Its the Saturday before school starts and I didn’t finalize what I was doing for one of my classes until well into my second cup of coffee of the morning. I’ve had geometry planned for a while. I was easily able to select *The Marshmallow Challenge* for them. Partially because I taught half of them last year and didn’t do a wonderful job of establishing group working norms, and partially because it is one of my favorite start of school activities.

### Geometry Day 1: The Marshmallow Challenge

For those of you unfamiliar with the task, you give your students 20 pieces of spaghetti, a yard of tape, a yard of string, and a large marshmallow. They have 18 minutes to construct, with their groups, the tallest **free standing** structure that they can. The catch is that the marshmallow needs to be on the TOP of the structure.

I like this activity for three reasons:

- It pushes students through the phases of group dynamics quickly. They move from the “oh hey, its kinda awkward working with these people I don’t know” to “hey, you, yeah, what’s your name? Ok [insert name] hold this pasta for a sec so we can tape it” to “OH MY GOD WE ONLY HAVE 3 MINUTES LEFT WHO HAS THE MARSHMALLOW?!?!?!”
- I really get a feel for how my students think through a task. These towers have varied from elaborate to simple tri-pod-like.
- The debrief possibilities are endless. There is a wonderful Ted Talk by Tom Wujec that I use every year I do this challenge. Spoiler alert: Kindergartners are better than most adults at this challenge. Its a GREAT launching point for talking about the prototyping process and how we can mirror the practice in a mathematics classroom.

### AFM Day 1: String Structures

This is the ideas I re-discovered after some of my morning caffeine boost. I had saved this image in Evernote filed under my “MTBoS” & “Group Work” tags”

I can’t remember what the exact instructions were for the construction, but I know what I am going to make them:

*Your group has been given 2 yards of string. Your task is to create each of the shapes shown using only your group members’ hands to maintain the structure. Each group member must play an active roll in creating and maintaining the shape. *

*Once your group has created a shape, call Mrs. White over to document your awesomeness and then start another shape.*

So it goes without saying that I have no idea how this activity will go as it is my first year trying it. But I have hopes for how it will go. For most of my students in AFM they have, as one parent put it at Open House yesterday, “a fair amount of unpleasant mathematical baggage.” Something that feels overtly Math-y isn’t a very user-friendly start to the school year for them. So I want something that feels un-math-y but that falls into the Math category of geometry–I have found that my AFM students tend to have pleasant memories of geometry, so I’m using that.

I am going to give my students 20 minutes to try and construct as many of the shapes as they can. We’re then going to debrief and create some class group work norms. I then want to do a *Talking Points* activity from my morning Twitter Math Camp session, *Talk Less, Smile More*.

Things I left out of this plan because the 3rd cup of coffee is just now being consumed and my brain takes a while to wake up on the weekends:

- My classes will be doing Sara VanDerWerf’s Name Tents because it is the most amazing “get to know your students and help the name-forgetting-teacher learn your names” thing I have ever found. I haven’t finalized the questions I’ll ask each day.
- I will be sending my students home with one assignment: To complete a student info sheet (which includes preferred pronoun so I can add that to my roster) and log into the web-based tools we will use this year: Canvas, Desmos, DeltaMath, GoFormative.

Hi Jennifer, Great post. I like your string structures activity and how it invites students to construct the shapes into physical models. I’ve used something similar for elementary students focused on just polygons vice polyhedron. You might find some useful detail from Geometry Playground: https://www.exploratorium.edu/geometryplayground/Activities/GP_Activities_K-2/StringShapes_K-2_v4.pdf

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