Return of the Marshmallow Challenge!

Back by pop­u­lar demand, I ended our school year with “The Marsh­mal­low Chal­lenge”.  I first tried this activ­ity two years ago, after watch­ing an inspir­ing TED Talk by Tom Wujec.  The Marsh­mal­low Chal­lenge is a team-building exer­cise where groups of 2–3 have 18 min­utes to try to build the tallest free­stand­ing struc­ture — using just 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of mask­ing tape, one yard of string, and a marsh­mal­low.  And all kinds of learn­ing hap­pens in the process!  This would make a great team-building activ­ity for the begin­ning of the school year, too!

Mate­ri­als (per group of 2–3):
  • 20 sticks of spaghetti (uncooked!)
  • one yard of mask­ing tape (stick down on edge of desk)
  • one yard of string
  • one pair scissors
  • one reg­u­lar size marshmallow
(I put all the mate­ri­als for each group in a large clasp enve­lope (except for the tape!), and glued a 9x12 piece of con­struc­tion paper to the front — a dif­fer­ent color for each group.  This made pass­ing out sup­plies quick and easy!)

You will also need:
  • a large dig­i­tal timer (I down­loaded mine from bald
  • mea­sur­ing tape
  • music (optional — I made a playlist on iTunes of 5 songs that would end at exactly the moment the time was up!)
Direc­tions (repeat 2–3 times to make sure every­one understands!)

1. Divide stu­dents ran­domly into “teams” of 2–3.

2. Explain that they will have 18 min­utes to use the mate­ri­als in the enve­lope to try to build the tallest free­stand­ing struc­ture.  (“Free­stand­ing” means it can­not be taped down, and you can’t be hold­ing it when the time runs out — it must be able to stand on its own.)  Make sure they under­stand that you will be mea­sur­ing  to the top of the marshmallow.

3.Start the timer!  (While stu­dents are work­ing, I walk around and make sure they are under­stand­ing the direc­tions.  I will also announce things like, “The orange group has a struc­ture stand­ing!” or, “Five min­utes!”  Then every­one counts down together from “ten” down.

4. When the time is up, mea­sure the struc­tures that are stand­ing and announce the win­ner.  Have stu­dents give a round of applause (or a “stand­ing” ova­tion) to all the groups with struc­tures standing.

5. Ask stu­dents what they learned… what was the most chal­leng­ing thing about this and why?  

There is so much to be learned from this activ­ity.… sports­man­ship, team­work, not being mis­led by “false assump­tions” (like the marsh­mal­low being “light”!), and the impor­tance of test­ing your pro­to­types.  I did this with grades K-7, and even some adults wanted to give it a try.… just tai­lor your dis­cus­sion at the end to the age group you’re work­ing with.  If you can, watch the TED talk first for even more insight into why this is such a valu­able exercise!

Here are a few pic­tures… try to guess which grades they go with!

Yes, those last two are from my adorable Kinders.… they may not have been the tallest struc­tures, but they were stand­ing, and they would def­i­nitely score points for cuteness!

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  1. The Marshmallow Challenge and Working in Groups. | Mr Durant's Classroom Blog - April 7, 2014

    […] of the first things we did at the start of the term was an activ­ity called the Marsh­mal­low Chal­lenge.  To do this activ­ity we worked in groups to build the tallest free­stand­ing struc­ture we could […]

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