Ideation @ Marshmallow Minds

Summer Camp 2019

Designing a summer camp experience is hard but enjoyable and requires lots of work. Here at Marshmallow Minds, we have designed a way to brainstorm ideas and then convert the ideas into a lesson plan that is enjoyable for all ages.

Unity in Diversity

One of the most effective ways to start is by having a brainstorming session with a group of people of different backgrounds. Having different backgrounds is important because each of those people were raised differently and will thus have different views and ideas about a given topic thus making the session a more enriching experience.

Marshmallow Minds Ideation Group includes a diverse group of experts from different fields who share a common interest in early education:

Mrs. Anshul Agarwal, Founder of Raptor Minds

Mrs. Staci Yee, an elementary school teacher

Mr. Scott Buchholz, Google

Dr. Sreekanth Ramakrishnan, IBM

Mrs. Vrishali Modi, PTA leader/Real-Estate Agent

Board of Directors, Marshmallow Minds

Stay On Topic

You should always give a topic for brainstorming. Giving a topic helps to keep your ideas inside a certain boundary and helps you to stay focused. Our ideation topic was, “How might we make summer camp a unique, multi activity(STEAM +Creative writing + Mindfulness), blended, fun and holistic learning experience?”

Go For Volume

When you are brainstorming in a group, it is important to follow the rules of brainstorming. If everyone in the group is mindful of the rules, you will be surprised how effective and efficient your team can be in generating lots of ideas in a short amount of time!

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In 20 minutes, we generated close to 60 ideas! That was a successful brainstorming session! Go team!

Zoom Out! Grouping and Voting

After you have generated many ideas, you have to group these ideas into different categories. You can come up with broad and general topics before narrowing down. You can also try to identify a common theme between all the ideas. Once the ideas are grouped, everyone gets to vote for two to three of their favorite ideas. From our grouping and voting exercise, our favorite common theme/connecting topic ended up being Around the World.

Focus on Human Values

At Marshmallow Minds, the heart of every STEAM lesson is an empathy based real-world story. We live in a connected world.  We strongly believe that all children have the potential to become the heroes of their story when they connect with the world from their heart through empathy and apply their mind creatively, to solve challenges.  By combining our ideas, we identified an empathy element for the STEAM projects. We also broke down our projects into design based and project based to give children a holistic learning experience.

Zoom In! Crafting Clarity

         After zooming out and identifying the broad theme, Around the World, our final task was to zoom in and breakdown the details of the summer camp experience. We came up with the idea of splitting the broad idea, Around the World, into the six main continents. In each of these continents, we identified an iconic man-made landmark and a natural (an animal/plant) rich habitat. We then researched for an engineering focused design thinking based lesson for each of the landmarks and an artistic focused design thinking lesson for each of the flora and fauna habitats.

Radical Collaboration

Once we gained clarity on the topics, our camp faculties came together to design a blended curriculum for STEAM, Creative Writing and Mindfulness Yoga.  Every challenge for the summer camp has been designed to give the students an opportunity to empathize, explore and engineer creative solutions. Fun is the easiest way of changing people’s behavior for the better and we have mindfully incorporated fun throughout our camp experience.

You can learn more about our summer camp at

(Posting by Ashwin Senthilvasan, student volunteer)

Liberating Ideas

Marshmallow Minds was founded and incorporated on March 4th, 2016 with a mission to inspire innovation through Design Thinking and STE(A)M education and build Creative Confidence in young minds between grades K-8 of all abilities. At the start, neither the process of getting there, nor the outcome was clear. But the need for a better early education experience was clear. Since 2016, Marshmallow Minds has delivered quality Design Thinking and STE(A)M programs to thousands of students in public schools in Santa Clara County. As we complete 3 years, we would like to celebrate all the liberating ideas that helped in the transformation of the organization!

