Pinball Designer

In the Pinball Designer Challenge, students build, test and modify a non-electronic pinball machine to create a toy that meets certain specifications. Concepts covered in this unit include gravity, potential and kinetic energy and inclined planes.

The A World In Motion Primary Challenges consist of four different activities. Each of these challenges can be taught over a one to two week period. The challenges give young students many opportunities to explore a toy they have constructed and to develop an understanding of what it means to conduct a fair test.

A unique feature of this program is the use of portions of a problem-solving process employed by engineers working in teams. The "Engineering Design Experience" for Primary students consists of: Set Goals, Build Knowledge, Design, Build and Test and Present.

SAE International offers three levels of kits: Basic, Complete Classroom and Deluxe Classroom for a class size of 28 students.

Lesson Plan Overview


Lesson - 1 Pinball Wizards
Students begin to explore the basic building blocks of a homemade pinball machine: a launch ramp, a pinball, and an inclined playing field. In an unstructured environment, students explore these elements to see what happens when they are combined.


Lesson - 2 Launch Ramps
In this activity, students change variables of the launch ramp to see how they affect the behavior of the ball. They make careful observations about the path the ball travels and try to compare how the ball travels when it is launched from different ramp configurations.


Lesson - 3 Playing Pinball
In this activity, students explore toy pinball games to see how they function. They observe the numbers and types of targets on the playfield and play the games to see how hard it is to hit certain targets.


Lesson - 4 Walls Get In My Way
Students place a wall on their playfield and note how they need to adapt their launches to avoid the wall. They explore how the wall affects the places that the pinball can travel and determine if there are areas on the playfield that are difficult or impossible to reach.


Lesson - 5 Trying Targets
In this activity, students begin to lay out their own pinball playfields. They try to determine where the targets should be placed on their observations about where the pinball can be easily targeted and where the more difficult areas to hit are. As students conduct their investigations, they refer back to their science notebooks.


Lesson - 6 Scoring Points
In this activity, students continue to lay out their own pinball playfields. They try to determine where additional targets should be placed based on their observations about where the pinball can be easily targeted and where the more difficult areas to hit are. They will assign scores to targets based on how hard or easy they are to hit.


Lesson - 7 Banging Bumpers
In this activity, students add bumpers to their playfields. They consider how adding the bumpers change the way the pinball rolls on the playfield.


Lesson - 8 Build Your Own!
In this activity, students use the knowledge they’ve gained over the course of the challenge to finish designing their pinball game to meet the criteria set out by EarthToy Designs. In teams, students test and optimize their game. They present the games to the rest of the class and discuss why they built them the way they did.

Kit Materials

Items Basic Complete Deluxe
Pinball Playfield 4 8 24
Launch Ramps and Supports 4 8 24
1 inch clear acrylic marbles 40 80 240
Targets 20 40 120
Shaker Pegs 24 48 144
Removable adhesive putty (packs) 1 2 6
Toy Pinball Game 2 4 12
Rubber bands 4 8 24
Wood Walls 4 8 24
Post It Notes 4 8 24
Student Reader 1 2 6
Teacher Manual on CD 1 1 1



Sample Lesson Plan

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