The marshmallow challenge is a design exercise that encourages teams of students to experience innovation, problem-solving while collaborating with peers. This 45-minutes activity also serves as an introduction to engineering design principles. This activity requires 20 sticks of spaghetti (uncooked), one meter of string, scissors, and one marshmallow for each team of students. You will also need measuring tape to determine the height of each final product, and a method of counting down the time. After dividing students into pre-assigned teams, explain to them that their task is to build the tallest “freestanding” structure using the resources included. They may not suspend their structure or use a chair or other device to increase the height. The entire marshmallow must be on the top of the structure—the marshmallow must not be cut or have any parts eaten. The team may use as many items or as few items from the kit as they want. They may cut the string and/or break the spaghetti. They may not however use the paper bag. Teams will have exactly 18 minutes to complete the task. Repeat the directions as often as necessary. You may also want them posted during the activity. Once you have begun the countdown clock, walk around the room while the students are working—provide general encouragement but do not provide any specific directions about building the structures. Periodically remind students of the remaining time to help them stay on track. Encourage friendly competition by giving progress updates on the teams. Once you call time, measure each of the structures from shortest to tallest. Record the heights, especially if there are multiple classes participating in the activity. Identify the winning team and make sure everyone claps for them. Once the challenge is completed, the real lessons begin as you deconstruct the activity with your students. First ask students how long their group spent on each stage of the process. Why did they choose to proceed the way they did? Share with them that typically adult groups will spend time orienting themselves to the task, then lots of time planning and determining roles before they finally they begin building, which often does not lead to the highest structures. In contrast, younger students, especially kindergartners, frequently spend minimal time on planning and immediately begin trying out ideas, then refining them until their time is up. Often their structures are higher than even most adults create in the same time frame. The TedEx talk referenced on the last slide provides more details on how this activity works with adults and small children. Introduce students to the engineering design process. The first step is to define the problem they’re trying to solve. Asking questions such as “what is the problem?”, “What are the parameters of the project?”, What is the goal?”. This stage includes gathering information and conducting research. The second stage includes brainstorming different designs—students should be creative and explore possibilities, even if they seem impossible because they can lead to innovative and plausible solutions. Choosing the design with the most promise begins the planning stage. Drawing a diagram of the idea is one strategy for tackling the design. What resources and tools are needed? What tests might be used to assess progress? After planning, begin to create a prototype—you may need to define a prototype for your students as an early version of a design, such as a mockup or model. Once a prototype is developed, begin analyzing how the model can be improved—anything missing? Are the requirements met? Is there a way to make it lighter? Heavier? Simpler? Taller? Less expensive to make? Make new designs and create new prototypes Iterate the process as many times as necessary. Once you have explained the concepts in the engineering design process, shift the conversation to how the groups worked as teams. Have them explore and explain which roles students played. Was there anyone who had specialized skills? For example, had anyone done an activity like this before? Did anyone take a leadership role? Was their anyone who was good at organizing the team? What would have happened if everyone had been a leader? If no one had any specialized skills or knowledge? This activity works well with elementary students but the focus will shift more towards becoming comfortable with thinking innovatively and understanding the basic engineering design process. Instead of having them explain how long they spent on each phase of the activity, simply have them explain how they completed the project. Ask them what worked well and what they’d do differently. This lesson has been modified from an exercise designed by Peter Skillman for companies to learn design methods of prototyping, refining and working collaboratively. You may find the website, marshmallowchallenge.com, helpful. Older students may also enjoy watching the TedEx talk posted on this site.