This is an activity that I have wanted to try with my students for some time now. The Marshmallow Challenge has been used across the world in different settings and has produced some fascinating results from groups as diverse as CEOs of Fortune-500 businesses and kindergarten kids! My own students seem to lie somewhere in between (!!) and, as part of an introduction to behavioural economics, I popped to my local Tesco and bought the necessary equipment.

It is really simple to set up in the classroom and it works in all kinds of different contexts. It is straightforward to complete in any 30-40 minute lesson.

The basic idea is this:

In eighteen minutes, teams must build the tallest freestanding structure out of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of masking tape, one yard of string, and one marshmallow. The marshmallow needs to be on top

It is worth spending a few minutes explaining the rules and then allowing each team five minutes of thinking time. In our first run through we had three groups of four students but this is ultra-flexible. You wont run out of spaghetti, tape or string but you'll probably need a couple of extra packs of marshamallows as they are delicious!

Here are a couple of the first efforts-  all three teams managed to get a stable freestanding structure in place at the end and the only reward was a round of applause and a sense of personal achievement.

In our next session our three groups (who have chosen to stay together) will have a more tangible reward for the winning team. I am interested to see whether (in a metaphorical sense) putting "cash on the table" and the stress of winner-takes-all will influence their strategies - the same rules apply, 18 minutes to build the tallest freestanding structure. Perhaps the stress factor might impede their results? Or will they learn to engage in a process of constant trial and error to achieve even better outcomes?

The Marshmallow Challenge engages students, it certainly encourages collaboration, innovation, teamwork, risk taking, prototyping and creativity and might make for a great tutorial exercise? I allowed students to watch what the other groups were doing - they were at liberty to copy ideas and I explained to them that the vast majority of academic research is done in this way!

Here is an engaging short TED video on the Marshmallow Challenge (useful for showing straight after the first attempts)



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