Activity: Improve Your School’s Decision-Making with the Marshmallow Challenge
An easy exercise that builds your team’s capacity to innovate
Current buzz surrounds data-driven decision-making and using interim assessments to inform instruction.And growth assessments like NWEA are providing educators with several data points to help personalize learning for their classes.
However, we can spend hours analyzing the data, thinking about what to do, planning the intervention, delivering the intervention, waiting for the assessment and then POOF - it’s January and half of the academic year is gone.
The practice of rapid iteration and prototyping provides a framework for educators to change small elements of their instructional practice and measure the results, to quickly reach the best solution. You can apply rapid iteration to a small classroom issue (like class norms for bathroom passes) or a larger issue, like students persisting on reading a rigorous text throughout working in class.
Rapid iterations with prototypes should test a potential solution to a challenge, be implemented quickly (we’re talking minutes or hours, not days or week) and have measurable results.
The practice of rapid iteration and prototyping can sound like great ideas, but nearly impossible for schools to integrate into their culture. It’s not an overnight shift and takes strong leadership and a consistent reinforcement of the practice.
If you’re looking for a great staff development activity (or even classroom activity!), the Marshmallow Challenge provides an easy exercise for building your team’s capacity to innovate, work together, and incorporate prototyping.
- 1 marshmallow
- 20 sticks of spaghetti
- 1 yard of string
- 1 yard of tape
(Adapted from Tom Wujec’s Blog)
Step 1: Setup the room with tables that seat between 3 to 5 people (teams will want plenty of room to move).
Step 2: Distribute materials to each table.
Step 3: Deliver the rules.
- The goal is to build the tallest freestanding structure
- The entire marshmallow must be on top
- Use as much or as little of the materials provided
- Time allotted: 18 minutes|
Step 4: Start the challenge (use a projector to project the countdown clock).
Step 5: Measure the towers and select the winner.
Step 6: As a group, watch the this YouTube video and reflect on your process.
Reflection Discussion Questions Part 1:
- What was your method? What was successful about your method?
- How did your method vary from other teams?
- If you had to grade your team based on speed of execution, what would it be?
- What other roles emerged in your working group?
Reflection Discussion Questions Part 2:
- Where is the biggest opportunity to rapid prototype in your classroom?
- How will you set up your prototype to make sure you’re rapidly iterating?
- How will you measure if your prototype is successful?
Investing 45 minutes into the Marshmallow Challenge at your next PD will, as Tom Wujec writes, “encourage your organization to think about what it takes to dramatically increase innovation.” Imagine what you team could do to dramatically improve student achievement with this kind of mindset.
For more on the intersection of education and entrepreneurship, check out:
- Improve Collaboration (and Save Time) with a Stand-up Meeting
- 5 Principles for Approaching School Improvement Like an Entrepreneur: Learnings from 'The Lean Startup'
- How Selling Milkshakes Can Help Us Select Better Ed-Tech Products
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Abby Ross is Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at ThinkCERCA.