Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Marshmallow Challenge

A 3rd Hour team completes the tallest tower of the day: 31''!
Today in class we kicked off our unit on cognition by tackling a now-fairly-famous team problem-solving task: The Marshmallow Challenge. Our teams' performances very closely mimicked the findings of Tom Wujec, which he summarizes in the brief talk I've embedded below.

The task is an excellent illustration of the complexities inherent in problem-solving (e.g. mental set interferes with effective design, incentives don't always work the way you would think, communication problems and social jockeying can be an issue, etc.).

Winning team from 7th Hour
 Throughout the day we had 16 of 24 teams successfully construct towers that held the marshmallow, very close to the success rate found by Wujec (60%). The tallest tower measured 31 inches and was completed by Nick, Rachel, Sam, and Kayla in my 3rd hour class!

If you've got some spaghetti, marshmallows, and some string and tape, maybe you would want to try this out with your own family tonight. :-)

Note to my fellow psych teachers who follow this blog: this was the first year I attempted this task with students, and I'd highly recommend it. Not only does it serve as a great jumping-off point for conversations about problem-solving, but it is engaging and the supplies are cheap. To do this with 100 students today I only had to spend $14! (A bargain compared to some of my other demos/activities for the same amount of people.)

More complete instructions are available here.

Probably the cutest marshmallow of the day: Smiley!

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