November 11, 2016

Thanksgiving STEM Challenge: Turkey Transporter

Thanksgiving STEM Challenge: In Turkey Transporter, students design a way to transport turkeys quickly and safely across a horizontal and/or vertical distance. Includes modifications grades 2 - 8.

Congratulations, teacher! You're almost there. You've almost made it to Thanksgiving break, but we all know those last few days can be difficult for you and your students. Everyone is more than ready for a rest, and focusing on school can be challenging for all. As tempting as it might be to phone it in with some videos and parties, you can't really afford to waste instructional time. What to do? STEM challenges, of course. They're fun, engaging and require students to problem-solve and think critically in collaboration with their peers.

In the last month, I've described five (5) Thanksgiving challenges that followed the journey of the Pilgrims as they set up their new settlement: 

- Mini Mayflower (Get to where you're going)

- Protect-a-Pilgrim (Build a shelter)

- Pumpkin Picker (Gather available food)

- Corn Cultivator (Set up sustainable food source)

- Turkey Transporter (Once all major needs are met, there's time for fun!)

As indicated above, the Pilgrims tended to their basic needs in challenges 1 - 4. In challenge 5, it's time for them let loose and have a little fun in Turkey Transporter!


Students design a way to transport a turkey quickly and safely across a horizontal and/or vertical distance.

Where Can I Find Out More?

It's a lot easier to explain challenges visually! The video walk-through of Turkey Transporter is embedded below. In it, you'll find information about materials, modifying difficulty level, extensions and some tips & tricks to guide you, so you can better guide your students through the challenge. Check it out. However, if you prefer to read, you'll find the video transcribed at the end of this post.

Where are the Others?

There are a few ways to find out more about the Thanksgiving resources. 
1) You can click on the covers pictured here to go straight to the resources. 
2) Each of these five Thanksgiving challenges has a corresponding blog post and video walk through just like this one. 
3)You can also find all the videos in my Thanksgiving playlist on YouTube.

For a summary of the Thanksgiving bundle with links to each challenge post, see this post. 

All challenges are available individually and in discounted bundles in my TpT store, as well.

I'm linking up with some fellow friends and bloggers this week. Check them out!

Video Transcription

Welcome to the final week of the Thanksgiving STEM challenges. Our pilgrims have been through a lot in the last few weeks, getting to the new world, setting up their shelters and their food. Now that all their basic needs are met, it's time for a little bit of fun. That's where our next challenge comes in, Turkey Transporter.

The premise on this one is simply to get the turkey as quickly and safely as possible from point A to point B, but before I get ahead of myself, let's take a look at the materials and the STEM Challenge Cycle.

This is the STEM Challenge Cycle you should follow for every challenge. I've defined each step in another video, you can click on the title now to see the cycle explained.

Two basic things you need to decide before the challenge starts. Are you going to give students time to color the turkeys? If so, you should make a copy for every student, even though they won't all be transported. And the second thing you wanna decide is, will the turkey be traveling a horizontal distance, or will you be doing a vertical drop? Or you can always do both. Once you've made that decision, there are a couple of safety concerns that you might wanna consider.

Usually, if you are doing a horizontal transportation, students will usually create some sort of a zip-line. Not always, but they might. When students design zip-lines, frequently they will want to have one student standing in a chair, holding one end of the rope up high, while the other is at the finish line, holding the rope down low. If you don't want your students standing in chairs, you need to put that in the constraints lists.

If you're doing a vertical drop, it works best from a stairwell, but of course you're going to need to rope it off, and have students stationed to warn passersby so you don't drop things on their head. Even though it's light, nobody likes things dropping on their head.

So I'll do a quick demo of the two designs we have here. This one's pretty simple, it's just a clothes pin, it's part of a straw that's been cut, and we have rope through the sides. Now, part of the criteria and constraints list is that, the turkey must get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and as safe as possible. And in order for the turkey to have arrived safely, we need to not see any crumples, or bends, or folds. This design is simple and it's working pretty well, so as long as he arrives safely I think this is gonna be a big contender.

