One Sunflower

the marshmallow challenge

on August 30, 2010

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!)


9 responses to “the marshmallow challenge

  1. Juliann says:

    I thought you were going to write about the other Marshmallow challenge from Ellen Galinsky’s book – Mind in the Making. I love this idea too and agree that it is great to think about an entire district working together this way.

  2. I love this idea. What a great way to help build community at the beginning of the year.

  3. Wanda Brown says:

    Interesting post…thanks for sharing…can’t wait to watch the video.

  4. Mrs. V says:

    I always love team builders. I think it goes back to my days of being an Ambassador for my university. We had a lot of teambuilding activities as a group, as well as with new students. I am glad that you had a good experience with your staff, lending to reflection!

    • onesunflower says:

      you know the interesting thing is that while this activity could have been a team builder, it was more about being a tool to lead to analysis and reflection – and the reflection across the district was amazing!

  5. Theresa says:

    Very interesting idea. Do you think you will try it with students??

  6. Stacey says:

    While I tend to crinkle my nose when I’m asked to do activities like that (at first), I always land up enjoying them. I think it’s awesome that you’re given an opportunity to have fun with your colleagues at a staff meeting!

  7. Ashley C. says:

    As much as I dislike school meetings, a part of me thinks some sort of monthly debriefing (NOT faculty meeting) for teachers would be beneficial. Fill it with activities like this and reflection…could be good for all involved! Thanks for sharing!

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