Thinking Creatively Mini-Workshop Revealed "S'more" About Group Collaboration

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Thinking Creatively Mini-Workshop Revealed "S'more" About Group Collaboration

Mini-workshops on design and business are popular with students who attend Thinking Creatively, and I am always happy to develop some new challenges for them to embrace. This year, I borrowed a collaboration, innovation, and creativity exercise by Tom Wujec called, “The Marshmallow Challenge” (http://marshmallowchallenge.com). Everyone who participated—including me—learned something about how people interact in a group.

The objective of the exercise was to build the tallest structure possible using only uncooked spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow. Following the rules, students could utilize all or just a few of the materials provided, but they had to keep the marshmallow whole and on top, as they built the tallest freestanding structure they could. Participants broke into groups of three, with materials provided blindly in a paper bag, and a time limit of 18 minutes.

I observed the assignment and noticed that in each group, one student tended to take the lead and move the others to carry out his or her vision of what would make the tallest structure. This led to failure for some groups, because students were just following and not collaborating. Later, I conducted the exercise a second time with the same groups. Most of the students were excited to try again, using their experience with the first exercise to improve their design in the second. Those groups that spent time discussing the design of the project fared better than those who simply attempted to build another tall structure.