This year I was looking for something a little different to start the year. I had heard about The Marshmallow Challenge, and thought it was worth a look. I know there are many other blogs out there about teachers using this engineering & problem solving activity as a way to start their year. I decided I should try it out!!
To begin with, I had to learn exactly what this whole thing was! I googled “Marshmallow Challenge” and found about 3.1 million results. (This is obviously not a new idea!) I decided to look at the first result, which looked pretty official. Visit it by clicking here! After learning what I needed to do, a fellow teacher and I went to the local grocery store. Thankfully, the materials necessary for the marshmallow challenge are pretty simple (spaghetti, marshmallows, string, and tape), and I could find all of them without leaving my little town. I knew that each group needed 20 sticks of spaghetti, but a box of spaghetti doesn’t exactly tell you how many sticks there are! So, I bought 5 boxes of spaghetti (and used 1.5 – I guess we’re going to be eating pasta for a while at my house), 2 bags of marshmallows, and used tape and string I already had at school.
I knew that this would be a fun activity, and that the students would enjoy getting up and doing something after having sat and listened to rules and expectations all day, but I didn’t know how I was going to frame this up as a good “beginning the school year” activity. After watching the Ted talk on the website, I realized that I wanted to tell my students to think like kindergartners! Here is why:
1. Kindergartners have no fear of failure. They work hard to do their best, no matter what the expected result. I want my students to push themselves, and not worry about failure, because they know that, in the end, they tried their hardest and put in full effort.
2. Kindergartners constantly test their ideas, check their work, and don’t wait until the last moment! I have tried for years to convince my students that studying the night before a test is not the best way to do it. I thought this illustration was a good way to talk about procrastination on the first day! I challenged students to be more like kindergartners, and check their progress repeatedly, not just at the last minute.
In addition to being able to discuss these two points, the challenge also introduced ideas of working in a group, participating in experiments and activities, and using problem solving and critical thinking skills. I love that there isn’t one right answer, and that all the students seemed to enjoy themselves! Check out the gallery for some pictures of my student’s work!