I learned about the Marshmallow Challenge about 5 years ago and I’ve been doing it with classes ever since! It’s always fun to see what a new class with do with the challenge–how they tackle it, how tall their towers are, what strategies they use to work as a team, etc. Like with most years, we did it twice, with a debrief in the middle to help us think about what worked and what we could change.
We had an ok start, and kids took pretty quickly to what they were supposed to do. Teams (which I chose ahead of time and are groups we will use periodically all year) worked well and learned to negotiate who did what/when/how, etc. After our first round–where all of the towers fell over–we talked together on the carpet:
The black words are from our first conversation; the green arrows denote the things we changed that made our second went much better. So yeah–spoiler alert!–we tried again and this time teams were much more successful. Successful, we thought, meant that our towers stood up and everyone participated and helped the activity work.
Check out our 2nd go-round:
Our final towers were pretty impressive and our teams were pretty proud!
Since we had been studying slow changes and fast changes in Science for a while anyway, it made perfect sense to try it out! And unfortunately, there had also just been some major earthquakes in both Japan and Ecuador that same weekend, so the idea of creating earthquake proof buildings was a real life one to solve. And yeah, it would be fun. 🙂
We began by reading a pretty great Seymour Simon book on earthquakes to gain more information, and answer any questions that might come up about how they work. Knowing exactly what happens helps us build stronger buildings that would withstand the tremors.
We talked and discussed and made predictions and inferences. Then we got with our partners and planned–most on paper and some with some help from their iPad.
Then we got busy building. The 1st building part was actually spread over two days (an afternoon and then the next morning) because we ran out of time.
We used this design cycle protocol to help us know what to do, and wrote down the timing so we could keep on track.
Some even tried out their prototype on the earthquake machine before the “real” deal. They got some ideas about redesign or shoring up their foundations.
Caught some groups in their planning stages:
We took videos of our trials, and many kiddos voiced their ideas for redesign in their recordings. We all did some writing/thinking about it, but I’ll share those in another post, since after I add our videos, this piece will already take you 7 hours to read it! Thanks for hanging in there–it’s worth it, I promise!!
We had an amazing 1st-day-back-from-Spring-Break today! Our principal, Mrs. Sisul, has been learning about engineering and STEM with Legos, and volunteered to come set us up with some Lego challenges if we were interested. Well, yes, of course, Rm. 202 friends were interested! Luckily she was free this afternoon and came on up with her big ‘ole box of Legos! Check out what happened! 🙂
She started with a quick reminder of what STEM means (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), and then introduced what we would be doing: every kid would get a card with a challenge and they would work to do that challenge with Legos. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, they she led us through a great line of thinking about how we work best, and how kiddos would have the choice of how they tackled the challenge: alone, with a partner, a group of 3, a group of 4–whatever worked for each kiddo. She shared her example that she knows that as a learner she likes to be able to bounce ideas off of another learner, and so she’d focus on finding another person to work with. She asked me to share my strategy, and I talked about how I knew that that plan would DEFINITELY not work for me. I am the kind of learner who needs to process and plan by myself first, and then I might want to work with someone else to blend ideas, get a critique or ask a question. I know that if I went with a partner right off the bat, I wouldn’t have anything to share with them–so if I was Mrs. Sisul’s partner, I wouldn’t be a very helpful partner! Right off the top I could tell that Rm. 202 kiddos were thinking about what would work for them, and they knew what would be best. We had all sorts of groups–singles, partners and groups of 3. Some kiddos worked alone, but right next to another friend so they could get feedback that way.
Ok, once teams were developed, Mrs. Sisul gave the guidelines for how kiddos would get their Legos. She walked them through a planning session where they were to really think through what kinds of Legos they’d need. She would call names of kiddos 3-4 at a time, and they’d have 30 seconds to “block shop” and then get started. Once everyone had an initial visit to the pile, they were free to come back for more. And since it would be virtually impossible for me to explain the amazingness with which these kiddos followed this protocol, I had to record it. Check out what it was like when Mrs. Sisul dumped the Legos:
Once we got started, I roamed around and got some footage of them working. I know, kiddos wanted me to do the challenges, too–but I couldn’t document it to share with you if I did that! Maybe next time. 🙂
Here are some videos that share more of their thinking while they got started:
This one has some great thinking about what happens when things are hard (which this was for some of us!):
There’s one more, and it’s really the one I’m the most tickled about. It’s an example of what happened in our room when we put 20 kids and 2000 Legos together. I want you to think about what you see first, but then I’ll tell you why I liked it:
As I watched this video, I noticed these things:
pleases and thank yous
kiddos finding pieces for others
everyone just taking what they needed
no one grabbing, hogging or arguing
kiddos respectfully letting others into the circle
What did you see? (Please leave us a comment and let us know–Rm. 202 kiddos would LOVE to hear what you thought and would LOVE to know you watched their super hard working!)
