PinBox 3000 – a pinball machine kit. The kit comes complete with die cut cardboard sections, connecting rivets, and marbles for shooting around the finished game top. Check out the PinBox website here.

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Mary ordered a supply of the kits and then began planning the unit. Here is a link to her project outline.

Mary’s project is pretty comprehensive. It includes the construction of the machine, but also has students conducting research on the related concepts, sharing that research with peers, as well as creating their own assessment tool.

In terms of collaboration, Mary challenged students to design their pinball machine using concepts/units/ideas from any of their classes. So, some students created their theme based on a Language Arts novel, some based their theme on a novel from Spanish class, while others based theirs on U.S. History events like the Civil War or the John F. Kennedy Assassination. Teachers whose concepts were chosen were, therefore, involved in and participated in the assessment of those particular pinball machines.

As students worked on the project, Mary noticed that many of the students who had struggled all year with traditional instruction/assessment were much more active. Some of these low-key students, Mary remarked, even took on leadership roles within their groups.

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The culminating piece of this project was a public presentation of the machines. However, because the finished products were pinball machines, Mary designed the presentation in the form of an ‘arcade’. Students from third grade were invited to visit the arcade and play the games.

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“From the beginning of the project, students were engaged in purposeful learning,” Mary told me at the end of the project. “I set the project up with guiding rubrics and resources and then played the role of consultant. In groups, the students researched topics related to force and motion, presented to the class and then applied the concepts learned to the pinball design. Students were in the lab at all hours working on their machines. It was amazing to watch them problem solve so many times on their way from design to product.”

Here are some examples:

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When developing assessment tools for your classes, always keep your mind open for new and engaging ways for students to showcase more than just their knowledge. Challenge them in many different ways – their creativity, their ability to work with partners, their resilience, and their problem-solving skills. And, beyond preparing students for the challenges of the future, you will need to prepare yourself because you’ll find that your students will often blow your mind with what they come up with!!!

Ed X!

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