Here is the challenge…
20 sticks of spaghetti
1 metre of tape
1 metre of string
In a group of 4 people you have 18 minutes to make the tallest freestanding structure you can. The marshmallow needs to be on the top of the tower.
You can read more about it here.
We decided to have a go.
We are Scientists,
we are Technology experts,
we are Engineers,
we are Artists and
we are Mathematicians.
Before we started we talked about it. We thought it would be easy. We thought we would make really tall towers. We had lots of ideas.
We set the timer for 18 minutes. It was up on the Whiteboard so everyone could see. We got into groups of 4. We checked that we had everything we needed. We knew what we were going to do. We knew that we were going to work as a team to build a tower. We had our cameras ready to take photos or videos of each other. We were ready!
What was KC expecting?
KC were very excited by the prospect of a challenge. We loved the idea of trying to build a tower and we thought it was going to be really easy to build an amazing structure. The students knew that they would need to work together as a team in order to come up with a solution. They were ready with their cameras to record the process.
What was I expecting?
I knew that the marshmallow challenge would be exciting. I knew that my students would have lots of ideas that they wanted to test out. They love sharing their ideas during class discussions and we spend time listening to each others ideas everyday. I was hoping that they would be working together as a team to share their ideas and use the time effectively. I knew that underestimating my class would be a mistake. I was looking forward to seeing what they came up with. We spend a lot of time in KC recording our learning with the cameras so I knew my #studentphotographers would take some great photos. I was interested in hearing their ideas and seeing their teamwork.
Here are some photos of what happened.
What did KC learn from doing the Marshmallow Challenge?
At the end of the challenge we did not have any towers that were standing up. We had ideas that we found tricky to put into practice. We found out that spaghetti is brittle and therefore it is not the ideal building material. We found out that working as a team is harder than we thought. We have to listen to each others ideas and give them a go. Some teams did this really well. Other teams forgot that they were building one tower all together and tried to make four towers. We found out that 18 minutes is quite a bit of time but we also found out that sometimes having the time tick away on the countdown timer is distracting for what we are trying to do. We found out that trying to make a tower out of spaghetti, tape and string is lots of fun even if we don’t end up with a free-standing tower.
What did I learn from KC doing the Marshmallow Challenge?
During the challenge I saw lots of things happening. I saw conversations going on between students who wanted to test out an idea. I saw my students persevering even when their first idea didn’t work. I saw some students get distracted by the camera or the timer or the marshmallow and forget about the tower. I saw a few students find out that breaking spaghetti into tiny pieces is really fun but in the end you are left with a pile of spaghetti. I saw students who took great photos and videos. There was a buzz of activity in the classroom that you only get when students are on task and engaged. I saw leaders stand up and demand attention from their teammates as they took charge and started building.
What was tricky?
The number one thing we found tricky was working with the spaghetti. We found that when you tried to use it and connect it together it sometimes broke. We had great ideas about making the tower really tall by taping bits of spaghetti together but getting it to stand up was really hard. Some groups also found it tricky to work together and listen to each others ideas. We need to practise that so that we get better at it.
What misconceptions did I have that I needed to reconsider?
Before starting this engineering challenge I had an assumption that it could be difficult for my Kindergarten students to understand what they needed to do. What I found is that it was engaging and exciting for the whole class.
I underestimated in my own mind who would be the most engaged students. My class are all working hard with their reading and writing, and just like in any class there is a range of abilities and progress. What I observed was that the students that I thought would take the lead and guide the discussion were not the ones who did. Those who need lots of support to write down their ideas every other day had lots of ideas to share and listened to each other. The creativity, discussion and teamwork that I saw came from students with a wide range of writing and reading ability. This was not a written challenge so it did not hold them back. It was a reminder to me to keep giving my students lots of different ways to express and explore their ideas as they continue to build their writing and reading skills.
Giving students a real problem to solve and some tools to get creative was incredibly rewarding. My class did not end the challenge with any free-standing towers but they did end the challenge with excitement and ideas and a sense of accomplishment because they had a go.
The end product of this challenge is not the tower. It is the persistence, the testing, the teamwork and the creativity. Building my students up to be creative thinkers, testers and communicators will help them learn. It will help them to fail and then modify until they find a solution they are happy with. It will help them become the Scientists, the Technology Experts, the Engineers, the Artists (Designers) and the Mathematicians of our world.
The challenge I have now set for myself is to give them more opportunities to design, build and communicate their ideas and work together to build on each others’ ideas.
I repeated this challenge with the other classes in Kindergarten at my school. Stay tuned for my next post.