What makes groups innovative and collaborative? The Marshmallow Challenge!

August 31, 2010 at 8:11 PM Leave a comment

We used the famous Marshmallow Challenge to help our 7th and 8th graders discover what helps groups to be innovative and collaborative. We used pretty much the directions on the website.(20 strands of spaghetti, 1m of tape, 1m string to get a marshmallow as high off the ground as possible with a free-standing tower.)

Kids looked at what others were doing

They had fun and failures - this collapsed moments later!

A few made paper plans, but most discussed briefly and/or started building and modifying as they went.

I loved watching students so focussed and working so well together.

And our winners were tripods...

scary, wierd-looking thing...

and another tipi tripod water-tower thing!

The winners were NOT necessarily the ‘good’ students, in fact some just did a ‘good-enough’ tower and left it at that. Not the winners. And some groups tried to improve on a great tower, causing collapse. Always tempting to over-do things, especially in art.

The debrief was more detailed than in the Marshmallow Challenge write-up – each class had the winning team share what worked, with a little prompting to make more general statements, rather than “We used triangles”. Yes, but how did you decide to do that? “What did you do first?” “How did you work together?” “Why do you think you were so successful?” “Did you think of any real structures that you knew from before?” (Kids mentioned tipis, tripods and water towers – basically they er, leveraged prior knowledge, doesn’t that sound fancy?). A student scribed tips for group success on chart paper.

The next day, all 6 chart papers from all 6 classes were displayed. Students circulated and found commonalities. Plus they added in tips they gleaned from chats with their parents for good collaboration. This “Group Tips List” is what we came up with. CEOs, are you listening? Remember, kindergartners did better than you guys at this challenge 🙂

  • Really listen to each other’s ideas.
  • Use prior knowledge.
  • Trial and error – learn from your mistakes. Be playful.
  • Divide jobs depending on talents and interests if you can.
  • Plan a little but get started fairly quickly.
  • Take the project seriously and don’t get sidetracked.
  • Be clear about your objectives. Work to a goal.
  • Respect each other. Don’t be mean.
  • Take some risks.
  • Be trustworthy or you can’t take risks.

We contrasted friendship groups with collaboration groups too. There’s a lot of overlap, especially respect and trust. But collaborating groups are built to achieve a goal, unlike friendship groups. Having fun is one major aim of friendship groups but can be part of collaboration too. Serious fun…

This led to a discussion of the wisdom of letting people have some choice who they work with. Apparently the research shows that to lead to increased motivation in the workplace (Daniel Pink’s book “Drive”) So, another piece of action research to try. Are self-selected groups better for student achievement too?? What do you think?


Entry filed under: Class Management, Creativity, Starting the School Year. Tags: , , , , , .

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