I asked myself every single day,  “How are you feeling about going to work today? Are you excited at the prospect of solving the customer problems that you can hardly empathize with?”. Although I didn’t get great responses, I didn’t see any other alternatives. So, I started to fall in love with technologies and solutions.

In 2005, I hesitantly joined Intuit, a financial software company, with little clue on what this company does. Soon, I was exposed to tools that enabled me to get out behind my desk and talk to customers which soon unlocked new ideas and helped me see problems in a new light. I participated in many ideation sessions with our customers and partners. I was able to shadow our customers and learn how their daily life is, what tools they use and the problems they face. Soon I fell in love with their problems.

The design for delight (Intuit's take on Design Thinking that involves Empathy, Go Broad to Go Narrow and Rapid Experiments) and Lean startup methodologies (Build — Measure — Learn) provided guidance, clear structure, and enabled freedom to bring my ideas to life quickly.

A few years later, I started volunteering as part of the project cornerstone program at my son’s elementary school. As part of the project cornerstone program, I read specially selected books and lead activities that help teach young kids to develop skills to handle physical, verbal, relational and digital bullying and to stand up for others in need. I developed a passion for teaching and learned to empathize with others through this process. I soon realized that we are headed into a world where kids are being a container of mere knowledge rather than being someone who can be a creative designer of the future. Making these young kids learn the allegedly ‘one correct answer’ by heart by following a knowledge-driven curriculum through a ‘one size fits all’ teaching approach’, leads to sucking the creativity out of them.

Recently, I was offered an opportunity to be part of Marshmallow Minds to make a small dent through sharing the design thinking experiences I have been exposed to at work in order to benefit students of all abilities, educators, and parents. I also hope to apply my learnings from this experience back to the corporate world. As a Board Of Director at Marshmallow Minds, I am excited to bridge my passion and my profession and promote and preach the benefits of design thinking and build creative confidence in young minds.

(Posting by
Nirmala Ranganathan, Treasurer, Board of Directors, Marshmallow Minds)

Marching Forth!

Marshmallow Minds was incorporated on March 4th, 2016. We believe it is a sign that guides us to march forth in our endeavors! On March 4th, 2018, I would like to share my experiences as the Secretary, Board of Directors at Marshmallow Minds and celebrate the impact we have been privileged to create in 2017-18 academic year. Thank you Harini, our founder, for inviting me to join the team to serve our community to which we are committed to cultivate a love of learning through exploration and empathy.

Our second academic year at Murdock-Portal Elementary School(Cupertino Union School District) has evolved the “In School” program into covering over 350 kids from kindergartners to 3rd graders. This is a 7X increase in the number of kids benefitting from our In-School program from the previous academic year. Our instructors and coaches have spent  over 200 hours of imparting design thinking and STEM education, which is a twenty-fold increase over 2016-17 academic year. The feedback we have received from parents and teachers, about the positive experience kids confidently share with them has humbled us and has reinforced our belief that empathic exploration and learning inspires creative confidence.

Our kids have dreamed, explored, researched and created other solar systems. They also understood the nuances of the genetic impact on vision and muscles of special kids who need more care from the community. Our kids empathized with the needs of these special kids and created ways to help kids with low muscle tone enjoy recess in school. They re-created a stargazing party for kids who suffered from night blindness and could not enjoy the beauty of the night sky. They had fun creating these models of the world from their empathic point of view and collaborated in coming up with these alternate visions of our world. The impact these empathic kids will create when they are leaders promises to be truly unprecedented.

Marshmallow Minds hired its first employee and we also scaled our Board, to enable filing for the 501(3)(c) status which we would be doing in the near future, with the sustained support from our community. We enriched our program to include new design challenges which have helped us uncover new insights in empathy based design. We conducted parent education nights where parents had fun designing roller coasters for the Golden State Warriors and NASA Astronauts. Marshmallow Minds is looking into expanding the program to kids who are being homeschooled, through partnership with Lumen Learning Center. Our professional development program at the center for their trainers was well received by Lumen’s staff.

