What Kind of Turkey is This?

Wanting to do some kind of STEM activity with the 4th graders, I did some research and came across a blog post from Angela Willyerd, titled “The Great Turkey Race.” I did buy her packet and am glad I did – love how the design process is incorporated in the lesson!

The Problem: “Farmer Dave wants to choose the biggest and best turkey for his town’s Thanksgiving Feast. He decides to race them, assuming that the biggest turkey will be the slowest. Well, the turkeys get wind of this and decide to create a double because they don’t want to become Thanksgiving dinner!

The Challenge:  The students have to create a turkey “‘double” using some common items such as styrofoam bowls, toilet paper rolls.

Angela has created a fantastic PowerPoint that walks the students through the process so we started with that. I told the class the materials they would have and what had to be included – head, body, feet, and tail feathers. Then, I asked them to sketch what they had in mind. The next step was to decide on a group design – not easy when each person is fond of their own!

The groups set to work creating some of the strangest turkey doubles I’d ever seen!

One group held up pieces of their styrofoam bowl and sheepishly asked if they could have another.

The test track had been marked by masking tape and as groups finished, the asked me to time their turkey.

This one actually rolled quite well but too many turkey parts were missing from the design!

This one was pretty cute but the team couldn’t get it to move.

They changed the design and tried again.

This was such a good challenge for learning that sometimes things don’t work they way you expect and changes need to be made. No one became frustrated; they quickly went back to their place and began to brainstorm how certain changes might affect the outcome.

Was it loud? Oh, my, yes! Were the students learning? Most definitely!

We may just continue Thanksgiving AFTER the break so that other classes have the opportunity to give this a try.

A Better House for the Three Pigs

Continuing with the Fairy Tale theme, Mrs. Garcia and I found an activity from Teachers Pay Teachers called, The Big Bad Wolf STEM Challenge. We adapted it slightly to incorporate design thinking. (I like to use the Launch Cycle model because it’s very easy for elementary children to understand. See the post, Design Thinking + Dot Day = Thoughtful Creationfor a more in-depth description of this model.)

The challenge: Build a house for the pigs that can’t be blown down by the Big Bad Wolf (aka the hairdryer).

The students chose 20 of one of the following:

  • toothpicks
  • straws
  • popsicle sticks

We started by asking the children to assume the role of the pigs. What would you want for a house? How could it be built so that it was sturdy enough to withstand all the huffing and puffing of the wolf?

Going through the design thinking process, we had the students discuss ideas with their partner using only verbal descriptions. They had 2 minutes for this (and begged for more)! Then, the children sketched ideas based on the previous discussions. Next, each described their illustrations. The hardest task was to choose the “final” design – the one to be used for building. That step required give and take as well as negotiating skills as they tried to prove that certain designs would withstand the wolf better than others. It was interesting to listen to the conversations as the children combined the best parts of each of the sketches. There was no arguing. Instead, we saw and heard fantastic reasoning skills as students talked through the pros and cons of each design element!

Time for building! Students collected the materials and went to work. No two houses were alike!

The one thing I’d change for the future would be to limit the amount of tape. That would certainly increase the challenge difficulty. These houses were like an armored truck; there was SO much tape wrapped around some of them that I’m not even sure these structures could be crushed!

The reflection time is very important. It’s really easy to skip this step because of lack of time but it’s critical to have the students talk about their challenges; what worked, what didn’t, what they would change doing it again, etc. It also provides the opportunity for the teacher to get a better idea of the students’ thinking.

Here’s a video to give you a glimpse into the Three Pigs challenge.

To the students, this seems like “play” – it’s most definitely fun for children AND teachers! But, there is SO much learning going on. Collaboration, design, planning, learning how to improvise if something doesn’t work – to name just a few of the skills!

I’d love to hear your experiences with design thinking!