Spaghetti Challenge

I wanted to start the year with a project. I value discussion, team work, and creating and I wanted students to know this from day one. I threw around some grand ambitions, but settled on the spaghetti/marshmallow challenge mostly because the supplies were cheap and easy to jump right into. I was worried that students would have done it already or be bored, but I was definitely wrong. Students were thrilled. My favorite comment of the day “You aren’t tricking us right? I hope math class will be good all year and not just today.”

I had students fill out reflection forms and I got all fives, with the exception was of two fours. (1-5 scale). All groups begged to stay longer after class. Two groups worked through lunch hour, and one group tried to stay into their next class.  I’d call that a good opening. I also got pages of notes of individual students learning styles, ability to work together, communication skills, etc.

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One interesting note was the responses to the question: What worked well? Students  tended to choose their own contribution to the tower. For example for one group, one said “adding something to pull back the wobbly parts” (her idea) and the other: “making a triangle at the bottom to make sure its even/balanced.” (again, said students idea). Their tower was successful at 26.5″ and there was no way to tell tell which one made the difference, if both were needed, or something else entirely. On the flip side, the “What would you change” was usually more supply or group oriented. “Be neater” “Use material smarter” “Be less wobbly”. This may be normal, but we started doing community circles this year and the students had been really critical about themselves earlier in the day, so I was excited to see them proud of their contributions.

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In most of the groups they started out two people working on totally different ideas for same tower and it slowly turned into better team dynamics. A few groups hit it off right from the start and only would do work if both agreed. A few assigned tasks and then came together at the end.

We had some good discussions. What assumptions can we make? How long does it have to stand to count? (The absolute highest was 30 inches. it stood alone for about 1 or 2 seconds and fell. Another at 26.5 inches stood until the group karate chopped it down at the end of class). Is height really the most important part? What are we learning?  “We can go higher!”

Also, I forgot string was a material, so they only got tape, spaghetti and a marshmallow. Three separate groups came back later to tell me a brilliant new idea that “Would for sure be the highest.”  One of the the more inventive ideas was to make a long thin strand and tape the marshmallow to the top of the spaghetti and the ceiling so the long, thin strand didn’t have to actually hold weight.


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