On the first day of summer numeracy camp, we decided to have the kids try the “Marshmallow Challenge,” as described by Tom Wujec on his website and during the TED Talk featured below. The students were provided with a paper bag kit containing all the materials, and they were instructed to build the tallest freestanding structure possible that holds the entire marshmallow on top. They were given 18 minutes to complete the challenge, while the teaching team circulated to give time checks and remind the teams of the instructions.
The results were very impressive! The tallest structure measured 47 cm, and a few other teams’ towers were close to that height. All the teams demonstrated great thinking, and persevered through disagreements, collapsed towers, and many other setbacks. It was an excellent way to get to know the students’ strengths and areas of opportunity right off the bat, and we were surprised by the honesty of the students during the debrief. For example, one team admitted that they struggled to agree on one idea and described how that influenced their process of tower construction. This emphasized the importance of collaboration and communication among team members, which, as that team realized, is crucial for success. As always, the students’ creations exceeded our expectations: their creative, stable and TALL towers held the marshmallow in all sorts of ways, and even the towers that collapsed taught us all valuable lessons. All in all, day 1 was a definite success!