Fieldhead Primary Academy

Project:  Pinball Wizards
Science topic: Forces
Participants: Year 5 pupils
Artist: Craig Dyson

We are exploring Forces in relation to man-made machines, working together as a group to design and manufacture a pinball machine. What an exciting challenge! We are making the machine from scratch and are in charge of designing it and deciding how to build it. We will look at gravity, springs and friction as well as kinetic, manually operated components. We will need to think about shape and colour and ensure the machine is as much a great piece of interactive art as it is practical and useable. We will need to be resilient while we keep testing things out and finding that things don’t go quite as we expected. It’s going to be great fun experimenting until we can make a ball do lots of amazing things inside our machine, like bounce around a field of mushrooms, go into a tunnel or jump over a ramp.


Session 1: 6th February 2017
Today we met Craig and Uday. Craig is here to help us with our creativity because he is a sculptor. Uday is a professional engineer from Cummins Turbo so he is helping us with anything scientific and technical. We talked about how our project will be about Forces, specifically we will be looking into how a pinball machine works and then tackling the challenge of making our very own! We looked at three areas – design, trial and error manufacturing, and finally games inspection. We first looked into the traditional design of a pinball machine and took elements we liked when drawing our own plans. We then used different materials such as cardboard tubes, plastic ramps and wooden blocks to make various mechanisms that would affect the pinball in different ways. Some ideas worked, some didn’t. Finally we looked at existing ball games such as Screwball Scramble and Mousetrap. We observed and made notes on the kinetic actions, what happened and why. We learnt so much!  

“We rose to the challenge in three stations of designing, making and creativity.  It was so much fun and I can’t wait for the next session”

“My challenge of the day was building the pinball machine from cardboard but it worked!”

“I really liked how everybody got very stuck into this project.  Mr Lusk forgot that two boys were there because they were so involved”

“I was delighted with the way all the children were quickly engaged with the different challenges, reluctantly moving on from work station to work station as the allocated time was up” (staff member)

Session 2: 9th February 2017
Now we are in the swing of things. We are developing our pinball wizard brains to think about kinetics and forces and how they relate to each other. Craig has manufactured a basic wooden box (that we designed in the last session), which will be the start for our pinball machine. Excited by the idea that our work will go on public display in an art gallery, we felt enthusiastic and aimed to do our best. We looked at further design work and set ourselves a very specific construction challenge: to make a fully working loop-the-loop. We used a new material called aluminium mesh, which has material memory. This means that when you bend it, it stays where it is. We experimented with different entrance ramps, loop sizes and types of balls and sure enough every single one of us made a working loop-the- loop. One group have even started a double one! Finally we started the base painting on the main sculpture. We used professional paint and so needed professional techniques such as the up and down motion stroke, which keeps the painting neat and tidy. We have now gained the knowledge and created a foundation for making some impressive work in the next sessions.

“Me and Ethan made a fantastic loop-the-loop. The gravitational pull forced the ball to go around the loop”

“Year 5 made the loop-the-loops with aluminium metal, it could bend both ways which is called double curvature”

“I enjoyed painting the start of the pinball machine. We learnt how to use up and down motion strokes, which make our painting much neater”

“I designed the pinball backdrop and am starting the three-dimensional drawing techniques, which is new to me”

“I designed a three-dimensional pinball machine that will become a real working machine. That is why a design is different to a normal drawing, it becomes real”

“I have been very impressed today by the creativity and the focus but more importantly the resilience. A number of first ideas didn’t work but the eventual solutions to problems were found in a creative and scientific way” (staff member)

Session 3: 3rd March 2017
After a great session last week and with only one week left and a lot to do, we were looking forward to getting going today. We had three activities during the two-hour session today and each one challenged us in different ways. In the first we looked at the designs for our pinball machine that we did last week to decide which one we were actually going to paint. We chose the one we are calling ‘rainbow swirls’ – it is multi-coloured and looks like waves. We had to really concentrate on the painting because the colours followed all around the box and you had to make sure you got it right. Secondly we looked at a simple mechanism, the device that fires the pinball at the beginning of the game.  It has five parts: a spring, a piece of dowel, a washer, a framework and a stop screw. We took the mechanism apart and identified the function of each piece. Finally and most excitingly we started designing and building special features for the pinball machine. They had to be our own designs and could be anything from a tunnel for the ball to fire through to a ramp it jumps over or a cup it needs to land in. It’s going to be so exciting to see the machine finished and be able to play with it.

“I really enjoyed the challenge of team painting. We had to organise who would paint what colour and where. It sounds simple but it was not”

“I was really proud that my design was used to add colour and design onto the main sculpture we are making”

“The idea I have is to make a tunnel so the ball disappears and you are like ‘Oh where’s the ball gone?’ and then the ball flies out and takes you by surprise”

“I combined my activity with my friend to make a competition pinball machine, we lifted them up in the middle which meant there was a point where gravity could pull it to either end”

“It was a great moment when I left the classroom for a short time and returned to see every student engaged and enjoying what they were working on. It’s clear to see the learning in every aspect of what they are doing” (staff member)

Session 4: 13th March 2017

Today we brought our project to a close. We have challenged ourselves all the way through but today we had to perfect and apply what we have learnt. We experimented with firing devices, looking at different springs and balls to decide which one would work best with our machine. We decided a tight, strong spring worked well and so we attached this onto our machine. We were also introduced to many new tools but had to be extremely careful, remembering how important safety is. We used saws, hammers and even had a very careful go with a drill. We cut wood to size to make the bats that hit the ball, and we attached elastic bands to them so they spring back. We made many miniature versions of our mechanical component ideas so that Craig can finish off the machine with more permanent techniques. We think it will be the best piece in the exhibition and all our friends and family are going to love having a go with it.

“Take science, mix it with art and you get fun”

“I knew my design would be used in the final piece, I’m really a very good artist”

“I really enjoyed using the miniature pinball machines because it was just like using a real one but I knew how it all worked – because I made it”

“I really enjoyed using the tools and being safe, I feel more confident to build things on my own now”

“We have worked in four sessions now and I have noticed a marked improvement in the skills and focus of many of the children involved. I’m sure they will be asking about their pinball machine for weeks. It’s great to have them feel such a sense of achievement and ownership”   Staff member

Some feedback from our Cummins buddy

“The experience taught me about the power of a 9 year-old child’s imagination. When brainstorming for design concepts for the pinball machine, one child came up with the idea of using electro-magnets to complete certain challenges whilst another talked about using the angle of the board to control speed and direction – brilliant and very do-able concepts to challenge the pinball machine player.” Uday Ahuja – Cummins Turbo Technologies

A few final words from our teacher

“Craig was an excellent artist to work with and, more importantly, caught and maintained the children’s scientific and artistic interest in the Pinball Machine project.  He was engaging and enthusiastic about the learning challenges the children faced in the project and stressed how they would be supported fully as they experimented and tested out ideas. They are very much looking forward to viewing their piece of work at the Batley Art Gallery exhibition later in the Summer Term. This is a wonderful project which offers many unique learning opportunities for the children.” Kevin Lusk – Year 5 Teacher