The Marshmallow Minds team is growing and building our social presence to share the exciting experiences with our community, educators, and partners. We will be unveiling more programs in schools and in the community with your support. We look forward to further enriching our experiences and incorporating fun design challenges, that help our young students understand and explore the world not just from their eyes, but from the others they share this planet with. As a Board Member, I am having fun creating meaningful change in education, society, and increasing the empathic quotient in the community while dreaming of s’more experiences here at Marshmallow Minds!

(Posting by Anand, Secretary, Board of Directors, Marshmallow Minds)


HFLI, Detroit, Delta

Summer 2016 Design Thinking workshop with 

Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI)


HFLI workshop experience

The first workshop that I attended with the Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI) was an introduction to Design Thinking for educators (August 3 through 5, 2016). Having taken a Design Thinking course at Stanford as part of their Advanced Project Management (SAPM) program, I was tempted to forego this workshop. However, after speaking with the associate director of Design Thinking at HFLI, I was convinced that I should attend. Although I am familiar with the Design Thinking process, attending the workshop with a group of experienced educators was very different compared to the SAPM experience. We, in the corporate world, see things in a different way from educators. Such varying viewpoints are good; at the same time these can mislead us if we do not truly understand the educators’ world. 

I gained a number of valuable insights from this workshop. I was touched and humbled by the HFLI team who shared a great deal of their Design Thinking educational resources, which have been created with much effort over the years. Their Design Thinking curriculum has been well-tested in their charter schools from K through 12th grade; therefore they can be prototyped and eventually implemented in other schools.  

The second workshop called “The Innovation Collaborative”, on August 8 and 9, 2016, was organized for the advanced Design Thinkers who have implemented Design Thinking in their K-12 classrooms. Educators from many countries, with different cultures and different languages, came together under one roof with a shared interest of elevating the Design Thinking experience to a higher grade for their respective schools and communities. We shared with each other our success stories, challenges and vital questions as we moved forward. 

I applaud the HFLI team for designing outstanding workshops and facilitating collaboration among schools, and for allowing us to gain great inspirations, tools and connections for the next significant step in our journey.

Empathy can be powerful and positive

It was the day after the Delta global computer system outage that I was flying out of Detroit on Delta, after finishing my week long Design Thinking workshops with HFLI.  The workshop ended at 2:00pm on the 9th of August and I was ready to fly back to California to reunite with family.  Except, I had booked my flight for a 10:10 pm departure which meant an eight hour long wait assuming the flight did not get delayed or canceled.  I decided to head straight to the airport from the workshop to try my luck and get into an earlier flight in-spite of my lovely host’s kind and generous offer to enjoy one more delicious dinner with them before I head back. 

I reached the airport and noticed the long ticket counter lines, not-so-happy customers and weary officials who have probably been putting extra hours of work to ensure their customer needs are taken care of.  I too joined the line with no expectation.  Then, it was my turn and I stepped forward.  After a quick, polite exchange of ‘auto-pilot’ mode greetings, the Delta official checked my flight details and was happy to let me know that the 10:10pm flight is not likely to get delayed or canceled.  I was definitely relieved.  Then, I asked him if its possible to get on the 5:55pm flight so I could reach home early. 

He gave me a stare and I could read his mind in the eyes.  Do you have any idea what is the probability of that happening given we are desperately trying to get stranded passengers out of this airport after the global computer system outage? Then he went back to his computer.  While my brain could have switched to ‘wait’ mode, it chose to empathize with his state of mind and in a fraction of a second, I was apologizing to him for having made such a request.  Given the challenges they had been facing since the global system outage, I told him that I could totally understand if he would not be able to help me with my request.  This time, he gave me a smile and said, “Thank you for understanding. Let me see what I can do”.  He then recommended that I do a self service check-in at the kiosk for the boarding pass and if the system allowed for a flight change option, he could further help.  

