Everything I Know I Learned From the #MarshmallowChallenge

Monday, October 5, 20155:53 PM

I made a decision to start this year differently. I pride myself on my student-centered, technology-forward teaching, but realized that this didn’t start until a few months into the school year, typically. Instead, I made a conscious effort to talk less, focus on students more, and avoid the whole class “sage on the stage” approach more than ever before. If I’m talking to students, and not with them, it’s not the best way to engage and empower my students.

So instead of reviewing rules or reading the syllabus, we started the school year with the #MarshmallowChallenge. My presentation for students is here and the official website is at http://marshmallowchallenge.com.

The rules are simple: 

With your team, use the supplies in your kit to create the largest freestanding structure possible.
  • the entire marshmallow must be on top 
  • use as much or as little of the kit 
  • break up anything as necessary 
  • the challenge lasts 18 minutes 

I added an additional layer here by asking the students to document their progress and product through pictures, videos, and Tweets. 

Afterwards, we discussed their efforts, watched Tom Wujek’s TED Talk, and reflected on the work and observations on Google Classroom. It was such a cool activity to watch as the teacher. I’m a huge fan of data--I love forms, sheets, and student information systems. But I know that my students are people, first and foremost, and realized that I can learn so much meaningful information about them through a challenge like this one. 

This fun, team building exercise taught me everything I needed to know about my students: Who worked well in groups? Which students like to play? Where are my creative ones? Who are the leaders? The followers? Who has trouble following? Which students are literal? Abstract thinkers? Problem solvers? In 18 minutes, I saw more than students’ academic and behavioral histories could ever tell me.

And here’s the best part: So did they.

The students’ reflections revealed that they saw it all, too, and that’s what fascinated me most of all. Below, I’ve included a handful of anonymous student responses. They were asked to reflect on their product, process, and group work, and to explain why they think I assigned this project. What was the value of the #MarshmallowChallenge?

  • It revealed that some of us have lost the creativity and we all started with making the pasta stand and then in the end put the marshmallow on top. For my peers it revealed the same and my group its the same as i said weve lost creativity. I have learned that i should listen to the instructions.
  • It revealed the values of teamwork and creative thinking. Our group worked together, and produced the tallest structure in the class (26in). We used each-other's skills so that whatever needed to be done, the strongest person in that area was doing it. We worked together and we worked well, and it produced a great structure.
  • The marshmallow challenge revealed that the members of my group and I am more of visual thinkers. From this challenge we learned that team work and creativity are still very important skills necessary to collaborate and achieve success.
  • The Marshmallow Challenge revealed that, thought I don't enjoy working in a group, I can still get good results when group work is required. I also learned that my peers do not enjoy the arts and crafts, although my group proved itself to be fast and efficient. I suppose that what you, Mr. Schoenbart, learned from the Marshmallow Challenge was that group projects can be either very successful or very frustrating.
  • Yesterday's challenge reveals to that I am able to work with other people real well. I can communicate real well. My peers can also work and communicate to each other. I think that you should learn how each student is able to work with other people and how they act when they put in a group with other students.
  • I think my group over thought the challenge and how to piece things together. It also revealed that things aren't as easy as we think.

  •  yesterday's challenge revealed that i need to work on my group work skills, talking to my group and listening to their ideas. my group worked a little great.. i felt seen we don't know each other that well we were all shy. i think my teacher learned who works well with others and who doesn't
  • Sometimes when looking for answer you have to find out the long way by trail and error rather than trying to find the answer in one try.
  • The skills that we learn from an early age may be the most important skills that we learn.it revealed to us that it seems harder than one thinks. It requires thinking and planning
  • I think that it showed that i am not very creative and my peers are not very creative either, my group didn't work well together but we had a good time, i think my teacher learned that we aren't very good at thinking outside the box.
  • The marshmallow challenge revealed that my group did not have good communication. We were creative but we couldn't put our words into what we wanted with the pasta. I think our teacher learned who is creative, has good communication, and who works well with who.
  • It revealed that i do good in group work. That we work well together. i think you learned it we can work good all together and can tell who works good in groups and who doesn't.
  • This assignment revealed that it is hard to communicate with others and that the groups that communicated the best did the best.
  • I learned that I can think critically and take command of a project quickly. I also learned that my group failed to break any records due to our lack of skill and motivation. I think that you as our teacher now have a basic idea of how the individual groups around the classroom will act in group projects in general.
  • I think that it's harder than it would seem and it takes a lot of thinking out of the box

I like activities that surprise, and even better, inspire me. I thought of the #MarshmallowChallenge as a fun introduction to the school year. Something to change things up and set the tone of learning and exploration. But I learned so much more here and found this fun distraction has become one of the most meaningful things I’ve done this year. I encourage you to give it a shot, too. And at the least, you can eat the marshmallows.

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  1. I really liked how you had the students document their progress along the way. I introduced the Marshmallow challenge with a Ghostbusters video last year: https://www.playposit.com/public/110907/273924/marshmallow-challenge

    1. Thanks for reading, Heather. That's a great idea!