Marshmallow Challenge: Intro to Engineering Design Process

Author: Nicole
Lesssoncast
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Introduction

The marshmallow challenge, an introduction to the engineering design process, is a 45-min exercise that encourages teams of students to problem-solve while collaborating with peers.

Procedure

This activity requires 20 sticks of spaghetti, one meter of string, scissors, and one marshmallow for each team of students. You will also need measuring tape to determine the height of each final product, and a method of counting down the time. After dividing students into pre-assigned teams, explain to them that their task is to build the tallest “freestanding” structure using the resources included. The entire marshmallow must be intact on the top of the structure. The team may use as many items or as few items from the kit as they want. They may cut the string and/or break the spaghetti. They may not however use the paper bag. Teams will have exactly 18 minutes to complete the task. Repeat the directions as often as necessary. You may also want them posted during the activity. Once you have begun the countdown clock, walk around providing general encouragement but do not provide any specific directions about building the structures. Periodically remind students of the remaining time to help them stay on track. Encourage friendly competition by giving progress updates on the teams. Once you call time, measure each of the structures from shortest to tallest. Record the heights, especially if there are multiple classes participating in the activity. Once the challenge is completed and a winner selected, the real lessons begin as you deconstruct the activity with your students. First ask students how long their group spent on each stage of the process listed on the screen. You’re then going to connect this to the engineering process. Introduce students to the engineering design process by explaining that the first step is to define the problem they’re trying to solve. This stage includes gathering information and conducting research. The second stage includes brainstorming different designs—students should be creative and explore possibilities, even if they seem impossible because they can lead to innovative and plausible solutions. Choosing the design with the most promise begins the planning stage. Drawing a diagram of the idea is one strategy for tackling the design. After planning, begin to create a prototype—you may need to define a prototype as an early version of a design, such as a mockup or model. Once a prototype is developed, begin analyzing how the model can be improved-- Is there a way to make it lighter? Heavier? Simpler? Taller? Less expensive to make? Make new designs and create new prototypes. Iterate the process as many times as necessary.

Procedure2

After dividing students into pre-assigned teams, explain to them that their task is to build the tallest “freestanding” structure using the resources included. The entire marshmallow must be intact on the top of the structure. The team may use as many or as few items from the kit as they want. They may cut the string and/or break the spaghetti. They may not however use the paper bag. Teams will have exactly 18 minutes to complete the task. You may need to post or repeat the directions during the activity.

Procedure3

Once you have begun the countdown clock, walk around providing general encouragement but do not provide any specific directions about building the structures. Periodically remind students of the remaining time to help them stay on track. Encourage friendly competition by giving progress updates on the teams. Once you call time, measure each of the structures from shortest to tallest and record the heights.

Procedure4

Once the challenge is completed, the real lessons begin as you deconstruct the activity with your students. First ask students, how long did their group spent on each stage of the process? Then make connections to the engineering design process. Explain that the first step is asking and defining the problem they’re trying to solve.

Procedure5

The second stage includes brainstorming different designs—students should be creative and imagine possibilities. Then the planning stage begins by choosing the design with the most promise.

Procedure6

After planning, begin to create a prototype or early model. Once a prototype is developed, begin analyzing how the model can be improved. Iterate the process as many times as necessary.

Differentiation

This activity works well with elementary students but the focus will shift more towards becoming comfortable with thinking innovatively. Simply have students explain how they completed the project. Ask them what worked well and what they’d do differently.

Closing

You may find the website, marshmallowchallenge.com, helpful. Here's a clip from the TedEx talk posted on the site. This lesson has been modified from an exercise designed by Peter Skillman for companies to learn design methods of prototyping, refining and working collaboratively.

Closing2

This lesson has been modified from an exercise designed by Peter Skillman for companies to learn design methods of prototyping, refining and working collaboratively.

Attachments

Grades

  • 1
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9

Key Skills

  • Engineering, Tech, Application of Science
  • Engineering Design
  • Science and Engineering Practices
  • Planning And Carrying Out Investigations

Standards

No standards available.

Assessments

Explain: how did you complete the task and what would you do differently? How would you apply the steps of the engineering design process to solve a future problem? Create a prototype to test your idea.

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