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The Marshmallow Challenge

Posted in American Culture by Bonnie Miller on 13 Mar 2015

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”― Benjamin Franklin

The Marshmallow Challenge is an instructive exercise which exemplifies out of the box thinking while promoting collaboration, and allows students to work together in an engaging pursuit. The activity: to build the highest tower made from strands of spaghetti, tape, and a marshmallow. The marshmallow must sit atop the structure. The team which builds the highest structure is awarded first place. While this seems to be a simple feat- it is not. Students were randomly placed on teams after picking numbers.

Why did we do it, and where did the idea come from? At Solex College, my advanced students are studying 21st century thinking, and we are supplementing our studies with videos called Ted Talks. One of our units called the Power of Change discussed this famous exercise by Tom Wujec entitled Build a tower, build a team. His talk was about the results he gleaned from doing this exercise. He has done it with thousands of people around the world. He shared that architects, engineers, and kindergarteners were the most successful. On the other hand, CEOs and new college grads in general, performed poorly. Some of the reasons for success came from strength in team building, collaboration and the willingness to use trial and error while building a tower.

Personally, as an instructor, I like to encourage activities that promote higher learning and critical thinking skills. My students should be challenged, active learners. This exercise promised to support our educational objectives while increasing engagement, focus and collaboration. Since ESL students’, language can be another barrier to achieving success, I was anxious to see how they would do. Valuable learning can come from achieving experiential outcomes. Experiential learning is active and student- centered. It involves problem solving and critical thinking skills. With this in mind- our timed activity began. Below are some of the pictures of our students participating, followed by their personal comments about their experience. Their responses illustrated their feelings regarding collaboration, team work and self- discovery.

"During lunch, I told my son that I had done “the marshmallow challenge” in the class with classmates and explained there were three groups with two partners. Since my son experienced the marshmallow challenge in his architecture class, we could share our feelings about the project.

First of all, it was really a fun activity because I could feel that our group was “one”. We worked together and were excited when the marshmallow was on the top. We did not argue at all and there was no complaining if other members gave opinions. We just tried whatever they had suggested, and moved our six hands as one hand when we were making the tallest tower.

Throughout the marshmallow challenge, we learned how to collaborate. We all had the same goal to make the tallest tower ,and to place the marshmallow on the top. Therefore, if people worked in a company, it is important to achieve their goal through collaboration. Even though, we were afraid of the marshmallow falling down when we put it on the top, the “Ta Da !” moment made us feel satisfied."

  • YoungKyung Lee

"Yesterday, I had a nice experience with the Marshmallow project. It was interesting because creativity and ingenuity were evaluated. We had three groups that were selected from picking a number out of a huge bag. The instructions were starting the construction of a building with some objects on each table. They were 28 pieces of fettuccine, 1 roll of tape, 1 yard of string, 1scissor, and 1 marshmallow. My group was integrated with Aidai and Niki.

I gave my idea for starting with the construction of the building but maybe this was not the best idea. My classmates were collaborating on the project with only 18 minutes to complete it. The time was too fast for us, and the construction was very fragile for standing up. Aidai and Niki did agree with the idea in the beginning, but they do not give me any other interesting ideas for starting our construction.

I learned in this project that the main idea needs to be ingenious and possible. Each member needs to collaborate with ideas in the beginning when starting a successful project. A leader of a company has an important job when giving bright ideas to the team. In the beginning of a business if the workers of the company could enjoy their work and feel like winners while supporting a successful project; they will be successful."

  • Fabiola Enriquez

" I liked the experiment. During the experiment I felt like I’m back in my childhood. It was interesting and fun to create something like that “tower” with other team ­members. In the beginning, we had an idea of how to build it but during our work we realized that it will not work that way, and we changed the idea to another one. It was good team­work. The project was not easy because of the materials that we were using but it was very exciting. I’ve learned from doing this project that I can organize people, and make them listen to what I say. I would say that I enjoyed knowing that people would listen to me and follow my lead."

  • Svetlana Glazova

"The marshmallow experiment was a great idea! I was a little bit skeptical about it at the beginning and I didn’t believe that there would be something that would surprise me during the experiment.Surprisingly, I learned a few things. First of all, I’ve noticed that people sometimes behave like ants. We didn’t assign our tasks but everybody knew what they should do. Second of all, the marshmallow was heavier than I thought it would be. I notice similarities between the marshmallow challenge and people’s daily basic problems. Sometimes some problems don’t seem to be difficult to solve, however in the process of working on the problem people find a lot of obstacles. What is more, I was astonished how fast the time past by when I’m focused on a task. We had almost 20 minutes to complete the challenge but I felt like it was only 5 minutes."

  • Pawel Cimek

"My experience of “Marshmallow Challenge”, which was done in our group, was very interesting for me. I am always interested in the “communicational” psychology, and my participation in this activity gave me an interesting experience about collaboration with people who have very different personalities and views. Personally, I strongly believe that teamwork is extremely important in every area of a person's life.

We face the “Marshmallow Challenge” in our everyday life. Our situation was stressful because it was time limited and needed people to create a solution (a strong and high tower with an unexpected marshmallow on the top.) Practices like this activity is important for a person to build “immunity” for real situations. Working in a team is not only about the teamwork or for business teams, but it also can be a husband and wife team. From the understanding how couples can work productively in stress situations can help throughout their lives. Also, I understood the importance of trying, the importance of acting, the importance of “building the prototype.” I understand that very often I spend a lot of time analyzing and creating my perfect plan in my mind: however, it is better to try “build” and then improve it during the building process. My team was not a winner, but I had good experience, and that was the most important part of this activity for me."

  • Aidai Nazarova

"It was so great to do Marshmallow Challenge, and I was so happy to be on my teams. My team did not win but my team’s outcome was more creative than other team. While doing this challenge, it showed that my team members were trying all the best to build a good one, and we had had a great collaboration, I was not a team leader but another guy was. Before starting this challenge he told us what he needed but we did not discuss the exact plan about what our tower shape is going to look like.

Honestly, I did not catch his idea but I tried to help him as much as possible. I tried to help and tried to understand at the same time. We collaborated very well even though the tower was built with an unclear plan. What I felt so sorry about this tower was, at first we did not focus on how to make this tower strong to stand with the marshmallow on the top. We needed to fix it when we found it could not stand after putting marshmallow on it. We had wasted our time on fixing, or we would have won this game, if we had enough time to build it taller.

I have learned from this game about how to be successful in life. Planning is very important for work; collaboration is a power to inspire the work running effectively."

  • Vuthy Tork