If you are looking for an activity to engage both adults and kids then you’ve got to check out the Marshmallows (yes, who doesn’t love marshmallows!!!) challenge. The Marshmallow challenge popularized by Tom Wujec (TED Talk) is a popular team building exercise I’ve seen run at many different corporate and community team events. Simply speaking the marshmallow challenge involves team members working together in small groups to build the tallest spaghetti structure that can hold an entire marshmallow. The team has the opportunity to use as much or as little of the materials provided to build the tallest structure they can. All of this within a finite time period. We recently tried the marshmallow challenge at our kids codeclub and both the kids/parents loved it. It was a total hit with both the kids, parents putting on their true competitive spirit.
Why did we choose the Marshmallow challenge – We chose to work on the the marshmallow challenge at our codeclub for a few different reasons.
- The marshmallow challenge offers the opportunity to bring kids, parents together in groups they wouldn’t have otherwise worked in.
- The marshmallow challenge is a great opportunity to get the kids to work on a STEM activity while staying away from the computer.
- The marshmallow challenge helps nurture and build creativity, engineering, design skills.
- It’s a great opportunity to get kids across the basics of team dynamics, leadership, time management, planning, collaboration, etc.
If you have participated in a marshmallow challenge where you’ve had teams of kids, teams of adults or have listened to Tom Wujec’s talk before you would know that kids tend to build the simplest and tallest structures most of the time. It’s surprising to learn that kids tend to outdo some of the smartest adults in the room when pitted against each other in the marshmallow challenge.
On virtually every measure of innovation, kids create taller and more interesting structures. The reason kids do better than business school students is that kids spend more time playing and prototyping. They naturally start with the marshmallow and then add in the sticks. The adults, consultants, corporate executives, etc. leave the marshmallow for the end, spending a vast amount of time planning and executing on the plan, with almost no time to fix the design once they put the marshmallow on top.
The assumption in the Marshmallow Challenge is that marshmallows are light and fluffy and easily supported by the spaghetti sticks. When you actually try to build the structure, the marshmallows don’t seem so light. The lesson in the marshmallow challenge is that we need to identify the assumptions in our project—the real needs, the cost of the product, the duration of the service—and test them early and often. That’s the mechanism that leads to effective innovation.
To learn more check out Tom Wujec’s video at youtube below –
So how do you go about running a marshmallow challenge – Here’s some guidelines to get you going with your own marshmallow challenge.
- The objective is to build the tallest freestanding structure: The winning team is the one that has the tallest structure measured either from the tabletop surface or from floor to the top of the marshmallow. That means the structure cannot be suspended from a higher structure, like a chair, ceiling or chandelier.
- The entire marshmallow must be on top: The entire marshmallow needs to be on the top of the structure. Cutting or eating part of the marshmallow disqualifies the team.
- Use as much or as little of the kit as needed: Teams can use as many or as few of the 20 spaghetti sticks as needed, and as much or as little of the string or tape. The team cannot use the paper bag / envelope as part of their structure.
- Break up the spaghetti, string or tape: Teams are free to break the spaghetti, or cut the tape and string to create new structures.
- The challenge lasts 18 minutes: Teams cannot hold on to the structure when the time runs out. Those touching or supporting the structure at the end of the exercise will be disqualified.
- Ensure everyone understands the rules: Repeat the rules if necessary and ask if anyone has any questions before starting
Resources for the marshmallow challenge –
- Tom Wujec’s Marshmallow challenge activity
- University of Standford Design School – Marshmallow challenge activity
- Tinkerlab – Marshmallow design challenge activity
We hope you try out the marshmallow challenge and have as much fun as we did in class.
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Hopefully you have enjoyed the article. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions for future tutorials drop us a note at – learning at hack2 dot live.