CHILE: In Santiago, Chile, stands the tallest skyscraper in all of South America. It is called both La Torre Costanera and the Gran Torre Santiago. While this 980 foot (300m) tall and 64-floor high building is impressive, there are plenty of extremely tall buildings around the world. The more interesting question, I think, is how were these constructed? How do they stand the test of time?
In class, students first looked at various architectural designs and a list of the tallest skyscrapers in South America. Later, classes had the opportunity to participate in the famous Marshmallow Challenge (“Reto de la nube”) to construct their own building in a small group. Did you know that this exercise is even used with company CEO’s to promote creative thinking? Interestingly enough, however, kindergarteners tend to outperform nearly all adults, but especially business graduate students.
In the Marshmallow Challenge, participants have exactly 18 minutes to try and build a free- stranding structure using only one yard of tape, one yard of string, 1 large marshmallow, and 20 pieces of spaghetti. The key is that the marshmallow has to be on the very top of the structure.
ASIDE: It is very possible that I may have given miniature marshmallows to students as a treat after the activity. What?! I did this project with first through fourth graders– there was no way they weren’t going to fight over and try to eat the one marshmallow!
Some teachers like to have a reflection discussion afterwards, and then do the same lesson again the following day to see what and how students work differently. Others stop the timer after about eight minutes, discuss as a class what is and is not working, and then get back to work (with 10 minutes remaining on the clock). If you sense there is a lot of frustration in the room, I would definitely recommend this second strategy. Have fun!