Course Level
Knowledge Unit
Development Methods
Collection Item Type

In this assignment students work as a team to build, using only specified materials, a structure through which a marble will travel,  Students first work independently developing their own segment of the structure and then work collaboratively to construct a final structure. Students are required to video tape the execution of a marble traveling through the structure lasting at least n seconds. This exercise will allow students to practice problem decomposition, abstraction, generalization, and evaluation, and also debugging and testing.

This exercise was developed as part of the NSF-funded Computational Creativity project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Assign this exercise during the semester when teaching (1) debugging and testing, or (1) functions and modularity.

It is also good to use this as the last or next-to-last exercise in our series of Computational Creativity Exercises as this is one that could be seen as a "project" to celebrate and recognize student teams for in-class demonstrations and competitions.

Encourage students: 

  • to construct sturdy structures allowing the marble to travel steadily and slowly enough so that the entire trip lasts longer than n seconds. 
  • to think of how to keep the marble's momentum moving through the structure and how to slow down the marble's speed in order to reach the time requirement.  
  • to be imaginative, to let their imagination carry them away in their construction of their segments and the final structure. Enjoy the construction process.
  • to be competitive, using teamwork to compete for the winning structure.
Engagement Highlights

This exercise is un-plugged: students are not required to do any programming. Through our lightbulbs and reflection and analysis questions, the exercise gently instructs students on content Meaningful and Relevant to CS (e.g., problem decomposition) as well as makes Interdisciplinary Connections. Students are required to work collaboratively in teams. The exercise’s use of a wiki platform for collaborative writing and forum discussions, facilitates teamwork and student to student interaction inside and outside of the classroom. Each team is allowed to "divide-and-conquer" their segments, and each team decides which team member is responsible for which segment, promoting student choice and fostering creativity. The exercise is grounded on active learning, with open-ended activities and questions for students to collaborate on.

Computer Science Details

Computer Science Topic(s)
Programming Language

Additional Details

Estimated Time to Complete

1 week

Material Format and Licensing Information

Creative Commons License

Author's Institutional Information

Institution Type
Doctoral/Research Universities - Extensive