Monday, February 18, 2013

Marshmallow Experiment

The Challenge

18 minutes
20 sticks of spaghetti
1 role of tape
1 role of string
1 marshmallow

Develop a free standing structure to hold the marshmallow

                                                                       The Supplies


As the timer started, spirits were high. The materials sat in front of us and we tried to come up with a plan. A few of us just wanted to start building and see what happened. The other half wanted a clear strategy. Within a minute or two, we agreed that we needed triangles because they were the strongest base. Initially, we worked together to build three triangular bases that would serve as a foundation for some sort of tower. Score, I thought, collaboration at its best.

Individualization Phase

I, the collaboration zealot of all people, suggested that we each take a base and work on it. The purpose being this would save time and allow us to concentrate on the tower later. At this point in the challenge, we stopped working together and it became and individual project. We barely talked to our team and tried to complete our individual tasks. From afar it seemed all was well, everyone was on point and things were getting done. Upon closer inspection, seriously problems were brewing. When we came together with a few minutes left, we noticed that the bases were different sizes. Some were functional, some were not. In short, the lack of communication had doomed us. Things looked bleak. 

The Rush

With the clock ticking, we all came together to try and fix our problem. We had three quasi bases, only one of them really functional. As two of my team members were holding the bases, attempting to make them work, I grabbed the tape and went for an Eiffel Tower prototype. I basically just did it with no discussion. At first, there was some hesitation. When my team members saw that taping all three bases together worked, they started constructing the tower. We started working together again, and in two minutes threw something together. It worked! Our final product was around 20 inches, which according to the TED talk was pretty decent.


I will let you all draw your own conclusions. The things that interest me most are the following.

1) Motivation, specifically why were we so excited to make this work when absolutely nothing was on the line? My team members are not even part of the class. This is especially interesting because Wujec claims that as people are tempted with incentives, performances decreases. What does this have to say about school? I am an ardent critic of rewards and punishments including grades. Is this another example?

2) Why did my group decide to switch to individual work for a majority of the experiment? What does this say about the nature of groups? Is this commonplace? Is this good for innovation? 

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