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
Challenge: To build the tallest tower possible in 18 minutes that will support the marshmallow.
- Set up the supplies for each team
- Explain the challenge: Build the tallest tower possible that will support a marshmallow, in 18 minutes.
- Set a timer for 18 minutes
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!
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.
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.
More Projects like this one
Got Pasta? Here are more projects for kids that use pasta.
- Pasta Art Activities for Kids (on The Artful Parent)
- Pasta Drawing Prompts (on Picklebums)
- Pine Cone and Pasta Art Assemblage (on Art Bar Blog)
- Dyed Pasta Mosaic Art (on Buggy and Buddy)
- Modern Macaroni Masterpiece (on Handmakery)
- Painted Macaroni Necklaces (on MollyMoo Crafts)
- Painted Pasta Art (on Learn Play Imagine)
- Pasta Sculptures with Preschoolers (on Meri Cherry Blog)
- Pasta Frames (on Pink Stripey Socks)
- Pasta Stained Glass (on Babble Dabble Do)
- Pretty Pasta Pendants (on Pysselbolaget)
- Macaroni Necklaces (on Mer Mag)