Ok, I know you’re wondering what some of those challenges looked like, and how they tackled them. Here are some examples. And yes, they told me I could. 🙂
This was definitely one of those touchstone moments in our classroom that we will return to for many days and weeks to come (darn, I only wish we’d done it earlier in the year!). I know that we walked away with many things (and I hope to share what those were in THEIR WORDS soon), but one of them definitely was that there is not one way to solve a problem. We could each access each of these challenges in our own way, and use whatever skills, ideas–and Legos!–that we wanted to in order to achieve our goal. One friend even decided to do the same challenge twice to make it even harder for himself! We are builders and thinkers and problem-solvers in Rm. 202 and this was definitely right up our alley! Come back any time, Mrs. Sisul!
Last year, when my friend Genie told me about the Marshmallow Challenge, I was on board from minute 1. I knew I would do it again this year, too, but just maybe a little later than my original plan from last year, based on our new plans for doing community building. So this year, we waited a little longer, and today was Marshmallow Challenge day.
Just like last year, we worked within these guidelines:
Ok, well almost the same rules. I realized when I opened the box that I had thin spaghetti, so I gave them 5 extra pieces. 🙂 The rest was the same.
First we reviewed our norms and the directions, then I set the timer and they set off to work.
At the end of the 18 minutes, everyone stepped away….and….we saw all but one of the towers fall. 😦
Now, while the stated goal of the challenge is to build a tower that stays standing, the real goal of the activity is to work well enough with your group that that other goal can happen. So what we needed to find out is what happened that made it hard for us to achieve our goal today. We met on the carpet to discuss plusses (things that we did that HELPED us do well, or that went well) and deltas (things we would CHANGE to make it better next time).
Here’s the chart we made:
We talked about our thoughts, and whether or not it was a coincidence that the 1 group whose tower stood is also the only group who put any plusses on our list. Obviously, it was not a coincidence.
So my next question was “So what do we do next? What do we do with this information?” The answer (from more than one person) was “Clean up?” Well…yes, but that was not quite the level of problem solving I was hoping to hear.
So now I’m asking myself, what do I do with this info? We’ve obviously still got a ways to go before most of us are ready to do something this tricky. Today’s challenge, and the debrief that followed is telling me we still need to work on how to accept and appreciate the perspectives of others and not just consider our own. We still need to work on using kind, patient voices with our classmates. We still need to learn how to include everyone in an activity and give everyone an equal say. We still need to learn to be gritty when something is hard or doesn’t work right on the first try.
So that’s what we’ll do. And while we were not quite ready to take the Marshmallow Challenge today, someday–probably sooner than later–we will be. And we’ll do it again. 🙂
Oh, but one more thing. Here’s a pic of the group who was able to build a standing tower. Way to go, friends!
Can’t wait to share this again when we have our Marshmallow Challenge 2.0–Take 2!
Here’s a post about another team building activity we did the other day. And boy, did it take some GRIT! Some grit that we had to dig really deep for, too. 🙂
The basic premise of the game is that each person in the group has a folder with pieces of different squares. In total, the group needs to end up with 5 equal-sized squares. The catch? No one can talk. You can’t ask anyone else for pieces, but you can give pieces to other people in your group if you think they need them.
At first, this was a really tricky task! The biggest problem? Everyone was trying to do it on their own! Pretty much the opposite of how the game works! You would not believe the sounds I heard during this activity–it’s too bad I didn’t take any video. Most sounds were moans and groans as they tried to figure out what to do, except for from Table 6 (see above)–their group had “tweeting” or “chirping” sounds happening during this task. I soon figured out that that was the sound of them digging deep to find their grit. Whatever works, right?
However, I mentioned that some of us really struggled, and that was something that could be seen as well as heard. Within the first few minutes, there were twisted-up “thinking” faces, frowns and furrowed brows. One friend was even laying over the seat of his chair upside down. Frustration abounded. But nope–they could not and would not give up. 🙂
Eventually it was time for lunch, and so we left to chow–and left our game just as it was, planning to return after we’d had some time to breathe. As I was sharing the story of our struggle with some friends at lunch, Mrs. Berger said something about needing to see things in another way. This was genius! It gave me an idea for how we could switch things up after we came back.
