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A fun team building or leadership activity with kids. The key is the discussion at the end.

Goal

Your challenge is to build the tallest and cheapest tower possible tallest, most cost effective freestanding tower that will support an inflated balloon using only the toothpicks and gumdrops (or spaghetti and marshmallows).

Constraints

  • The tower must be self-supporting and stand for a minimum of 10 seconds.
  • The tower must be free-standing, not propped on anything.
  • The judge will measure the height of the tower as the straight-line distance from the base of the tower to the tallest point on the tower.
  • No other supports or materials may be used.
  • During planning, there is no building, do not touch the materials until “Go”.
  • The spaghetti and gumdrops may be cut, but no cutting tools are provided.
  • If something is ruined or lost (or eaten!), you can not replace it.
  • When time is up, hands off.

Scoring

Height of Tower

Tallest tower – 15 points 2nd tallest – 13 points 3rd tallest – 10 points 4th tallest – 8 points 5th tallest – 6 points 6th tallest – 4 points 7th tallest – 2 points 8th tallest – 1 point

Cost Efficiency

Cheapest tower – 15 points 2nd most expensive – 13 points 3rd most expensive – 10 points 4th most expensive – 8 points 5th most expensive – 6 points 6th most expensive – 4 points 7th most expensive – 2 points 8th most expensive – 1 point

Pretend Costs of Resources

  • Full length toothpick or spaghetti strand - $10 each
  • Gumdrop or marshmallow - $10 each

Facilitator Preparation - Required Resources

You’ll need:

  • Toothpicks or dry spaghetti noodles (exactly 20 pieces) (all the same brand for consistency)
  • Gumdrops or small marshmallows (exactly 20 pieces) (all the same brand for consistency) NOTE: Having a limited number of resources helps the kids focus on the task and think about the pros and cons of each material. If they eat them, they have less to work with.
  • pencil or pen for each person
  • paper for each team
  • poster board or large paper with the following written on it:
  • What went well?
  • What did not go so well?
  • How could we do better next time?

Age Adjustment: For teens through adults add the design requirement that the tower will support an inflated balloon. For younger children, you may want to drop the balloon requirement so they don’t get discouraged.

The key to learning through experiential team building exercises is the combination of activity PLUS the discussion. 3

Facilitator note: Lead these activities in such a manner that the participants understand they have choice as to the degree to which they participate. Encourage each person to communicate their comfort level with the activity and to join in at the level they choose (full, partial, none) rather than be coerced into participation.3

Introduction

Introduce the activity to the group. Let them know the goal.

Explain that this project needs teamwork: working as a group toward a common goal. Specifically:

  • Effective teams work together, drawing on the help of each person. Teams work together as a whole instead of going in a bunch of different directions.
  • Team members should make a mindful effort to be respectful, and listen to everyone’s point of view.
  • Team members participate in decision-making, and each member understands that the team leader might need to make the final decision if the team cannot come to a consensus agreement.

Team Setup

  1. Form teams of 4 people each.
  2. Ask the teams to send team representatives to get their building resources (spaghetti, gum drops, etc.).
  3. Tell the team leaders their team has 5 minutes to plan, with no building allowed during planning.
  4. Tell the team leaders their team has 15 minutes to do, check, and adjust (make their tower).

Process

This activity will use the PDCA cycle (plan, do, check, adjust).

Plan (5 min) (First attempt/iteration)

All teams have 5 minutes to organize and plan their tower approach, or their overall design concept. During planning, no spaghetti or gumdrops/marshmallows may be touched or used.

  • Talk, share ideas (collaborate)
  • Listen to each team member’s best thinking and recommendations
  • sketch a design for their tower
  • Visualize
  • Come to agreement (consensus) on your tower design

Do (15 min) (First attempt/iteration)

  1. Start the clock.
  2. The team builds their tower, working their plan. NOTE: The kids build, not the adults. Selected adults may offer tips and suggestions to teams, if needed.

Check (First attempt/iteration)

  1. When 15 min have passed, announce “STOP Work.”
  2. Measure the height of your tower and record the results for all to see.
  3. Count the spaghetti pieces not used. Subtract from 20 and record the results.
  4. Count the gumdrops/marshmallows not used. Subtract from 20 and record the results.
  5. As a team, we’re going to move to another group’s area to observe (NOT TOUCH!).1
  6. At each other tower you have 1 minute to analyze each tower and talk about techniques you might use on your next tower.1

Adjust (First attempt/iteration)

Now that you have experimented, learned from your own tower results and from others’ towers, you have 4 minutes for your team to reflect, and work together to addresses changes that need to be made to the final tower attempt to help it do better.

Answer the following questions as a team.

  • What went well?
  • What did not go so well?
  • How could we do better next time?

Second attempt - iteration 2

Plan (5 min) (Second attempt/iteration 2)

All teams have 5 minutes to organize and plan their tower approach, or their overall design concept. During planning, no spaghetti or gumdrops/marshmallows may be touched or used.

Resource Purchasing (Second attempt/iteration 2)

Resource handouts are not timed.

On the second attempt or iteration, each team only gets 35 total items (down from 40). Any mixture of toothpicks/spaghetti strands and gumdrops/marshmallows is allowed.

Do (15 min) (Second attempt/iteration 2)

  1. Start the clock.
  2. The team builds their tower, working their plan.

Check (Second attempt/iteration 2)

  1. When 15 min have passed, announce “STOP Work.”
  2. Measure the height of your tower and record the results for all to see.
  3. Count the spaghetti pieces not used. Subtract from 20 and record the results.
  4. Count the gumdrops/marshmallows not used. Subtract from 20 and record the results.
  5. As a team, we’re going to move to another group’s area to observe (NOT TOUCH!).1
  6. At each other tower you have 1 minute to analyze each tower and talk about techniques you might use on your next tower.1

Adjust (Second attempt/iteration 2)

Now that you have experimented, learned from your own tower results and from others’ towers, you have 4 minutes for your team to reflect, and work together to addresses changes that need to be made to the final tower attempt to help it do better.

Answer the following questions as a team.

  • What went well?
  • What did not go so well?
  • How could we do better next time?

Picture Time

Take pictures with each team gathered around their towers.

Reflection Discussion

  1. Ask everyone to gather around the winning tower to discuss what makes it work. This discussion often includes ideas about support, foundation, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each resource. 1
  2. If there’s time also debrief other towers.1
  3. How did each participant’s confidence feel at the beginning of the task?
  4. What led to rises and dips in confidence?
  5. Did someone emerge as the leader? 2
  6. How were decisions made? 2
  7. What challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
  8. What changed from the first attempt/iteration to the second attempt/iteration? Why?
  9. What could your group have done better (interactions, not the tower)?2
  10. How could you better contribute to the group dynamic?2
  11. How does building the tower in this activity compare to your daily school/work?
  12. How does this activity relate to being part of a larger organization, or group?
  13. Ponder: What will you do differently after this exercise?

Sources: 1. Amanda 2. Amanda 3. Teo

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KW Lanham


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