Thursday, September 23, 2010

Marshmallow Challenge

I look forward to sharing the Marshmallow Challenge with students every year.  The kids are already intrigued when you talk about anything with marshmallows, but they have no idea how much fun is in store for them during this class period!  Oh and science, too.  Fun and science is definitely a winning combination in my book.

This activity is an introduction to a STEM Challenge because students are designing prototypes of their marshmallow structure, but they are not formally following each step in the STEM Design Process.  The way this activity is structured allows student to naturally work without too much interference, which creates a fantastic talking point to bring up at the end of the activity.  Who stopped and tested, troubleshooted and adjusted?  Who built the structure as planned and only tested with a few seconds left?  What were the results for these different methods?  This will provide a lot of conversation as to why the STEM Design Process is important to follow in future STEM Challenges.

Another focus of this activity is to build collaboration and time-management skills.  The beauty of the Marshmallow Challenge is the way it allows people to work together and rally around each other.  For those reasons, this great activity can be used for any subject and any age.

So, how does it work?  Teams are challenged to design a free-standing marshmallow structure in 18 minutes with limited supplies that were provided by the teacher.  As the facilitator, you can acquire a lot of information about the people doing this activity as you walk around and observe.  Personality
traits will definitely appear - some will take charge while others hang back, some will build and build without testing along the way because they think they have a surefire plan for success, others will try something and test it then make changes along the way.  A teacher can definitely learn a ton about  the kids just in eighteen minutes!

Once the time is up, I like to have the kids throw their hands up in the air so we all know that no one is cheating and putting on any finishing touches.  Then, I walk around to measure any structures that are still standing with a meter stick.  The kids will wait with bated breath until I approach their table with the meter stick...hoping that the fragile marshmallow structure will last long enough "to count."  It's always fun to drum up friendly competition and offer a nice treat for the class champion - or even the grade level champion.  Students are always running into the classroom the next day to see what the grade level results were and how they compared.

In addition to the fun and games aspect of this activity, students are also critically thinking and collaborating.  All super important skills to activate and develop - especially after a long holiday or summer break!

Love this activity but short on time? Download either the SMART Notebook file or PowerPoint file that includes a visual aid for materials, activity guidelines, a timer slide, a data collection slide for class results, and extension questions as well as a detailed lesson plan and two-page student handout for planning and reflection.
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1 comment:

  1. This looks like a great activity! I can't wait to try it with my after school clubs. Thanks for sharing!