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Getting Sticky With
Marshmallow Engineering

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Kindergarteners learn about 2D and 3D shapes.
Image by Kevin Jarrett and used under the terms of a Creative Commons license.
Choosing To Adapt To New Education Methods In Order To Keep Children Focused On Concepts Can Inspire Learning That May Appear To Be Bereft Of Effort


By Edgar Rider
Special for Modern Times Magazine

Oct. 13, 2016 — In our ever-changing world, science and technology are at the forefront of education.

Education, like every other discipline, must evolve to improve.

Consequently, for more than a decade, some educators and educational systems have combined engineering and mathematics with science and technology and created STEM.  

Over the last half-decade or more, some educators decided to put an “A” into the acronym STEM, by adding the creative field of “arts” into the equation. According to educational researchers and groups such as The STEM to STEAM initiative, championed by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), exploring the artistic part of science and engineering stimulates the brain’s creative area, and adds to the positive complexity of problem-solving techniques.

STEM adherents disagree and worry that adding arts dilutes STEM, but that is an article for another day.

First STEAM Conference planned for 2017

Much of the “art” part of STEAM is through what has become known as Marshmallow Engineering: using marshmallows as the glue for toothpick or other stick-connected structures.

Without ideas like Marshmallow Engineering, some students become bored with their studies — this becomes an anti-fuel to becoming involved. Marshmallow Engineering became a fun approach to inspire students to solve problems. As a substitute teacher for nearly a decade, I know a thing or two about bored students.

The height of STEAM power, though, is not happening at schools, but at places like Arizona STEAM Shop. The shop’s owner, Martin Wesolowski, developed the concept, based upon his 14 years of experience as an exhibit builder at Arizona Science Center in Phoenix.

Wesolowski says that it is important to “discuss freely how one subject affects another.” He adds kids learn different convergent lines of experience, and his place has an interdisciplinary approach to experiential learning. In essence, it is a “playground for your brain.”

When referring to different age groups, “older kids need rules and structured concepts,” Wesolowski said. “This is where students can learn circuits, exoskeletons robots and extinction all in the same place.”

He said younger students are interested in “smaller wins,” and it’s important to freely discuss how one subject affects another.

Simply, each age group views Marshmallow Engineering differently: They all become engaged with the gooey substance,

“When used together, they can be added and added to make a structure,” he explained. “In some cases, if that structure is a pyramid that you start with, the structure can be really big, with over 1,000 parts … all marshmallows and toothpicks, capable of holding 10 to 15 pounds of pressure.

“We can talk about and make many different types of geometric shapes, explore what works and really relish in what fails,” Wesolowski said. “We can also have many words in this program casually discussed and used in context that may not ever come up.”

This lets kids understand this interdisciplinary approach combines an appreciation of and correlation between different fields they study. Pyramids are built with popsicle sticks and marshmallows, and students have to figure out how these items can work together. Planning and construction are core principle themes. There are also other fun activities like mural painting, making mosaics and even robot technology. Part of the whole experience is to understand that simple household items can be used such as straws, toothpicks or dental floss to help solve all types of equations.

The theory is that by applying all of these disciplines together, students will enter high school with a comprehensive, problem-solving skill set — and emerge as a competitive, creative and innovative force.

And it tastes good, too, even if it is a little sticky.
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