As soon as the children saw the marshmallows and spaghetti their eyes lit up. They knew straight away that we would be building marshmallow towers and couldn’t wait to get started!
With that kind of enthusiasm, it seemed silly to delay the start of the activity for too long. However, one thing that I felt it was important to recap on before we got started was the outcomes of our recent newspaper tower activity. To read our blog about this activity click here. We reminded ourselves of what we had learnt when building our towers:
- A firm foundation is crucial to having a successful freestanding tower
- Our structures need to get narrower and lighter towards the top
- A triangle is a structural shape commonly used by engineers to create strong structures
I was keen to see how much the children would build on this knowledge in our marshmallow construction task and set them two minutes planning time to sketch or discuss their ideas as a group. Although this planning time wasn’t essential, I found that it helped the children to be more purposeful when they moved on to the practical task. It also enabled them to work better as a team as they were able to establish how they wanted their tower to look and work through their differing opinions to (hopefully!) reach a general consensus.
Then it was time to build! I deliberately didn’t give the children any ‘tips’ for approaching the task, other than reminding them that the first step was to create a solid foundation. As you can see from the pictures below, each group approached this in a different way.
Without any adult input, the children quickly realised that doubling up the spaghetti strands helped to create extra strength. They also realised the importance of triangles as a strong, tessellating shape to form their foundations with. Meanwhile, I stood back and observed the strategies being used. Naturally each group made a few mistakes along the way but I was impressed with how quickly they learnt from them and adapted their structures accordingly.
Just a few minutes later and each structure was really starting to take shape and gain height. Here is a selection of our finished towers. As you can see, a triangle was the most frequently used shape.
After measuring and revealing the winner of our tallest freestanding marshmallow tower challenge, we ended the activity with a brief discussion about what we had learnt. We linked the challenge to the ‘real world’ by discussing the role of engineers in designing and building structurally sound towers. A great YouTube video for this, entitled ‘what is an engineer?‘ can be found by clicking here. I also praised the children for their perseverance throughout the task and ability to learn from their mistakes, rather than simply give up.
To try this activity for yourself, download our ‘Marshmallow Challenge’ 15min STEM here.