In 2012, Mrs. Hong brought the Marshmallow Challenge to Robinson. Since then I’ve done it with almost every grade I’ve taught (5th then 2nd and now 1st graders!). It’s been interesting to see what each group of kiddos excels with and which parts of the challenge are hardest for each group.
Just as a reminder, the rules are as such:
We used these same guidelines, except that kiddos had 25 sticks of spaghetti and we only had 15 minutes. Otherwise, the challenge was the same.
We worked in our Crews, which are small groups we use throughout the year in different situations, but that stay the same all year long. It should be noted that we hadn’t worked with this group for a while….
Anyway, groups got started and were off to the races. For the record, I noticed that only 1 group decided to draw a plan before they got started.
Kids had a variety of ways to tackle the challenge, with many groups thinking about squares as the base of the tower, but not quite figuring out how to connect that idea to the final product. Many groups seemed to be working individually at the same table, rather than together on the final tower.
And at the end of the 15 minutes, we had these towers:
The only tower that was standing belonged to Crew 6. And as you can see, there are not squares to be found, but many towers with lots of legs sticking out of the bottom of the marshmallow.
The next morning we debriefed this experience, thinking about things we’d keep the same (plusses) and things that we would change (deltas). Perhaps it was because of how I asked them to think about the question (or perhaps just because we had a really hard time!), but there were not many plusses, just a team or two that said that Crew 6’s design was a good one. No one mentioned anything that kiddos had done or how we had worked together that worked to make us successful. We did, however, have many things to say about what we’d change. Many kiddos from all the crews gave ideas, but basically the class agreed that we didn’t do a very good job of telling our groups what we were doing. We didn’t share out ideas with our friends and pretty much were only concerned with our own ideas. And so as you can guess, it didn’t go so well.
BUT, because we know that FAIL means First Attempt In Learning and because–since we are Roadrunners– we have grit and a growth mindset, we knew we could try again, change somethings and see how what happened differently.
The second go-round I had kids start with a 3-minute talk about what they would specifically do differently. Most teams decided to draw a plan this time, too.
After 3 minutes, teams got busy building.
This try brought up a really interesting problem. About 5 minutes in, I started to hear rumblings of teams who were “copying.” Shortly I had heard from all the crews individually that someone from another team had “copied” their idea and stolen their plan for their tower.
We had to stop the clock and have a quick conference on the rug. I had kiddos voice their concerns about what was happening and why they were upset. Someone complained that another group was doing the same thing as they were. “So what?” was my response. I’m pretty sure they weren’t sure what to say, so I pressed harder. “Why does that bother you? Say more about why it’s a big deal that another team “stole” your idea.” We had to then get to an understanding of the challenge, and that everyone could “win,” based on the way the challenge was laid out. The idea was not for some team to be better than another one, but that it was possible for everyone to have an idea that was successful, resulting in a tower that stood up tall. We talked about the idea of that old adage: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” and how when someone uses an idea you have, you should be proud (rather than mad) because it means they thought it was a good one. Ms. Mimlitz and I gave honest examples of how many of our best ideas were inspired by things others had done or said.
I wonder if the angst was really because of a mental-model they all have (even at 6 years old) that “copying” is “cheating” and this is inherently BAD. I would rather them learn that in many cases sharing so that others can be successful is a GREAT thing; when someone else succeeds, it doesn’t mean you have failed. It actually doesn’t say anything about you at all!
After this little pow-wow, we got back to work, with teams asking each other about what they were doing, and visiting others’ workspaces to see another crew’s plans. In the end, I believe that everyone had the same design (we’ll work on innovation and differences later, the big lesson this time was about sharing!), but I believe that most tables had a tower that was standing! For sure we all ended this challenge with smiles on our faces, new understandings about success and excitement about solving our next problem!
Crew 1 and their tower
Crew 2 (I promise it was standing just before this!)
Crew 3 and their marshmallow tower
Crew 4–all smiles about their tower!
Crew 5 is pretty proud!
Crew 6 with smiles and a standing tower!