Monday, 5 November 2012

Exercise: Table Label, aka Marshmallow Tower Challenge

Allocate at approximately 1 hour to run the exercise. 10" setup and briefing. 30" experiment. 5" extra time. 15" debriefing. You will need a large space with scattered desks to accommodate the exercise.

  • A design/build challenge is set.
  • Each group will employ a ‘thinking aloud’ protocol as they run the experiment. The builder/designers comment aloud to highlight ideas, key transitions or changes in their thinking about the problem.
  • One person will act as the researcher, capturing a time-record of the designers’ comments or activity at any moment. The researcher role is not allowed to take part in the design and construction.
  • Change the person in the researcher role every 5 minutes to give all team members an opportunity to contribute to the design and construction.
  • Output: A ‘Design Activity Graph’ recording design/build activity over time, for example:
    • Scenario thinking
    • Requirement thinking
    • High level solution thinking/building
    • Medium level solution thinking/building
    • Low level solution thinking/building
    • Key ideas.
    • Testing or Review.

For an alternate take on this activity see Peter Skillman's 'Marshmallow Challenge.'

Practical Aim: "As a teach I want to see ‘group labels’ for each table ‘over the sea of heads’ in a classroom so that I can call on groups to respond and encourage for class participation."

Knowledge Aim: To assess the different activities people engage in in open-ended problem solving design/build work.

A pack of sticks, some plasticine, some rubber bands, and an index card. A tape measure.
A sheet of graph paper to capture the team's graph.

Competitive dimension/evaluation: 
Which group can construct the most useable table label!
The tutor will need a ruler to measure and compare the height of the table labels.

Ask each group to classify the activities they underwent (perhaps over 4 or 6 distinct kinds of activity)
Ask each group to estimate how much time they spent on each activity.
Ask the groups to reflect on how they won (or lost!) and to reflect on the contributions their different experience, backgrounds, disciplines made to the solution.
Were there collaboration problems?
Were transitory objects used?
Were conflicts resolved?
What roles were evident?
What is the impact of time pressure?
Can you identify who is responsible for the design?
What evidence of design work is available (diagrams, prototypes, experimental trials)?
What would you expect to happen if the exercise was performed again and again?
Where/when does the design occur?
Was the creative aspect to this exercise essential?
Was your design planned or accidental?