Spaghetti-Marshmallow Tower

spaghetti tower1.jpg

The 'spaghetti and marshmallow tower' challenge is a tried and tested team building activity. It is relatively inexpensive to set up, quick to clear away and works really well as an icebreaker or as a way to develop communication and STEM-focused skills.

All you need is a bag of spaghetti and a bag of mini marshmallows, a timer, an extendable tape measure and you're good to go. What I wanted to add here is some of the ways in which I have extended the activity to get the most from it with my tutorial group.

Phase 1

The first time I introduce the task, I divide the group into smaller teams of 3 or 4 and give a prescribed number of building materials - 30 spaghetti rods and 20 marshmallows. Then I set up the task - they have 15 min. to build the tallest self-standing structure using only the materials provided. The countdown adds a sense of urgency and I have a small prize for the winning team.

Often this is where most end the activity. If, however, you have ongoing contact with your group, as I do in weekly tutorials, I add the following elements:

Phase 2

The group are tasked with researching the most effective structures for building height and stability, using any information sources they like. They can draw up blueprints, experiment with their own materials, watch YouTube clips or consult with the Design department (!) And then a week later, they are invited to repeat the task. To add an element to the second build, they are given considerably more spaghetti and marshmallows to play with and another 10 minutes of build time as well.

This time there can be a prize for the tallest structure, but also for the team whose second build shows the most height gain from their previous attempt.

Phase 3

Finally, the groups come together and in the third session 'height' is no longer the metric of success - instead they are invited to simply play and create something beautiful! The atmosphere and tone created during this phase is very different and during the plenary it can be useful to explore the way the pupils felt and engaged in the activity.

Other Possibilities

While I haven't done this, I suspect fun could be had if additional restrictions were imposed - you could insist that teams can only operate one-handed or with one eye covered so that they lose stereoscopic vision. It is rich with possibilities and quickly generates a positive and playful tone from which future tutorials can grow.