On the first day of school, the entire first grade participated in a team building activity designed to encourage planning, collaboration, problem-solving, and creative expression. In a modified version of the famous marshmallow team building exercise, students worked independently, in pairs, or with a small group of classmates to build any structure they wanted using only marshmallows, toothpicks, and their own creativity and ingenuity.
Before they began building, the girls were told they would be challenged in many ways. Not only were they asked not to eat the delicious marshmallows placed in front of them, but their teachers did not tell them what to build or how to use their materials. Every group member had to participate and contribute to the final structure, and they were given only 10 minutes to complete their task. The girls were focused and helped each other problem solve when things did not go as planned, but when their time was up many were disappointed that they had not finished their work.
The first grade teachers led discussions about how that uncomfortable feeling of not finishing a project or not being completely satisfied with their work will happen a lot this year. They were reminded that feeling frustrated is an important part of growing as learners and that perseverance is a skill everyone, including their teachers, relies on. Following this brief talk, the girls walked around to see each other’s structures. Then, to their surprise, everyone was given an additional five minutes to make any modifications or final touches to their own structures.
After viewing the structures one last time, the girls provided feedback to one another in the form of compliments and observations about specific things they noticed in each structure. For example, one first grader remarked, "I could tell they made a lot of mistakes but worked hard to fix them because the marshmallows are squished."
The students who received this particular feedback were surprised and impressed that their peers had noticed such a small detail and replied, "Yes, it kept falling apart so we squished them to make it more sticky!"
This activity and the ways in which the first graders engaged with one another was a wonderful representation of Hewitt’s community values and emphasis on a philosophy of empathy and purpose. The first graders eagerly embraced the challenges set before them as they worked together to make and modify plans and solve problems as they arose. The girls learned from one another while sitting comfortably with the knowledge that their structures would not be “perfect” and that these imperfections were, in fact, part of the process. And, they gained practice in giving and receiving specific feedback as they commented on one another’s marshmallow not-so-masterpieces. What a great way to start the new year!