Pinball machine

Use a wooden board, nails and elastic bands to make a pinball machine for marbles. Learn about forces including friction, simple machines and energy.
Science content
Physics: Motion and Forces, Newton’s Laws, Gravity (K, 2, 6)
Physics: Energy forms, Conservation of Energy (1, 3, 4, 5)
  • scrap of plywood or wooden board, about 1.5ft by 3/4ft (needs a little length but width does not matter so much)
  • nails, not much longer than the board is thick (or they will be hammered right through)
  • hammer
  • wide elastic bands
  • spring from a retractable pen, or purchased compression spring (e.g. Canadian Tire)
  • long nail that fits through the spring
  • plastic drywall anchor cut short, or tube that the spring can fit inside but the head of the long nail cannot
  • optional: U-nail/staple that can fit over the drywall anchor and secure it to the board (or just angle nails in)
  • optional: glue gun to make a stopper on the nail of the shooter (or wrap an elastic band around the nail)
  • marbles

Students hammer nails around the edge of the board, with a curve at the top. Stretch elastic bands over to make a wall around the board.

Make the marble launcher: slide the spring onto the nail then insert the nail through the drywall anchor. Attach the launcher to the bottom corner of the board, inside the wall (right or left side, depending on the handedness of the student), using a staple. Add a blob of hot glue (or an elastic band wrapped tightly) to the end of the nail that is pulled, to stop it from leaving the shooter when it is released.

Make a channel for the marble to travel up after it is released.
Add more nails and elastic bands to the board as desired to make obstacles for the marble.
Add scoring boxes at the bottom of the board.


Nails I used:7/8" X 17 Ga. 2oz enough for 4 students.

Grades taught
Gr 4
Gr 5