I went to one of the self service kiosks and started entering my details.  Along the way, a new option popped up asking whether I was interested to volunteer for a flight exchange and I agreed.  This could be a ‘win-win’ for me and the airlines, I thought to myself.  Once I agreed, the system took me to the airfare bidding menu. Options were from $200 through $500 in increments of $100 along with a custom entry option.  I was truly puzzled as I was not expecting the airlines to pay me and also get me on an earlier flight!  I decided to settle for $0.00. I entered $0.00 as the bidding fare which was rejected by the system as user error. I then tried $1.00 which was rejected as well.  After few iterations, I found the magic number that the system would finally accept. Triumphantly, I returned to the Delta official.  With my amateur storytelling skills, I narrated the experience of volunteering for the airfare exchange followed by the airfare biddingand declared that I had to settle for $10.00 as the bidding airfare since the system would not accept any lower value. He stopped typing and asked, “Why did you not go for the $500 bidding option?  You could have potentially gotten both the money and the earlier flight.  But I am surprised you made this choice.”  I reflected my actions for a moment and then replied, “Well, it’s a challenging day for Delta.  Yet, you have been very helpful.  I am very thankful to you and the team for trying to get me a standby flight.  Hopefully, you will save me some time and I will save Delta some money, with this choice”.  We then parted with a warm smile and wishing each other well after exchanging few friendly conversations.  Mutual empathy connected two individuals of completely different nature, jobs and culture.  It added a new dimension to problem solving and happiness, I realized.  That was indeed powerful and positive to experience.  

After comfortably settling in the 5:55pm flight, I opened my personal journal to ink my HFLI experience.

Without any doubt, the HFLI team did a fantastic job of tuning me further towards an empathetic mindset through their workshops and their impact in the schools they are serving in the local Detroit community.  In this trip, I continued to experience that having a Design Thinking mindset which starts with empathy does make a difference in the choices we make in any journey we take in our life.

(Posting by Harini, Founder, Marshmallow Minds)

Namesake, up for a marshmallow design challenge?

The Marshmallow Design Challenge

please click on the slideshow below.  

Tom Wujec presents some surprisingly deep research into the "marshmallow problem" — a simple team-building exercise that involves dry spaghetti, one yard of tape and a marshmallow. Who can build the tallest tower with these ingredients? And why does a surprising group always beat the average?  Watch this video to find out the value of the experience of this simple Marshmallow design challenge. 

Every Project has its own marshmallow, isn’t it?

The story behind the name, Marshmallow Minds

We were at Franz Joseph, New Zealand last Christmas.  Unusually warm and clear skies… We were going on a hike by a riverside.  Surprisingly, no one was there except us…not even a sheep! (Interesting facts: The human population of New Zealand is 4.5M out of which 1.5M of them live in Auckland! The rest of them are scattered all over the country. By the way, there are 28M sheep! )  There were lots of rocks on the river bed; the clear skies reminded of California blue skies; the sun was beaming; the water was free flowing; the snow capped mountains were standing tall and majestic and of course, there were lots of greenery to please one’s eyes.  I was so inspired by the creations of God that I decided to meditate on one of those rocks.  The gushing water dashing against the rocks and the whistling winds, all seemed to be in sync and accompanied my meditative music.  

After the hike, it was time for a nice hot chocolate drink. Not a single place we went to, served hot chocolate without marshmallows!  While in the US, its always hot chocolate with whipped cream, in NZ, it was hot chocolate with marshmallows on the side.  As I was enjoying my cup of hot chocolate, I had a sudden recollection of the Marshmallow Design Challenge that we work on at Stanford, as part of the SAPM(Stanford Advanced Project Management) course. Then I looked at the two marshmallows on my plate….the dots connected.  With a smile, I slipped those marshmallows into my cup. 

“I believe it is destiny that brought me closer to you, Marshmallow. I bet it’s going to be a sweet journey with many inspiring Minds!”

(Posting by Harini, Founder, Marshmallow Minds)