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Spaghetti and Marshmallows- Brain Food a la Dallas SWE

DISDstemLOGOThe Dallas SWE participated in the first Dallas ISD STEM Day initiative invited by Oswaldo Alvarenga and Crystal Alexander of the Dallas ISD STEM department. The initiative was held at Skyline High School and brought over a 1000 children and their parents to the event. Latischa Hanson, Zaineb Ahmed, Shannon Norman, Kitty Elshot, Nandika D’Souza and Cherrie Fisher made their way to the school. Cherrie Fisher organized the actitivity and led an information filled discussion on how our lives as engineers reflect the joy and opportunity to think daily, to create, execute and optimize our ideas. Three sessions between 12:30 and 3:30 on the hour received a range of attendees. In all 64 children formed teams of 2-4 students and parents were given 20 uncooked spaghetti noodles, 3 feet of tape, 3 feet of string, and a marshmallow. The task was simple: build the tallest possible freestanding tower with the materials provided, with the marshmallow on top.

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Dallas SWE Vice President Cherrie Fisher and students with their spaghetti marshmallow tower!

Given only 18 minutes to complete their task, everyone got to building. Some groups used their observations of the world around them and applied it to their design: “chairs have 4 legs, so should our tower” or “bridges have those crisscrossing bars, let’s do that!” Some groups just started building and hoped for the best.

The results were interesting. Of the towers built, only about a quarter of the towers were stable, freestanding structures. Why, we asked the participants? Why were only some teams successful? Students and parents of Dallas ISD realized quickly the most successful teams showed strong teamwork skills, discussing their design back and forth, and encourage new ideas. Also, participants pinpointed that teams, which assumed the tower would hold the weight of their marshmallow at the end, would usually have a tower to buckle at the last-second; conversely, teams that tested after each stage of building had a higher rate of a successful standing tower. Teams also mentioned that they did not think to use the string often enough because they immediately discounted its value.

At the end of the day, several students said they learned something, even if their tower collapsed. Parents asked questions about encouraging and motivating their students into STEM fields. An educator showed interest in more activities to keep her students engaged in STEM and thanked Dallas SWE for our involvement in and impact on DISD STEM Day.

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