Be the change, building community, challenge, Student-centered, students

Hey, It’s Ok To Go Outside the Curriculum Once in a While


I have felt like a new teacher this year.  Chalk it up to 27 students with a crazy range of learning needs, new program implementations, and just an insane amount of meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page.  We also have a new block schedule to implement, which has been amazing in some ways and limiting in others.  Most nights I work 2 or 3 extra hours at home making up for the time I don’t get in school.   While I love this year, it has also been a crazy one and every day I feel the curriculum pressing down on me urging me forward, to just get it done.

So why on Friday, with the pressure of everything we need to get through, did I have my students do the spaghetti and marshmallow tower challenge, swallowing up 40 minutes of our day?  Why “stop” the curriculum so the kids could have a team challenge?  Haven’t we already built community?

I did it because the kids need it.  They need to continue working in new teams.  They need to be challenged.  They need to think differently and deal directly with failure (there were epic attempts!).  And if you look closely, you would have seen how it absolutely was curriculum, even if FOSS science had not mandated it.  The students worked with design, creating a standard prototype and then testing their theory, adjusting along the way.  They changed and tried to control the different variables and engaged in deep on-the-spot thinking to ensure success.  In fact, as I looked up the Common Core standards for speaking and listening, I couldn’t believe how many of them we had covered.

Yet it’s bigger than that.  I made the teams so that kids who would not pick each other worked together.  I told them they would more than likely fail (based on previous years’ experience) and it was what they did with that failing moment that mattered.  The spirit of living up to expectations swallowed the room and carried the children home.  They did it together, and even though there was a winning team all of the kids celebrated and laughed about it.

We may think that when we leave the confines of our curriculum, we are breaking the rules or not teaching.  And sure there are times when the educational value can be hard to uncover.  But if the challenges are right, we are teaching the children more than some lessons do.  It takes courage to step outside the boundaries, but do it right, and the pay off will be immense.  My students left asking when they would do the next challenge, I told them “Soon!” and I meant it.  We have to think outside the lines of our own rush and needs to keep those kids challenged and engaged.

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this fall from PLPress.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

7 thoughts on “Hey, It’s Ok To Go Outside the Curriculum Once in a While”

  1. Leaving the curriculum and teachable moments can’t be beat for the amount of learning that takes place. We had a spaghetti and marshmallow challenge as part of PD play/explore day for teachers in beginning of school year. There was a winning team, and we had so much fun!

  2. I love any type of OM open-ended spontaneous problem solving activities. This is a great one. I’ve also tried it with 5feet of masking tape instead of marshmallows. Since going 1:1 with iPads, last year I developed some mini-challenges all around what collaboration looks, sounds, and feels like. They were hugely successful. I’m just getting ready to start again. After reading this post, I know I’ve waited too long. Our school sounds like we’re in the same place as yours! Regards, Mick

    If you have any desires to do some blogging collaboration or anything else, I’d be interested or could find you a grade 5 class. My class blog is at .

    I wrote about my Minecraft challenges in several blog posts at my COETAIL blog below.

  3. In my case it wasn’t outside the curriculum. One of our standards in 7th grade geography is an understanding about the ways people around the works prepare for natural disasters. And when we learn about population density, we learn about Japan. So today, the day before the holidays, my 7th graders built earthquake resistant buildings with spaghetti and marshmallows. We watched a clip about the tallest communication tower in the world, then used what we knew to build. The tallest and sturdiest won. Kudos to the 23 inch tall tower from 7th period. Wish I had taken a picture. So many thanks. We all had a great time and learned a little content too.

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