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Students explore potential and kinetic energy in this two-part lesson module that integrates engineering design and physical science. Part I introduces the history of gumball machines and includes a short activity to build a very simple gumball slide out of pipe tubing. Part II gets more complex, as students work in teams to design and test an "interactive" gumball machine that meets constraints: 1) stay on a track, 2) have at least one loop, 3) be self-supporting, and 4) dispense a gumball. Allow 4-5 class periods to complete all activities and provide time for re-design.  

The lesson follows a module format that includes objectives and learner outcomes, problem sets, student guides, recommended reading, illustrated procedures, worksheets, and background information about the engineering connections. The collection is maintained by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Editor's Note: Why we like it - the lesson is similar to roller coaster design, and just as engaging. But the authors recognize that beginners need to start simple and build up to a complex track design with loops. The first (simpler) activity will help ensure basic understanding of a downhill run, where fewer forces are acting on the moving mass (gumball). The second activity allows teachers to introduce centripetal force, friction, and changing levels of potential/kinetic energy.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Classical Mechanics
- Applications of Newton's Laws
= Friction
- Motion in Two Dimensions
= 2D Acceleration
- Newton's Second Law
= Interacting Objects
- Work and Energy
= Conservation of Energy
Education Practices
- Active Learning
Other Sciences
- Engineering
- High School
- Middle School
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Instructor Guide/Manual
= Laboratory
= Lesson/Lesson Plan
= Student Guide
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Laboratory
- Assessment
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© 2009 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
applied physics, centripetal force, engineering design, engineering lessons, gravitational potential energy, manufacturing engineering, materials science, mechanical energy
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created July 23, 2012 by Zachary Davis
Record Updated:
August 14, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
December 4, 2010

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3A. Technology and Science
  • 6-8: 3A/M3. Engineers, architects, and others who engage in design and technology use scientific knowledge to solve practical problems. They also usually have to take human values and limitations into account.
  • 9-12: 3A/H4. Engineers use knowledge of science and technology, together with strategies of design, to solve practical problems. Scientific knowledge provides a means of estimating what the behavior of things will be even before they are made. Moreover, science often suggests new kinds of behavior that had not even been imagined before, and so leads to new technologies.
3B. Design and Systems
  • 6-8: 3B/M3a. Almost all control systems have inputs, outputs, and feedback.
  • 6-8: 3B/M4a. Systems fail because they have faulty or poorly matched parts, are used in ways that exceed what was intended by the design, or were poorly designed to begin with.
  • 6-8: 3B/M4b. The most common ways to prevent failure are pretesting of parts and procedures, overdesign, and redundancy.

4. The Physical Setting

4E. Energy Transformations
  • 6-8: 4E/M4. Energy appears in different forms and can be transformed within a system. Motion energy is associated with the speed of an object. Thermal energy is associated with the temperature of an object. Gravitational energy is associated with the height of an object above a reference point. Elastic energy is associated with the stretching or compressing of an elastic object. Chemical energy is associated with the composition of a substance. Electrical energy is associated with an electric current in a circuit. Light energy is associated with the frequency of electromagnetic waves.
  • 9-12: 4E/H1. Although the various forms of energy appear very different, each can be measured in a way that makes it possible to keep track of how much of one form is converted into another. Whenever the amount of energy in one place diminishes, the amount in other places or forms increases by the same amount.
  • 9-12: 4E/H9. Many forms of energy can be considered to be either kinetic energy, which is the energy of motion, or potential energy, which depends on the separation between mutually attracting or repelling objects.
4F. Motion
  • 6-8: 4F/M3a. An unbalanced force acting on an object changes its speed or direction of motion, or both.
  • 6-8: 4F/M3b. If a force acts towards a single center, the object's path may curve into an orbit around the center.
  • 9-12: 4F/H7. In most familiar situations, frictional forces complicate the description of motion, although the basic principles still apply.

8. The Designed World

8B. Materials and Manufacturing
  • 6-8: 8B/M2. Manufacturing usually involves a series of steps, such as designing a product, obtaining and preparing raw materials, processing the materials mechanically or chemically, and assembling the product. All steps may occur at a single location or may occur at different locations.

11. Common Themes

11A. Systems
  • 6-8: 11A/M2. Thinking about things as systems means looking for how every part relates to others. The output from one part of a system (which can include material, energy, or information) can become the input to other parts. Such feedback can serve to control what goes on in the system as a whole.
  • 9-12: 11A/H1. A system usually has some properties that are different from those of its parts, but appear because of the interaction of those parts.
  • 9-12: 11A/H2. Understanding how things work and designing solutions to problems of almost any kind can be facilitated by systems analysis. In defining a system, it is important to specify its boundaries and subsystems, indicate its relation to other systems, and identify what its input and output are expected to be.
  • 9-12: 11A/H4. Even in some very simple systems, it may not always be possible to predict accurately the result of changing some part or connection.

12. Habits of Mind

12D. Communication Skills
  • 6-8: 12D/M6. Present a brief scientific explanation orally or in writing that includes a claim and the evidence and reasoning that supports the claim.

