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Building Strong Bonds with Marshmallows and Toothpicks

It’s one of Third-grade Teacher Angie Foley’s favorite class traditions at Detroit Merit Charter Academy, an activity she affectionately calls “Marshmallow Toothpick Team Building.”
Here’s how it worked: Foley divided the class into teams, giving each team toothpicks, mini marshmallows, and a planning page to fill out before they build. The goal was for scholars to work as a team to create a sturdy structure out of toothpicks and marshmallows.

Students planning structure. 
"This year I said, ‘you can build a structure that can be tall, or you can plan to build a structure for strength,’” stated Foley. “’You're going to work as a team; you can pick someone to write and someone to build, someone to draw.’ So, everybody could pick a job they wanted in the group."
The activity was designed to encourage creativity and teamwork.
"A lot of the groups were going to build a tall structure," Foley explained.
Students building tall structure.

However, as they started building, reality set in. Some groups had to rethink their strategies.
"Once they started building and it started to topple over, a few groups were like, 'Let's regroup.' A lot of them ended up building very wide structures for strength."

Students building wide structure. 
“The students took turns and worked together, which doesn’t always happen with eight-year-olds,” she said. “It was kind of one of those teacher moments where I got to back away and just be in awe of the group.”

One group was so proud of their creation that they wanted to display it in the classroom all year long. After much discussion, they decided with all those marshmallows, it might be better just to keep a photo of their design.
Foley said she was impressed with the lessons the students learned from the activity.

"They really learned to talk together. Some of these students have been together in classes before but haven’t worked together because they always tend to group up by gender. I had them all mixed up, so they learned to work with people they hadn't worked with before.”

She also saw Moral Focus virtues emerge during the project.
"They definitely did respect each other a lot throughout this. They weren't yelling at each other; they really took the time and took turns. It really showed that they can respect one another with their choices."
It’s actions like these that have helped Detroit Merit outperform the local district in all subjects.
Moving forward, Foley hopes the students will apply their newfound skills.
"I hope that they would really think about how they treated each other and how they worked together and think, 'just day three of school, we learned to be cooperative with each other and be respectful and take that throughout the school year.'"

Students working together.

Foley says this is one activity she will definitely bring back for future classes!
Great job bringing young minds together Angie!

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About Detroit Merit Charter Academy
Detroit Merit Charter Academy is a tuition-free, public charter school in Detroit, Michigan, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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