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Spaghetti Tower Marshmallow Challenge

spaghetti tower marshmallow challenge

Do you know about the Spaghetti Tower Marshmallow Challenge? Set up a Spaghetti Marshmallow Challenge with young children to explore the design process: thinking, doing, prototyping, and iteration: a great STEAM challenge.

If you have any marshmallows left over from the Microwave Marshmallow Experiment, this is the project for you!

This is one of those legendary team-building challenges that I’ve been hearing about for ages and have never tried.

It encourages the design mindset and supports basic engineering principles. 

The basic idea is that a team is given a handful of supplies to work with — spaghetti, tape, and string — and given 18 minutes to build the tallest possible tower that can SUPPORT a marshmallow.

And the point of it? The team will practice the design process that includes thinking, doing, prototyping, and iteration. This last point, iteration, may be the most important. Watch the video at the end of this post for more on that.

Oh, and what group historically performs the BEST in the marshmallow challenge? The answer to that question is also in the video, and you will LOVE it.

If you enjoy this project, you’ll also like this STEAM Design Challenge to suport a mandarin with sticks and clay.

Marshmallow Challenge Supplies

Each team gets the same set of supplies…

  • 20 sticks of dry spaghetti
  • one yard of string
  • one yard of tape
  • one marshmallow

Instructions

Challenge: To build the tallest tower possible in 18 minutes that will support the marshmallow.

  1. Set up the supplies for each team
  2. Explain the challenge: Build the tallest tower possible that will support a marshmallow, in 18 minutes.
  3. Set a timer for 18 minutes
  4. Go!

Spaghetti and Marshmallow Challenge

Marshmallow Challenge with Young Children

Here’s how our marshmallow challenge looked:

My two daughters, ages 4 and 6, and I set our timer for 18 minutes, and started to build. It was exciting, frustrating (spaghetti is nimble and brittle!), and fun. My little one lost interest quickly, but my older daughter stuck with it, pushing me with her novel ideas and keeping me going, right up until the timer ran out.

We talked about how triangles build strong structures, so we started there. Our original idea was to build two structures – one that could support the other, to make our tower twice as tall.

As we got towards the end of our time, the bottom towner couldn’t support the weight of the second tower, so we chose just one of the towers to use as a support for the marshmallow. In the end, we measured our marshmallow’s height and it clocked in at 10.5 inches. Not earth-shattering, but at least we had a supporting structure!

Marshmallow Challenge

Spaghetti Marshmallow Tower: STEM Challenge

I love my daughter’s idea to suspend the marshmallow from a string!

What we learned?

  • Triangles are good shapes for these structures
  • We probably should have built the second tower directly on the first one, rather than wait to add it at the end
  • We worked well together
  • Prototyping and iteration are important to the process
  • This challenge could lose a 4-year old’s attention 😉

More on the Marshmallow Tower Challenge

You’ll want to watch this video of Tom Wujec’s TED talk on the Marshmallow Challenge.

What’s next?

I would love to try this out with our Girl Scout troop or with my older daughter’s friends. After watching Wujec’s video (above), I’m eager to see this in action with a group of young children.

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38 Comments

  1. Whaaaaaat????? This is so cool. I am really excited to get my 17 year old sciencey step son in a room with my younger kids and have them do this as a bonding activity. (I’ll sit back and watch and eat marshmallows.)

    • Thank you, Jeanette! I bet that your kids would enjoy this, and it could be a good bonding moment. Enjoy your marshmallows 🙂

  2. […] Macaroni Pom Pom Necklace Meri Cherry Blog: Pasta Sculptures with Preschoolers Tinkerlab: Spaghetti Tower Marshmallow Challenge Babble Dabble Do: Stained Glass Pasta Art The Artful Parent: Pasta Art Activities for Kids Pink […]

  3. These photos are so cool, is this your studio space? I am in love with everything here! Thanks for such a great idea 🙂 xo bar

    • Thanks, Bar! It IS my studio. The kids love to spend time in there with me. Sometimes it goes haywire, but they usually like to busy themselves with some kind of project, which is win-win for everyone.

    • Awesome!! I hope you have fun with it.

    • Isn’t it a fun idea, Ana?! Thanks for your comment.

    • There are sooo many ideas out there, Allison! Isn’t it great? I’m happy to introduce you to it.

  4. […] As I had done during previous Career Days, I gave my presentation, but this year I wanted to try something different.  Instead of just talking for 50 minutes, while desperately trying to keep them from falling asleep, I gave them a task.  The task required them to work in small teams and achieve a difficult objective in an unrealistic time frame with substandard materials.  You know, the kind of thing engineers do every day.  I think they really enjoyed it.  The big objective was performing the Spaghetti Marshmallow Challenge. […]

  5. […] The Marshmallow Tower Challenge – After reading Mitchel Resnick’s article this week (see my post from yesterday), I thought about a team-building exercise that I completed in another graduate course at Arcadia. We broke into teams and we were given 18 minutes to build the tallest tower we could with the following: sticks of spaghetti, yarn, and tape. This doesn’t sound too difficult, but the real challenge was getting a marshmallow to stick to the top of your tower without it falling over. In Tom Wujec’s Ted Talk, he tells us that the teams that made the best towers were not architects or CEOS, but Kindergarten students. […]

  6. This Spaghetti Tower Marshmallow Challenge is definitely the best way to keep small kids interested and attentive. It will also help them in boosting their fundamental thinking and creativity skills as well, regarding shapes and designs. In a world dominated by technology, this is indeed a welcoming change.

  7. Never really thought that Spaghetti can also be used for such craft works. This technique has really motivated me to create many other shapes too. This can be a great activity for birthday parties, and other special occasions.

  8. You missed the whole point. It is not about the structure it is about the interaction of the group working on the project.

    • jim u missed the whole point because it is about structure and also about group work did you have a bad day or something dang u seem pretty mad jim have a cup of coffie.

  9. […] As I had done during previous Career Days, I gave my presentation, but this year I wanted to try something different.  Instead of just talking for 50 minutes, while desperately trying to keep them from falling asleep, I gave them a task.  The task required them to work in small teams and achieve a difficult objective in an unrealistic time frame with substandard materials.  You know, the kind of thing engineers do every day.  I think they really enjoyed it.  The big objective was performing the Spaghetti Marshmallow Challenge. […]

  10. […] training sessions where teams of 4-5 people had to complete 2 tasks – the helium stick and the spaghetti tower. There were a few disagreements, great problem solving and many broken towers. Overall it was well […]

  11. I can’t even imagine this type of creative work can be made with Spaghetti. I just totally shocked.

  12. We Love This Project and Posted it on our website.XD

  13. Great!! I now have a fun activity when my kid’s friend stay over. Thanks for it.

  14. Great! I often search for such fun activities that involve learning too. I will try this with my kids.

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