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Can you make a ball zigzag down a track?


  • large marbles
  • flat cardboard, cardboard tubing, and foam pipe tubing
    • foam pipe insulation is ideal (1-inch diameter works well for large marbles), which can be found in hardware stores; these can be cut in half to make open troughs
  • masking tape
  • scissors
  • various props: boxes, books, chairs, buckets, cups

Key Science Concepts

  • An object placed on a ramp will roll, slide, or stay put.
  • A rolling object will move faster down a steeper incline and slower down a less steep incline.


Ask children if they know what zigzag means. Explain that it is a series of sharp turns back and forth. Demonstrate by drawing the letter “Z” on chart paper, pointing out that to make a “Z” the lines you make zigzag back and forth. Another great way to help children understand zigzag is to draw (or use rope to form) a large zigzag line on a rug or outdoors and encourage them to walk, run, hop, or crawl along the line to experience the sharp turns

  1. Tell children that today they will make a ramp with turns that zigzag back and forth. Their ramp should turn sharply at least twice. Draw a “Z” on chart paper to show them what you mean by zigzagging twice.
  2. Tell children that they can use any of the ramp materials—flat ramps, tubes, or flexible ramps—to build their ramps. The challenge will be to make sure the marble doesn’t jump the track!

Reflect and Share

Take photos or videos and encourage children to draw and write about their constructions.  Ask them what materials they chose to build with and why they chose those to build with. What problems did they have in building their zigzag turns?  How did they solve their problems?  

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