For our final Mad Science Monday of the fall, I decided to offer a Marshmallow Challenge. This is a team-building exercise that I've seen discussed all over the place, so I figured we'd give it a shot and see how the tweens would do.
I started with a short presentation introducing the Marshmallow Challenge. I explained that the kids would break into groups (we had groups of four) and that every group would have the exact same materials. I explained their goal: they would have eighteen minutes to try to create the tallest, free-standing structure that would balance a large marshmallow on its top, using only the materials provided. They all got really excited during the presentation, eager to get down to construction. I made them repeat the rules back to me, answered a handful of questions, and then we dove right in.
It was really interesting to watch group dynamics in this program. Groups were pretty much self-chosen, with some random assignments to balance numbers. Perhaps I should have done it entirely randomly (I know that might have eliminated the behavior problems I had between two brothers). What I think made it really interesting was the fact that most of the kids didn't necessarily know each other - they aren't in a classroom where they know all their classmates, or strictly with a group of friends. To see kids that were strangers just a matter of minutes before working together was pretty cool.
For the most part, the kids worked together really well. As I mentioned, I had a set of brothers who were not on their best behavior and who I probably should have separated before the program started. I also had one girl who was a little bossy with her teammates, but she loosened up a bit as the program went on.
Since the challenge only lasts eighteen minutes and the program was scheduled to last an hour, we ran it a couple times, changing groups and letting kids participate as individuals. They seemed to like the trial and error aspect quite a bit, and none of them got overwhelmingly frustrated when their constructions toppled. They had a lot of fun.
This program is turning out to a be a popular addition to my monthly tween programming. However, I myself am not feeling terribly enthusiastic about it. Between this program and other science programs held in the summer and last spring, I'm starting to run out of ideas. We have no budget for equipment and are pretty far behind in technology for programming. I feel like we've done most of the budget-friendly, household material science that can be done without getting repetitive. And, with a science theme for summer reading, I'm starting to scramble. Does anyone have any stellar science ideas for tweens that don't require a lot of equipment and aren't simply variations on a theme (other types of building/engineering challenges, etc.)? I've seen some things I'd love to do (like homemade rock candy), but that require a long period of waiting between experimentation and results or access to equipment we don't have. Any ideas are appreciated!