Thursday, September 6, 2012

This Year's Marshmallow Challenge

I always start off the year by doing (never by talking about the syllabus!).  We start with the Marshmallow Challenge, where the students try to build the tallest structure made of 20 sticks of spaghetti, one meter of tape, and one meter of string, to support a marshmallow as high off the ground as possible.

The TED talk accompanying it is great, and it's a great intro to standards-based grading.  What happened to those creative kindergarteners that were unafraid to fail and benefitted from their own mistakes to turn them into disaffected failure-shy business school grads? Well, school, mostly. The combination of high stakes (grades that are indelible) and low skills (what learner doesn't have low skills at the beginning?) creates all kinds of damaging behavior in the long-term (poor retention, little conceptual understanding, focus on "the answer," cheating, cramming) in the service of short-term gains, because those short-term gains are incentivized and they don't yet have the tools to earn them legitimately.

Anyway, this year I had 6 of 16 teams end with intact structures. The two tallest, both at 60 cm are below.

Last year's post

PS: I do allow them to use guy wires, but only connected to the table. Is that cheating? I dunno, but that's what I do.

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