Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Liveblog: Reflections on the Marshmallow Challenge

Language Arts relies heavily on students' abilities to interact positively, honestly, and in a focused way. We need to be able to have powerful discussions in reading groups, give helpful writing feedback, and collaborate on literacy activities that take us to the next level.  Today's Marshmallow Challenge gave us the chance to refresh our group skills and reflect on how we work together to accomplish big tasks.  We liveblogged below during our class debriefing.

Check out the TED Talk Marshmallow Challenge

Reflections from Period 3/4 (Block 1)

The winning group (sorry, I didn't remember to write down the names... and I can't yet recognize you by your shoes!): 28"!

Builders found that they were less successful when they didn't plan ahead.  Many groups just started to put things together, because they wanted to finish quickly; they felt time pressure and they felt that they needed to rush.  They especially found that they built their bases too quickly, so the bases weren't sturdy enough to support the rest of the tower.  If they built again, they'd take the time to have a better understanding of their materials they were working with ("using our tools wisely").

"We found that we were just doing random stuff," one student mentioned.  His assessment is that that didn't work out so well. :)

Our builders also reflected that groups work best when everyone is pitching in for the same cause (like, everyone is working together on the base), everyone has a part and has ideas, and group members are positive and optimistic (they don't keep saying, "It's not going to work.").

Period 5/7 (Block 2)

The winning group: Y, R, W, T ... 31"!

The winning group's biggest tip for their success was that all of their group members listened to each other; everyone had different ideas, but they talked about the ideas before applying them, so when it came time to work, everyone was working collaboratively on the same task.  Other builders chimed in and agreed that, when everyone worked on their own ideas, the project did not come together smoothly.

One group shared -- and many other groups agreed -- that their biggest mistake was building without making a plan.

J. said,  "We lost four noodles before we even we got started... by the end, we were down to 40 seconds (and had to throw together the structure!), and we were down to four full sized noodles."

This class had a LOT of broken noodles... and not because there was a phantom knocking things over during lunch time ;)

This class also noted that they needed to re-start before they found a successful formula. They kept trying new ideas, and many builders were confident that, had they had more time, they would have been able to build a taller tower.  Sometimes, things don't work out how we originally planned, but we re-do our work, and we can find success.

Period 8/9 (Block 3)

Winner of the day: 37"!  P, G, K, J, K. WOW!

The groups that identified themselves as less successful reflected that they struggled because they dove right into their ideas without first stopping and thinking things through.  They were impatient and wanted to get started.  Next time, they said they would plan the first few minutes, and then get to work on the structure.

The top group of the day gave us some really interesting information.  Get this: at the end, they had only one broken noodle.  Unheard of!  I observed that, in this group, everyone took turns being a leader.  They started off using J's expertise, having previously done this activity.  After a few minutes, they'd easily put together about a 10" structure. They looked around, and K told them that they should try to keep building, because other groups around them were building still-taller structures.  How did it turn out?  With the tallest structure ALL DAY.  The lesson: have high expectations for yourself.

One more lesson: several builders observed that, if they did this again, they'd use some of the ideas that the successful groups used.  There's a lot of power in observing and trying to apply what's effective.

I wonder ... what does this process teach us about reading and writing? Highlight some connections that you see about the reading and writing processes.


  1. 3/4 connections with reading/writing:
    -When you're writing, you have good support (just like having a good base) (J.)

    -You have to plan before you do anything - before you write something, you have to have a plan; you have to have a plan before you read something (depending on the type of reading - your plan for reading a text message is different than reading a textbook) (T. & E.)

    -Broken noodles are important -- noodles form the structure of the whole tower, when they're broken, you still have to use them, but you have to come up with a new plan (J.)

    -It's important to have high expectations -- if you keep reading easy books and never try bigger books, you'll never become a better reader (T.)

    -Keep trying new ideas -- if a book is too hard, try other books, or try new strategies to understand the book better (E.)

  2. 5/7 connections with reading/writing:
    -We reflected on the importance of taking your time (N.)

    -We're not as successful when we just do "random stuff" (if you let your mind wander when you're reading, you won't be as successful) (P.)

    -Just like you should try to keep building the highest tower you can, you should always keep building on your reading and writing. (S.)

    -All of the winning teams had goals -- you can make goals in reading to reach a certain number of books or pages in a book to be the best reader you can be. (J.)

    -You will be less successful if you don't plan ahead -- we need to plan time for reading, and we need to plan our strategies for reading. (J.)

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  4. 8/9 connections with reading/writing:

    -Groups that were less successful didn't plan ahead -- when you're writing, you need to have a plan and not just write the next thing. (C.)

    -You need to have high expectations or you won't get anywhere -- if you have a negative attitude ("I can't do this."), you'll never get it done. Have a goal and a positive attitude. (L.)

    -Don't rush in to a book -- slow down and make sure you really get it, so you can be successful. (N.)

    -Less successful groups struggled because they didn't stop and think through -- before you read, you have to have an idea of what to expect. (A.)

    -The importance of a plan seems to be a common theme. (K.)

  5. I can see great thinking displayed in many of the comments posted here. Many students made powerful analogies about the activity to their reading and writing selves. I am looking forward to visiting this site to see more of Mrs. Taylor and her students thoughts throughout the year.
    Ms. Siegfried