Next Generation Science Standards

Motion and Stability: Forces and Interactions (MS-PS2)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Plan an investigation to provide evidence that the change in an object's motion depends on the sum of the forces on the object and the mass of the object. (MS-PS2-2)

Energy (MS-PS3)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Construct and interpret graphical displays of data to describe the relationships of kinetic energy to the mass of an object and to the speed of an object. (MS-PS3-1)

Engineering Design (MS-ETS1)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. (MS-ETS1-1)
  • Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. (MS-ETS1-2)
  • Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success. (MS-ETS1-3)
  • Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved. (MS-ETS1-4)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Forces and Motion (PS2.A)
  • The motion of an object is determined by the sum of the forces acting on it; if the total force on the object is not zero, its motion will change. The greater the mass of the object, the greater the force needed to achieve the same change in motion. For any given object, a larger force causes a larger change in motion. (6-8)
Definitions of Energy (PS3.A)
  • Motion energy is properly called kinetic energy; it is proportional to the mass of the moving object and grows with the square of its speed. (6-8)
  • A system of objects may also contain stored (potential) energy, depending on their relative positions. (6-8)
  • Energy is a quantitative property of a system that depends on the motion and interactions of matter and radiation within that system. That there is a single quantity called energy is due to the fact that a system's total energy is conserved, even as, within the system, energy is continually transferred from one object to another and between its various possible forms. (9-12)
Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer (PS3.B)
  • When the motion energy of an object changes, there is inevitably some other change in energy at the same time. (6-8)
Relationship Between Energy and Forces (PS3.C)
  • When two objects interact, each one exerts a force on the other that can cause energy to be transferred to or from the object. (6-8)
Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem (ETS1.A)
  • The more precisely a design task's criteria and constraints can be defined, the more likely it is that the designed solution will be successful. Specification of constraints includes consideration of scientific principles and other relevant knowledge that is likely to limit possible solutions. (6-8)
Developing Possible Solutions (ETS1.B)
  • A solution needs to be tested, and then modified on the basis of the test results, in order to improve it. (6-8)
  • Sometimes parts of different solutions can be combined to create a solution that is better than any of its predecessors. (6-8)
  • Models of all kinds are important for testing solutions. (6-8)
  • When evaluating solutions it is important to take into account a range of constraints including cost, safety, reliability and aesthetics and to consider social, cultural and environmental impacts. (9-12)
Optimizing the Design Solution (ETS1.C)
  • Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process—that is, some of the characteristics may be incorporated into the new design. (6-8)

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (K-12)

Analyzing and Interpreting Data (K-12)
  • Analyzing data in 6–8 builds on K–5 and progresses to extending quantitative analysis to investigations, distinguishing between correlation and causation, and basic statistical techniques of data and error analysis. (6-8)
    • Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings. (6-8)
Asking Questions and Defining Problems (K-12)
  • Asking questions and defining problems in grades 6–8 builds from grades K–5 experiences and progresses to specifying relationships between variables, and clarifying arguments and models. (6-8)
    • Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions. (6-8)
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions (K-12)
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to include constructing explanations and designing solutions supported by multiple sources of evidence consistent with scientific ideas, principles, and theories. (6-8)
    • Undertake a design project, engaging in the design cycle, to construct and/or implement a solution that meets specific design criteria and constraints. (6-8)
    • Apply scientific ideas or principles to design, construct, and test a design of an object, tool, process or system. (6-8)
Planning and Carrying Out Investigations (K-12)
  • Planning and carrying out investigations to answer questions or test solutions to problems in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to include investigations that use multiple variables and provide evidence to support explanations or design solutions. (6-8)
    • Collect data to produce data to serve as the basis for evidence to answer scientific questions or test design solutions under a range of conditions. (6-8)

This resource is part of a Physics Front Topical Unit.

Topic: Kinematics: The Physics of Motion
Unit Title: The Case of Roller Coasters

A four-day lesson that explores the same physics concepts as roller coaster design, but breaks the learning into two distinct segments to ensure that beginners understand the basics. In Part I, kids build a very simple curved track to explore kinetic and potential energy for a gumball moving downhill. Part II becomes more complex: build and test a gumball machine with loops and specific design constraints.

Link to Unit:
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
(Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2009), WWW Document, (http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/interactive-gumball-machine).
TryEngineering: Interactive Gumball Machine, (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2009), <http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/interactive-gumball-machine>.
APA Format
TryEngineering: Interactive Gumball Machine. (2010, December 4). Retrieved January 19, 2017, from Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/interactive-gumball-machine
Chicago Format
International Business Machines. TryEngineering: Interactive Gumball Machine. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, December 4, 2010. http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/interactive-gumball-machine (accessed 19 January 2017).
MLA Format
TryEngineering: Interactive Gumball Machine. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 2009. 4 Dec. 2010. International Business Machines. 19 Jan. 2017 <http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/interactive-gumball-machine>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {TryEngineering: Interactive Gumball Machine}, Publisher = {Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {19 January 2017}, Month = {December 4, 2010}, Year = {2009} }
Refer Export Format

%T TryEngineering: Interactive Gumball Machine
%D December 4, 2010
%I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
%U http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/interactive-gumball-machine
%O application/pdf

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D December 4, 2010
%T TryEngineering: Interactive Gumball Machine
%I Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers
%V 2017
%N 19 January 2017
%8 December 4, 2010
%9 application/pdf
%U http://tryengineering.org/lesson-plans/interactive-gumball-machine

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The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

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TryEngineering: Interactive Gumball Machine:

Same topic as Teach Engineering: Physics of Roller Coasters

A two-day activity appropriate for students who already have a grounding in the basics of kinetic/potential energy and gravitational potential energy.

relation by Caroline Hall

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