Learning Teamwork with Spaghetti

I noticed something different in the classroom the moment I walked in-I saw marshmallows and spaghetti and string. I had stopped expecting to find such things in classrooms since second grade. This promised to be interesting. Once every group had been given eighteen spaghetti sticks, a yard of string, tape and one marshmallow each, we were given instructions. We had to use these materials to build a tower with the marshmallow placed at the very top. The tallest, freely standing structure would win. Sounds easy? We changed our minds once we began working on it. We had eighteen minutes. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do but it was fun, especially after a long and grueling day of learning math and physics. It also made us understand some key concepts related to teamwork and approaching a difficult task.

The Eiffel Marshmallower?
The Eiffel Marshmallower?

Of the eighteen minutes that we had, we spent nearly four thinking. The moment I heard ‘tower’ my mind conjured up images of a miniature Eiffel Tower in yellow with a marshmallow perched on top. Idealism aside, the budding scientists and engineers that we are. we set to the task step by step. ‘We need a stable base, no doubts there, it would be a circle or a triangle. Not only that, it needs to support the upper structures as well.’ We started with a conical structure. The lower ends of the spaghetti sticks weren’t staying in one plane and our tower was toppling. Uh oh!

While the rest of us attempted to salvage the ‘construction material’, one of our teammates began working on a different structure. It could sustain its own weight, that was a good start! As we began assembling more layers on top, it began toppling over again. There was a lot of ‘fixing up’ and it began straying farther and farther from my visions of a Spaghettiffiel (or does Eiffetti sound better?)Tower. Well, aesthetics apart, we needed to make it stand, right? That’s what we did. String, tape, smaller pieces of spaghetti (from when some tragically broke under the strain of supporting the weight of multiple sticks) and more tape.

Wait a minute! If these were so delicate as to barely stand up by themselves, what would a big fat marshmallow do to their stability and strength? So we began incorporating the marshmallow into the design and working around its structure destructive effects. That helped save us time as we could see the entire structure and fix the tower accordingly.

To revise is to improvise

It took multiple attempts and we ended up with a lot of broken sticks, wasted tape and ran out of string. Even the final structure was not the most stable and leaned over. We watched with bated breath and wide eyes as it leaned ever so slowly but did not fall over. Whew!


The Leaning Tower of Spaghetti? (I should probably stop coming up with names)



Once the fun exercise was over we watched this TED video about the Marshmallow Challenge and realized that in the midst of our frantic attempts at designing and constructing an unconventional tower, we had learned about teamwork and effective problem-solving.


So, the next time I’m working on a group project, or facing a daunting challenge, I know what to do: Think, Improvise, Begin with the marshmallow, Analyse and Revise!

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