One Sunflower

the marshmallow challenge

20 sticks of spaghetti

a yard of tape



assignment: build the tallest structure you can that will support a marshmallow in 18 minutes

Have you heard of this challenge? It’s called “The Marshmallow Challenge” and our superintendent requested that every principal conduct this activity as a part of their annual building retreat – our first day back as a staff.  We were divided into teams, given directions and the supplies and the clock started ticking.

Of course it is a task that unifies people, brings out leaders, those with a competitive or bossy streak, spies, notepad architects, the easily frustrated and warm and fuzzy cheerleaders – usually one of each in a bunch.  It was fun, we weren’t risking anything to participate and all of us felt like we could have been successful even when our structures collapsed completely before the marshmallow ever mounted the tippy tops of our swaying towers.   Out of 4 teams in our meeting, 2 were successful with towers at 26 and 27 inches.

I didn’t know until today that every school in our district did this same challenge last Tuesday. A high school team was the overall winner with a tower at 32″ – of course the team included the drama set designer and shop teacher! Our superintendent showed us a video of a guy who conducted this challenge around the world with a variety of people in various professions – and some school children.  You can watch the video here.

I think it is neat that our superintendent included this exercise in our back to school work – which always includes looking at student data and reconnecting to our theory of action and district goals.  The elementary school I work at is in AYP jail this year and the connection of the marshmallow challenge to our work was poignantly clear to the staff.

Watch the video and you’ll see that high stakes had a negative impact on the ability of teams to create towers and that kindergarten kids were successful because they kept the marshmallow at the forefront of their experimentation.  Good lessons for us all!

(check out more Slice of Life stories at Two Writing Teachers link today!)


Celebrate the gift of a veteran teacher

Asha is a veteran Head Start teacher in our community.  This story about her was shared last week at our opening training session.

Asha was working with a young preschooler who was struggling at putting a puzzle together.  She knew this child had low self-esteem and so she carefully supported his efforts in a way to sustain interest, encourage persistence and ultimately success.  When they finished, Asha put her fingers to her lips in a kiss, then touched her head and told the boy, “Kiss your brain.”  The boy looked at her in confusion so Asha explained how his brain had helped him put that puzzle together.

Asha moved away to another child but a fellow teacher witnessed the boy dumping  the puzzle back on the floor and with each successful placement of a piece, silently kissing his fingers and touching his head.

Everyone who works with Asha has picked up on this phrase and motion.  I have images of whole classrooms of children moving on into kindergarten and first grade wordlessly gifting themselves with this sweet affirmation.

(see more stories at Two Writing Teachers link on Tuesdays)


Are we really “that Alice”?

First a disclaimer – I haven’t read Lewis Carroll’s books since I was in high school so like many others, my recent venture into Wonderland and the words of Carroll have been through Tim Burton’s movie adaptation.  What I liked about the movie was Alice coming to terms with a different reality, creating relationships with “misfits” and demonstrating loyalty to them and herself by her conquering of the Jabberwock.

“My name is Alice…but I’m not that Alice.”  Alice in the movie spoke these words on several occasions.

Our school will be in AYP “jail” this year and I’m thinking like Alice, “yes those are our scores, but we aren’t that school.”

Political debates about education have often made me feel like I’ve fallen down a dark hole.  I’m being asked to try various potions, snip and patch as mandates and budgets shift and shrink,  and I’m wandering warily in a mystical garden with children who operate much like the Queen of Hearts.

We are all being asked to do “6 impossible things before breakfast” and prepare for confrontations with the Jabberwock.  But there is no template for the work we do, it is as inventive and creative as the language in Carroll’s famous poem and we need real help. If these tests were the answer, we, too, could have picture perfect scenes of storm clouds passing with the sunsets over our heroes and heroines of the story.

Every teacher is looking for vorpal swords that will create “frabjous” days.