STEM Project: DIY Pinball Machines
For the last two weeks, my class has spent time on designing and constructing their own cardboard pinball machines, using basic construction materials and 3D-printed materials. As an introduction for my Grade 7/8 students, I shared some history on the pinball arcade craze, as well as some videos of other DIY pinball projects in order to show them the basics as to how to make a pinball machine.
To get started, I divided the class into 6 groups of 4 or 5 students, and each group chose a theme for their pinball machine. This theme would help the groups choose what obstacles they would include on their machines, what 3D objects they would print, and how they would decorate their machines. The chosen themes included:
Star Wars, Under the Sea, Basketball, Space, Sponge Bob Square Pants and Baseball
The first step involved planning and outlining how their machines would work. The students had to think about a variety of things, such as what obstacles they would include, how they would score points (e.g. getting the pinball into the basket for the basketball theme), and how they would assemble the frame.
Once the main field had been built, the students had to figure out the proper amount of tilt to use for their machine. If too steep, the ball would obviously fall too fast, which would make the game too difficult. After doing some research on standard pinball-machine tilt, we decided to go with roughly a 10-degree angle.
After the playfield was completed, the kids had to paint and decorate their machines and add in their obstacles. I gave the students the option to 3D print 3 items of their choice. Some chose all 3 for obstacles pertaining to their theme, and some chose to use their 3D-printed items for the more functional gadgets like flippers and plungers.
The final design step involved testing the machines to see what worked and what did not. Interestingly, this trial-and-error method took up the majority of our class time.
Problems We Were Able to Troubleshoot:
As stated above, our testing phase revealed a number of issues, which the students then had to overcome. Some of the problems the kids ran into included:
The flippers getting stuck or not functioning properly
The plunger not shooting the ball far enough, or shooting it too far
The pinball getting stuck in or on various obstacles
Essentially, every group had to make multiple changes in order for their machine to function properly. This part of the process was obviously frustrating for the kids at times, but it also allowed them to develop their creative problem-solving skills and focus on some new engineering methods. As their teacher, I feel that developing their problem-solving skills was the most valuable lesson my students stood to learn from this project.
We had a great time building these machines. I had originally planned for this project to be a one-week task, but with all the troubleshooting we had to do, it ended up taking almost two weeks.
This would be a great project to do across multiple grades, and you don’t actually need a 3D printer to make it work. The 3D printing aspect was simply an added feature I was able to provide since I have a printer at my disposal.
Email me if you have any questions, and check out the video below for a recap of the entire project.
Links and Products used:
We used "www.tinkercad.com" to create some of the 3D prints (Death Star for the Star Wars theme).
We found various designs on Thingiverse.com (flippers, aliens for the space theme, etc.).
We used "Ultimaker Cura" as our slicer to adjust and customize our print files.
We used an Ender 3 V2 and Eryone Star 1 to 3D print our designs.