Monday, March 18, 2013

The Marshmallow Challenge: A lesson in innovation, creativity, and collaboration

I teach an option class called Innovation & Technology. In this class, my students design games using Scratch, a visual-based programming tool.

The new term just started last week, and I wanted to begin with some fun, engaging activities that would help students define what makes a good game, and what it means to be innovative and creative.

We started with The Marshmallow Challenge. Participants of the Marshmallow Challenge have eighteen minutes to design and build the tallest structure they can. They have twenty spaghetti noodles, one yard of masking tape, and one yard of string to build the tallest freestanding structure they can. And then, they have one marshmallow that MUST be placed at the top of the structure.

The lessons of this simple activity are actually very complex. Teams have to collaborate very quickly. The more the participants prototype and design ahead of time, the more successful they will be. And if teams take the weight of the marshmallow into account as they are building their structure, rather than placing it on top at the end and watching their structure collapse under the weight, they will also be much more successful. Successful teams use the constraints and parameters to their advantage. Tom Wujec explains:

Here's a photo of my students building a structure.

The tallest structure in my class was 26 inches. The shortest one was a marshmallow with one-inch legs.

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