In this design we have the turkey clipped to a small paper plate to give it a little bit of extra heft and weight, and we would watch him travel. Now you wanna also encourage students to try different things, so perhaps he might move a little bit faster if instead of putting it through these metal rings, what if we put it through the actual black plastic clip part. And it actually feels like it's gliding better. The plate gives it a little bit of added heft, so it should keep him pretty safe.

There is one thing to think about. If your turkey becomes stuck on the rope, depending on the design, you need to decide if it's okay for students to shake the rope, which I usually allow them to do. But I won't allow them to come over and actually physically touch it, and move it in that way. Although it might be fairly obvious, given that the turkey has to arrive safely, that you shouldn't throw the turkey, or toss the turkey. I usually do put it in the criteria and constraints list as a constraint, that you can't throw the turkey to its destination.

So you might be looking at this and thinking, "This is entirely too simple, my kids would figure that out in a heartbeat. It would hardly be a design." So let's talk about some ways to make it a little bit more challenging if you have older kids. So first of all, do not show them this video, and do not show them pictures of designs that are already done. Second, replace your binder clips with zip ties instead, just a few. You can either eliminate clothes pins altogether, or maybe just give them one. For straws, that's up to you. I think giving them a straw is not 100% obvious, but it does depend on your group.

In addition of modifying materials, you can also increase the distance the turkey has to travel. If the turkey is traveling a horizontal distance, you can add a criterion that the feet must always be in contact with the ground, which will make things a lot more challenging. And of course, you can require students to do both the horizontal and the vertical drops. Now, I didn't really speak to the vertical drop, but a lot of times students will think to do a parachute for a vertical drop, and a zip-line for a horizontal. If you have students do both challenges, you can have the students create two different designs, or require them to reuse the same design for both the horizontal and the vertical drop.

To extend on this one, you can study turkeys. It's interesting to take a look at the difference between domestic turkeys and wild turkeys. If you have older students, you can calculate the official speed of the turkey in the Turkey Transporter by miles per hour or maybe, you know, meters per second. And this challenge has narrative writing written all over it. To me this is a natural fit for a comic strip, or a story or a play, in which the turkey is using your design in order to escape some situation.

You have all the basics, but I'd like to give you more. So, there is a resource, and it has more modifications, more extensions, student handouts. Check it out.

Time is precious, don't waste it recreating resources that already exist. Turkey Transporter contains everything you need, including modifications for use with second through eighth graders. You'll still need to gather the simple materials of course, but the rest is done. You'll get Aligned Next Generation Science Standards, links to my STEM challenge How-to videos to help you get the most from each challenge, and the Turkey Transporter Materials list. In Teacher Tips you'll find premise and setup, how to increase or decrease difficulty through the Criteria and Constraints list, measuring results, and cross-curricular extension suggestions. You'll find two versions of editable Criteria & Constraints List, so you can tailor the challenge to your students.

For Student Handouts there are two versions, four-page expanded room for response for younger students, and a two-page condensed space paper saver version. You'll also find a set of group discussion questions, and a turkey to transport. In the Extension Handouts you'll find calculating turkey speed handouts, as well as math extension and process flow templates. This resource is available individually, and as part of the discounted Thanksgiving and Mega STEM Challenge bundles. Links can be found in the description bellow the video.

I'll be back next week, with a video called All Students Deserve To Fail. You don't wanna miss it, I'll see you next time. Make sure you don't forget to like and subscribe.


  1. Kerry, I LOVE your Thanksgiving STEM challenges. Thanks for sharing!

  2. These look like a blast!! My kids always love "Ms. Tracy's challenges"! :)

  3. I can't believe how incredibly fun these projects look! So creative!!!

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  5. These projects are great! What a timely STEM activity!