Tag Archives: open question

195. Marshmallow Maths

It’s our first birthday at the MathsSandpit and this post is party themed. Remember a few years ago, when chocolate fountains were the ‘in thing’ at celebrations and parties. The healthy guests stuck to strawberries drenched in chocolate. The unhealthy went for marshmallows on sticks and … well … all I’ll say is Geraldine Granger (Vicar of Dibley – Chocolate Fountain)

I’m trying to decompartmentalise the maths in my students heads. They struggle to see the links between different topics. So I introduced ‘Marshmalllow Maths’ – they were intrigued/hungry as soon as I mentioned it.


  • Cocktail sticks
  • Pink and white marshmallows

Step 1


Ask your class to connect the marshmallows together


Step 2

What mathematical characteristics do the marshmallows have? I’ve summarised my classes’ responses below:


Two marshmallows lead to ratio, percentages, fractions, decimals and probability. The links between these topics start to emerge.

Step 3

Add on another marshmallow


How have the ratios, fractions, decimals, percentages changed?


Step 4

Make another 1:2 ratio marshmallow, identical to the previous one. How have the mathematical facts changed? In fact although the numbers have changed, the proportions have stayed the same which is proved when you simplify the numbers. Physically you can prove it by stacking the structures on top of each other – from above it looks like the original structure.

At this point I went cross-curricular and discussed the similarities between the marshmallow structure and water (H20). I was going to label the marshmallows with H and O, but my food-colouring pen wasn’t working. My logic was that water always has hydrogen and oxygen in the same ratio – this means we know we can drink it. If the ratio suddenly changed to H2O2, we would be in trouble! As far as I can remember H2O2 is hydrogen peroxide and is better for bleaching than drinking. This actually got the idea across quite well – no-one tried to fudge their ratios.


Step 5

I then allowed the class to make their own simple structures using their own piles of marshmallows. They had to make at least three identical structures, work out the related maths and prove that their numbers could be simplified to the basic form. In doing so they also looked at converting ratios to fractions and also found fractions of amounts.


Step 6

Eat marshmallows (whilst doing some related questions).


Optional: Step 7

Calculate the percentage increase in body mass on results day! It was marshmallows today, a chocolate prize for cracking a code earlier in the week and they say they learn better when they eat. I think it’s all a ploy to scrounge more food … but if it works … maybe fruit next time!

152: Sequence Starter 1

So many people have the preconcieved notion that there is only one right answer to a maths question. This is such a silly idea – they just haven’t had the right question!

Here is a simple starter for introducing term to term sequences.

Classroom whiteboard or large sheets of paper

Write down the next three terms in the sequence 1, 2 … and the rule used.
Eg: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, …      Add 1
Note: Rules should be one short sentence.

My Year 7 were frustrated that I’d given them the obvious answer and was asking for more. After a few minutes adjusting their expectations, they went for it. Some methodically wrote down rules, some abbreviated rules to symbols, some wrote rules and didn’t check them. Some didn’t write rules at all.

I randomly picked pupils to share their ideas on the board. I did the writing as I wanted to control the wording of rules and half of them can’t reach the top of the board.


Their sequences were brilliant and very creative. The stumbling block was the rules. They didn’t always work for every term of the sequence. This gave other pupils the opportunity to develop their ideas by improving or adjusting the rules to fit the sequences. We also discussed how many terms you need to make a unique sequence. By the end of the discussion we only had one sequence without a rule. I was really impressed by their numerical skills!

In the subsequent classwork, their solutions were precise and well explained.

We finished with this brain teaser:
1,2,5,10,20,50,100 …

It’s UK currency:
1p,2p,5p,10p … etc