This exercise allowed them to collaborate, actively search for,
and apply (critically think about) concepts and principles
in an engaging and memorable manner.
About a year ago I learned of the “Marshmallow Challenge.” The video at the end of this blog post will give you a quick visual overview of the project. Here is the short story—and how I help my students to relate and apply the challenge to the major concepts of their semester’s work.
On the last day of the semester as my students enter the room, I randomly direct them into groups (the goal being four per group). Each group receives the following:
- 20 sticks of uncooked spaghetti
- 1 yard of string
- 1 yard of masking tape
- 1 scissors
- 1 regular-sized marshmallow
Their task is to build the tallest free-standing structure they can using only the materials I provide. They can cut the string and tape; they can break the spaghetti; they can use the tabletop; and the whole unaltered marshmallow has to be on the top of their structure. They have 18 minutes to complete the task. To keep time, I use an online stopwatch and project it on the screen (http://www.online-stopwatch.com/).
You can create an 18-minute music soundtrack if you would like. (I have done the activity with and without music.) Music or not, the noise level will increase rapidly as the groups get into this activity quickly and passionately. Last summer I did the challenge with 85 college faculty members in a training session I facilitated. They were every bit as passionate as the students!
When teams complete their structure I measure and record the height. This semester the tallest came in at 23.00 inches.
Invariably, structures collapse and are rebuilt. Laughter and camaraderie always ensue.
My twist on the challenge is to ask the students to reflect on the course concepts the exercise reinforced. Their insights always impress me. With this simple 18-minute exercise they apply some of the major concepts from their semester’s worth of learning. Pretty cool.
My student success classes connected the exercise to the significance of:
|Compromise||Kinesthetic style||Priorities||Unequal resources|
|Quick doesn’t equal quality||Group dynamics||Energy vampires||Excuses|
|Failure can lead to progress||Focusing on your base||Balance||Civility|
And I do this in my United States History classes as well as in my student success classes. My history students made these metaphorical connections:
|Our nation needs a strong foundation||Our nation collapsed during the Civil War|
|Our nation rebuilt after the Civil War||Settlers had limited resources to survive|
|Diversity of skills and ideas = success||Leaders accept input|
|Listening is important||Assumptions can lead to problems/divisions|
|A nation must pay attention to the basics||Build a nation one piece/step at a time|
|Government can become top heavy||Capitalism is about competition|
|Marshmallow = government that holds people together||Spaghetti = the people who support the government|
|All parts require interdependence||Collaboration needed to build a nation|
I could have conducted a review lecture about the main concepts. I could have handed them a piece of paper with the concepts listed. I could have even made them take a paper and pencil test. This activity allowed them to collaborate, actively search for, and apply (critically think about) concepts and principles in an engaging and memorable manner. Practical. Engaging. Reflective. Consolidating. Validating.
Video recommendation for the week:
Enjoy your week—and H.T.R.B.as needed!
My 2013 webinar series will be announced in the very near future. The theme for the coming year is THE YEAR OF THE DREAM! Check my website for the most up-to-date information. Thank you for your support.
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©2012. Steve Piscitelli.