Once we were back in the room and ready to get started again, kiddos returned to their tables, but they had to sit at a DIFFERENT seat than where they were sitting before. Groups got started again and slowly, but surely, I started to get hands raised (which was the sign that they had gotten it!). 🙂
As we debriefed after we were finished, I asked each group what they thought it was that helped them the most. Without fail, groups mentioned that seeing it from another angle helped them–then could see the puzzle from a different point-of-view and think in another way. Thanks for the suggestion, Mrs. Berger–it’s just what we needed! 🙂
…what teachers do on their plan time? If you’re a teacher then probably not (unless you wondered what other teachers do on their plan times), but if you’re a student or a parent–I’m about to let you in on a little secret. Ready? We plan things. Ok, that’s not fair (and it’s a little snarky. Sorry. 🙂 ). But really, we do. And often (as with my fabulous team this year!) we do it together.
Sometimes we get the luxury of double plan-times (which is really just a fancy way of saying we have a big 2-hour chunk to work with instead of just 50 minutes), and it’s during those that BIG things happen. Like just last week when we were doing this together:
See the work there? Can you figure out what we were doing? Those pictures, my friends, are our notes from time spent chewing on a volume pre-assessment. We were trying to create something that was engaging, real-life and challenging all in one. We even had the idea of creating two separate scenarios to interest different kiddos (one was Legos and the other was related to cupcakes). I LOVED how well we worked together in this session, how we each brought something different to the table (and to the whiteboard!), and how we ended up with a great pre-assessment to use that is equal parts us and equal part awesome.
Have I mentioned before that MY TEAM ROCKS? If you haven’t been to their blogs lately to see what’s going on in Rm. 201 and Rm. 203, do it! Now. 🙂 Please? 🙂
I met with my team today–the fabulous Mrs. Hong and Ms. Turken–to talk about how to integrate reading, writing and sci/ss, as well as to update our curriculum calendar. We only had 2 hours blocked out on the calendar, and so in some ways those were really big plans. And we started 45 minutes late. 🙂
So, as we sat down and tried to tackle reworking the curriculum calendar (based on new Common Core standards, district resources and just things we wanted to change), we realized we had lots of work to do BEFORE we could address that problem. You know how it goes, before you can do the job you actually sat down to do, you have to do this and before that you have to do this….we were in that boat.
We are wanting to reorganize our thinking and our schedule to allow for more integration, working Social Studies and Science topics into everything rather than having things so compartmentalized and isolated from each other. But we had plans to UbDize (yep, just made up that word) our SS curriculum and organize our units around common EQs for each quarter. But like I said before, it’s easier said than done.
And then there’s my crazy brain that isn’t just quite ready to think about these things. For one thing, I have to have my space all done before I can planning for what we will do in that space. Since it’s not even August, I do not have my classroom put together yet. Granted, I do have all of my furniture where it will go and have big ideas for where things will go and what it will look like, but it’s not done yet. And I have plans for how I want to redo parts of my classroom library. And I haven’t met my class yet.
That last part is really the biggest piece of the puzzle that makes it hard for me to complete the calendar. So in the mean time, I feel like I am facing an
I know–you’re thinking, “Well, duh, Mrs. Bearden. Isn’t the beginning of the year always uncertain? You never really know what the school year will bring or what every detail of every day will look like.” And no, I don’t have a crystal ball or any tarot cards, and so I guess in a way I always face an uncertain future at this point in the year.
But the reason why it so affects me is because I have such a hard time making decisions about things I’ll do and ways to go without actually knowing my students. So much of where we go and how we get there depends on what my students need, and where they are when we start. I have information and data about these things on paperwork (transition reports, testing scores, Lexile levels, etc.) from previous teachers, but until I really see what it looks like for actual kids in my actual space, I can’t really get a feel for it. (My family has always said that I don’t have much of an imagination–maybe this is proof of that! 🙂 )
But obviously I can’t just not make plans. I can’t not work with my team. I can’t not try to figure it out now, because I owe it to these new students of mine to have at least an idea of where we will go, and how we might get there. If not, then we’ll never get there. And that’s definitely not an option.
Along the way I’ll tweak the plans–adjusting and reworking based on personalities, learning styles, academic and social needs, interests–and I’ll be totally ok with that. And then, at the end of the year, I’ll look back at the plans we made around the table today in the summer and laugh, because of how different they are. But I gotta start somewhere.
How does your “summer brain” work? In what order do you do your work–space first or plans first? How does your team work before school starts to map our curriculum/unit plans? I’d love your thoughts and/or advice! 🙂