Orientation: Marshmallow Challenge, Gentle Snowballs

Icebreaker: Gentle Snowball

Paper crumpled into “gentle snowballs” help students introduce themselves on the first day (Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels)

As a way to have students and faculty introduce themselves, I stole the “snowball” exercise from Kate Nowak.  Quick summary: each person writes 3 distinctive things about themselves on a piece of paper, crumples it up, and gently tosses it somewhere in the room.  We then all pick up a new piece of paper and walk around introducing ourselves until we find its owner.


I really wondered whether this would work.  Was it too goofy for a trade school?  Would students find it patronizing?  Would it reinforce the image that trade school is slack or unrigorous?  Nope.  It went over perfectly.  It has just the right combination of professional attitude (you have to walk around shaking hands and introducing yourself politely to strangers) and personality.  I also appreciated that, unlike some other icebreaker games, it doesn’t put people in the awkward situation of having to discuss a subject they’re not comfortable with — everyone gets to choose what to share.

When everyone had found the person they were looking for, they introduced each other.  As that happened, I asked each person to repeat the names of all the people before them.  Faculty went last, naturally.

The students seemed quite comfortable with it.  I’m glad to see that they now know my name as well as their classmates’.  I also got positive feedback from both of the other faculty, who were glad to have learned the students names quickly.

Exploring Iteration: Marshmallow Challenge

marshmallow challenge graphic
A group of 4 tries the marshmallow challenge (graphic by Tom Wujec, http://marshmallowchallenge.com)

On the second day, I had students do the Marshmallow Challenge.  This led to great conversations about prototyping, the value of trying things that we don’t fully understand, why learning looks like failure sometimes.  I worked on bringing out the message that “practice makes better,” that we as a group can generate knowledge that contributes to everyone’s understanding.

So, I decided to do the marshmallow challenge twice — once at the beginning of the morning and once at the end.  To keep it from being boring, I shortened the time to 10 minutes.  I have mixed feelings about this.  In the first attempt, there were 4 standing towers.  In the second attempt, they were much taller, but there were only 2 of them.  It gave me a chance to talk about why, when you are learning, sometimes it looks like you’re not improving.  But it also meant that two groups went home looking a little deflated.  Maybe next time I’ll do the second iteration on the second day.

Note: there’s nothing wrong with measuring the towers in centimeters, then showing the video where Tom Wujec discusses average heights in inches.  It reduces the amount of “is mine higher or lower than average” and motivates the next day’s math class about conversion factors.

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