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Terrific Thanksgiving STEM Activities for Elementary Grades!

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STEM Challenges for Thanksgiving

Who doesn’t like a good turkey STEM challenge to do around Thanksgiving?  I will tell you about two turkey STEM activities that I have done with my students.  If you do them early in the month, you can use them to decorate!

Turkey STEM Challenge for Primary Grades

to show samples of students' finished STEM turkeys

This turkey STEM activity easily lends itself to integrating English Language Arts and Math.  The first thing I do with my students is to have them learn about wild turkeys.  To do this, I have prepared a reading passage for them.  This passage provides information about where turkeys live, what they look like, and some of their behaviors.  Students can also read books about turkeys.   One that I have used is All About Turkeys by Jim Arnosky.  After reading about turkeys, students write down interesting facts that they learned and compare and contrast male and female turkeys.

Finally, they complete the STEM challenge.  For this, I ask children to work with a partner, but the activity can be done individually.  Students use the facts they learned such as colors and structural features to create their turkeys.  They are also given constraints such as “the turkey must be at least 9″ tall and 4” wide.  It must have at least one moving part, and the turkey must be able to stand on a table by itself.  Students are provided with specific tools.  I give them scissors, rulers, and a hole punch or push pin for making holes.  I also give them a list of materials they can use.  This includes construction paper, toilet paper tubes, brass fastener, and pipe cleaners.  I also give them the option of asking one other for material that they know is in the lab or bringing in one additional material from home.  Obviously, you can change up the materials depending on what you have available.

Students have a ball making these, and as you can see from the photo, no two turkeys look the same.  If you want to add a writing assignment, have students write about an adventure that their wild turkey has!  This could also be based on facts that they learned, like where they live.

Turkey STEM Challenge for Upper Elementary Grades

photo showing a wild turkey balancing on a branch.

This challenge is a bit more work!  It includes research and science!

I created a WebQuest for students.  If you aren’t familiar with WebQuests, they are simply a quest or search for something on the internet.  I used this site to create my WebQuest.  It is BioKids through the University of Michigan.  I looked through the website and came up with a list of questions that students can answer using the site. Another great site for something like this is Cornell’s School of Ornithology.   Besides the links I provided for research on wild turkeys, BioKids has information on many other types of animals.  Cornell’s site has information on all kinds of birds.

When completing a WebQuest, having students work with a partner keeps them engaged and discussing what they are learning.

After learning about wild turkeys the challenge is presented.  This activity asks students to use what they have learned about wild turkeys to design a turkey which can stay upright on a branch.  This means that they should have some knowledge about balanced and unbalanced forces.  If students don’t, this is the perfect time to demonstrate and discuss this topic.  Like the previous challenge, there are other constraints.

With the older students, they should have a plan before they begin their build.  The plan should be shown to the teacher before they get their materials.  During this challenge, improving on their designs is something that they want to do and comes naturally.  A balancing act can be tricky!

If you are interested in having pre-made reading passages or a WebQuest that is already made (including the answer key), you can find them at our TpT shop by clicking on the images below.

link to primary wild turkey stem challenge                                     link to make a wild turkey activity and webquest

To learn more about WebQuests, read our blog A WebQuest is an Engaging Educational Tool.

Happy Thanksgiving!

And remember, it’s all science!


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