Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Marshmallow Challenge: Build a Tower, Build a Team

TED (conference)
TED (conference) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
One activity I love to do with fourth grade students each year in the classroom is the Marshmallow Challenge.  It originally appeared on the TED talks and has been replicated hundreds of times.

 I found it immediately intriguing the first time I heard about it.  You begin by giving each group of students the following items:

  1. Twenty sticks of spaghetti
  2. One large marshmallow
  3. A yard of masking tape
  4. A yard of yarn
Here are the supplies:

Okay, actually it just makes more sense to start that way in a blog... If you have worked with fourth graders before, you know that you never give the materials before giving them the instructions.  All you have to do is try that once and you realize that by the time you have given the instructions, the materials are probably ready for the trash can.  Here are the instructions:

Your team will  have fifteen minutes to create the tallest free standing tower you can with the supplies that you are given.  The marshmallow must go on the top of the structure.  The tower should be built on the table.  You may not add anything to the supplies you have been given.  

Next I allow some time to talk about the instructions.  We define free-standing.  We emphasize that the marshmallow goes on top.  I answer some questions.  

This activity has lots of appeal to students. It is:

  • Creative
  • Hands-on, active and interactive
  • Memorable
  • Challenging
After I give the instructions, I give the students five minutes or so to discuss the project and how they plan to carry it out. They draw or write a description of what they think the tower will look like.  They also estimate how long they think it will take their group to finish.  I've found this to be a necessary piece to the project so that they learn to plan rather than just jump in with little preparation. 

Sometimes the results are amazing:

Some groups create a more classic tower:

And then there are always the towers that never seem to make it up:

This activity has lots of applications.  I use it to talk about:
  • Setting goals and planning ahead
  • Working together/personality styles
  • Handling failure/Trying again
In addition to teaching these concepts, you also learn a lot about the individual students and the team they are a part of.

 I'd love to hear your feedback.  Anyone else tried the Marshmallow Challenge?  Do you know of similar activities that are engaging to students?

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  1. What a great project for kids to do! My daughter is in third grade...I think I'm going to try doing this with her. Great post!

  2. Oh, Lynne, this is a super idea for parents with small children! Fun, creative, imaginative - all the things that matter to young ones.
    Super post!

  3. @Jessica and Martha--thanks for stopping by!

  4. Hey Great Article about team building activities especially for kids.. Thanks for this info... Keep updating....

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