Design Thinking Stage 3: Prototyping—-It’s a Marshmallow World!


Marshmallow Challenge

Marshmallow Challenge


Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 11.24.44 PM


This is Week 4 of my Design Thinking course with Eduro Learning.  This week, we are looking at the idea of Prototyping.

As part of our learning, our assignment was to undertake the “Marshmallow Challenge” and to document it.   I’ve condensed the 18 minute challenge into a 4 minute fun (I hope!) youtube music video. Enjoy!


Caption for the video:  I gave the Marshmallow Challenge to my 4 children. Can they beat the world average of 20 inches?  Will they organize, specialize, iterate, and cooperate?  or Will they fight, fuss, and fail instead?


Prototyping is pushing out several iterations of designs quickly in order to obtain as much data as possible in order to strengthen the final product.



The challenge of prototyping in a classroom context is the willingness of students to FAIL at all.  They’re just not used to viewing failure as positive, at all.

This was illustrated to me when we recently acquired a 3D Printer.  I don’t have a clue on how to use one.  The children looked to me to tell them how to work it so it would churn out their creations “perfectly”.  I didn’t know, so I couldn’t help them.  I told them to try it out themselves and let’s see…

So, you can bet the initial few creations were a bit of a mess.  They expressed chagrin at each mess-up, didn’t know what went wrong, and wanted to throw the entire “spaghetti mess” immediately into the garbage bin, so as to avoid facing their mistakes.   I wouldn’t let them.

Benefits of Conscious Iteration

I said, “No, keep the mistakes.  Study them and see if you can guess why this run messed up. If you do this each time, you’ll learn something new each time and pretty soon, you’ll know exactly what you’ve done wrong when it happens and you’ll be able to rectify it immediately.”   Thinking like that relaxed them a lot more to enjoy the process instead of stressing.  Thinking like that helped me feel better about the time and resources that were seemingly “wasted” in the failed 3D prints.

Over time, we’re tweaking different variables in the designs and seeing the effect of them. We’re failing, but we’re learning.  We’re learning a lot faster than if we had just read a 3D printing textbook!

Our 3D print mistakes after only the first day

Our 3D print mistakes after only the first day


Not Failure.  It’s DATA.

I love the way that Tina Seelig explains “failure”.  She says that scientists don’t call mistakes “failure”. They call it DATA.   So, the more prototypes and mistakes that you make,  the more DATA you acquire on your way to a better end-product.


Prototyping is a lens for school leadership



I didn’t understand what John Nash first meant when he said that “Design Thinking can be a lens for school leadership.”  Now after this week on Prototyping, I think I understand.

He means that when a school runs into problems, leaders can solve these problems using Design Thinking.  In terms of prototyping, this means leaders have to be willing to push out rather rough models of reform, receive feedback from the stakeholders, and then go back and tweak them…and then repeat this cycle as many times as needed.

This can be very challenging and scary as it demands transparency and vulnerability in front of students, parents, and colleagues.  At the end, I think it is worth it.  Stakeholders will be a part of the ownership of the solution and therefore the solution has the potential to last for long-term.  There’s also greater potential to build the proverbial “better mouse-trap”.


Prototyping in the Curriculum

I just finished attending an IB Diploma Music teacher’s workshop a few weeks ago.

Aside:  It was in Paris and our workshop hotel & venue was only a 10 minute walk from where the Paris massacres happened at the Bataclan Concert Hall, this past weekend.   I feel heartbroken at what they’ve done to beautiful Paris 🙁

During the workshop, the IB Workshop instructor challenged us to involve the Diploma students in the creation and development of their own curriculum.  Aspects of the IB DP Music curriculum include music performance, composition, listening & analysis.   This would be a very interesting opportunity to prototype, indeed.  I bet the students would come up with fantastic iterations of what they would like.



So, this week’s big idea is that Prototyping allows people to build to think. Hands-On thinking is the best thinking of all.  It’s authentic; It’s memorable. Moreover, it’s so much fun! 🙂

I can’t see why anyone teaching Maker Education wouldn’t just attach themselves to this model.

What in your life are you prototyping?



Design Thinking Vocabulary

Design Thinking Vocabulary


About Vivian

Vivian @ChezVivian is a Canadian-born Chinese, currently living in Switzerland. She has also lived in Hong Kong and Indonesia. She holds a M.S. (focus: Educational Technology Integration), B.Ed and a B.A. and graduate studies in Kodály and Orff music pedagogy. She is an elementary school classroom generalist, but has also taught as a music specialist, ESL/EAL and also in Learning Support. Most of her teaching career was in International Schools in Hong Kong. She is excited about the IBPYP and the possibilities of using technology to Inquire. Recently, she has been looking at the opportunities that computer programming gives to put #TECHXture back into the hands of children. In other words, technology need not be just about looking at screens. It can be about building things with our hands and computer programming levels-up what children can do with the things they build---encouraging higher thinking skills. She is a Coetail Post-graduate Certificate grad ('13-'14), a former Coetail Coach and one of the co-founders of #CoetailChat. Her blog home curates her assignments for Coetail and her M.S. graduate studies about Educational Technology integration and anything else educationally-related that she feels inspired to write about. Her twitter tagline sums it up: "Mom to 4, Mentor, Educator, Musician (in that order)".
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2 Responses to Design Thinking Stage 3: Prototyping—-It’s a Marshmallow World!

  1. Tara Ogle says:

    Hi Vivian,
    Wow, I was impressed by your childrens’ ingenius marshmallow challenge structure! I was so fast and furious and did not make any prior sketches, so my efforts were purely coincidental. I did not guide my partner, Sean , to do prior sketches either. I suppose the outcomes would be very different had we been better prepared.

    Regarding your post, I think you are correct in thinking that school leaders would follow the DT cycle in implementing new projects. It’s the vulnerability part that would be especially challenging I would imagine, since you are guiding so many people in a new direction, and the risk of failure and criticism would be daunting. Though we learn from failure, when leaders fail, the effects can ripple down and be difficult to swallow.

    I feel like prototyping is perfectly aligned to handing over ownership to students. Especially DP students as you mentioned. With their level of maturity and understanding, it only makes sense to have students break down their own learning and prototype applications. I am interested in trying to make this work in my classroom too, with my ECE aged youngsters!

    • Vivian says:

      Hi Tara

      I imagine the ECE children would really enjoy the prototyping stage. Young children aren’t afraid about getting messy and using their hands. It’s funny how we start being afraid of drawing and building as we get older. We learn that fear from somewhere…