When you are in a classroom at Seaside Community Charter School, you usually see a lot going on. Yes, the children look like they having fun... but are they learning?
The photos show the culmination of a typical second grade activity (you will see similar in any of the grades). So what's going on "behind the fun"?
The "marshmallow challenge" is a well-known experiment in collaboration--and often done as part of a team-building exercise. But in addition to collaborating, children are learning to engage in evidence-based practices similar to what scientists and engineers do on a daily basis. Petrick, Wilkinson, & Bevan (2013) note that activities that foster real learning include the following elements:
- Engagement: Active participation--sometimes this is very quiet-- as when a child is observing and reflecting. Sometimes it is loud and joyful!
- Intentionality: Purposeful pursuit of a plan of action--this is often flexible and changing, as more information is gathered.
- Innovation: New strategies that rise from a growing understanding of tools, materials, and resulting actions.
- Solidarity: The sharing, supporting, and pursuing of shared goals with other learners.
According to the National Research Council's (2011) Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Cross-Cutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, when teachers create opportunities for students to solve problems such as those presented by the "marshmallow challenge", they foster the types of learning necessary for scientists and engineers to be successful--the ability to...
- define a problem.
- develop and use a model.
- plan and carry out an investigation or problem.
- analyze and interpret data.
- use mathematics, informational and computational thinking.
- design a solution.
- engage in arguments that are based in evidence.
- obtain information, evaluate information, and communicate information.
If learning is understood as more than the ability to reproduce skills and facts in decontextualized settings-- if it is understood to be learning to use facts and skills with intention and purpose, then yes, children are learning. They are learning to solve problems through their creativity. They are learning to "do" the evidence-based practices of science and engineering. Maybe most importantly---they are associating learning with JOY!
National Research Council (2011). A framework for k-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Committee on Conceptual Framework for the New K-12 Science Education Standards, Board on Science Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Petrich, M., Wilkinson, K., & Bevan, B. (2013). "It looks like fun, but are they learning?" (pp.50-70). In M. Honey & D.E. Kanter (Eds.) Design, Make, Play: Growing the next generation of STEM innovators. New York, NY: Routledge Press.
Willis, J. (2007). "The neuroscience of joyful education." Educational Leadership, 64. Retrieved from