How can marshmallows help build teams?

Picture from creative commons - dvortygirl

I know that the summer months are a great time for reflection, but I also know that many of us are thinking ahead to the start of our school year.  I wanted to share an activity called, The Marshmallow Challenge, that has been popularized by Tom Wujek’s Ted talk called, “Build a Tower, Build a Team.”  After watching his presentation last summer, we performed this activity at a faculty meeting early in the year and I though it was a great way to have some fun and launch some great discussions.  We have worked very hard over the past few years to build a collaborative culture and I knew that this challenge would lead to a great discussion about the power of teaming.

At the end of the day, I was not disappointed.  The marshmallow challenge was a great way to reunite with colleagues after the summer break and the activity generated some great discussions about learning in our school.  Here are some of the main points that faculty members brought up during our debriefing conversation.

– Manage your time – time is always a limiting factor and it is important that you are aware of the time that you have available to you and plan accordingly

– Team building – working with a team can be very complex but this challenge allowed for everyone to have their voices heard and play a role in a collaborative process

– It’s okay to take risks – this challenge reinforced that it is okay to think outside of the box when trying to accomplish something.  The simple fact that no one had ever attempted anything like this previously meant that we were all immediately outside our comfort zones

– Learn from our mistakes – it is important to use prototypes when following a creative process.  As teachers, this can be in the form of formative assessment. We constantly need to be monitoring our students learning and using that information to make our instructional decisions

– Set reachable goals – it is important to set goals that are attainable and measurable.

– Group size matters – although the activity calls for groups of 4, we completed the challenge in our departments which meant that our group size varied.  It was discovered that the smaller groups seemed to be more successful with their towers than our larger groups.

– High stakes can lead to decreased performance on creative tasks – Tom Wujek outlines how the performance of groups in this challenge decreased when he introduced significant rewards.  As our faculty continues to introduce more creative tasks in our classes, we need to ensure that we are setting our students up for success in their learning

– Fun – this was a fun, exciting activity and was a great way to kick off a new school year!

If this sounds like the kind of discussions you would like to have with your faculty, feel free to check out Tom Wujek’s Marshmallow Challenge website here. This site will give you all of the materials that you will need to conduct the challenge at your school.


  1. Debbie said:

    Great applications. I am forwarding this to my principal and also considering using it in my own classroom. Thank you for sharing.

    July 21, 2011
  2. Thank you for writing so eloquently about this fantastic team builder. I’ve done it with my sixth graders and I plan to use it with staff at the start of this year–I’m the new principal at my site.

    With my sixth graders I want to make note that we did it twice. We did the first marshmallow challenge just as Tom Wujek describes. We recorded heights, discussed the process, then watched the TED talk. Boy did my students laugh and shake their heads. Then we did the Challenge again. It felt good to take some time to bring our new understanding into the light. First Challenge–2 teams had a standing tower. Second Challenge–everyone had something standing. Struggle, learn, triumph! We used ‘the Marshmallow’ as metaphor throughout the year. “Don’t forget the marshmallow” was a common reminder from student to student.

    I hope to have similar success with staff this year.

    Thanks again.

    July 21, 2011
  3. Eric Juli said:

    I also used the marshmallow challenge last fall, but in a slightly different way. I put together a test with questions about the math in the challenge. They ranged from basic recall, multiple choice to a word problem. I gave this test to all teachers, and they hated it. Then the same teachers participated in the marshmallow challenge and loved it. At the end, we compared the two assessments, and had a great conversation about assessing student learning through application rather than the standard test or quiz. I plan on doing the challenge again this year with my new staff, but I think I’ll focus more on the teaming piece this time. Thanks for the post.


    July 22, 2011
  4. Beth Bartell said:

    Thank you for sharing the “Marshmallow Challenge.” I did this with my staff at our back to school meetings. It sparked some great discussion along the same vein of the points that you made in your post. It was even more exciting when I was visiting classrooms and found that one of my teachers had decided to do the activity with her students!

    August 20, 2011
  5. […] Branding, Teacher Preparation, and Grading and Assessment.  One such article is titled “How can marshmallows build teams?“  The idea is very simple: through building towers out of marshmallows, you can help build […]

    November 24, 2011
  6. Kayla Parazine said:

    Hi Mark, it is Kayla Parazine from EDM310 at the University of South Alabama, again. The Marshmallow Challenge sounds like such a great way to get things rolling! It seemed to spark many ideas. This is definately something I would like to try when I become and educator and have to attend staff meetings. Also, I see where some have commented saying that some have done this activity with students. I see how that could be very effective! Thanks for sharing.

    Kayla Parazine

    October 16, 2012
  7. Ethan Sumrall said:

    Hey this is Ethan Sumrall from the University of South Alabama, I have read this blog and seen that it was an awesome way to help people with teambuilding. I see that this was used on adults, but I think that it would work very well with children also. I think that this would help the kids learn how to work together and develop their communication skills. It would probably help with their shyness also.

    February 9, 2013
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    March 24, 2014

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