Thanksgiving is a time where we try to focus on being grateful and celebrating our family, friends, and abundance. It is also a great time to talk about the impact Native Americans and early European settlers had on life in North America.
Without the teachings of the Native Americans, it is likely that the early settlers wouldn’t have been able to maintain their settlements (or lives). These are three Thanksgiving STEM activities which explore food preservation and transportation that were important to the Native Americans (and European settlers) at that time.
Designed with middle schoolers in mind, but you could adapt these for older or younger kids.
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Food preservation was essential for survival especially for nomadic tribes or tribes that needed to prepare and survive harsh winters. These are some of the earliest science experiments with the biggest risk – survival. This makes the following projects perfect Thanksgiving STEM activities to use in your classroom or at home.
Drying Apples Activity
Determine which is the best drying agent for apples.
- Drying Agents (listed below)
- baking soda
- Epsom salt
- Table Salt
- Cut an apple into fourths and weigh. Record the weights.
- Place toothpicks through apples so that they don’t sit on the bottom of the container and the drying agent can completely cover the apple (all the way around).
- Put an apple in a container (we used mason jars) and add a desiccant.
- Close the lid and put into a dark space. We used our pantry.
- You could change out the drying agent every 48-72 hours. We kept ours in the same agent for a week. Then weighed.
To calculate the percentage of weight loss:
Subtract the after weight from the before weight. Then divide that answer by the before weight. This will give you a decimal. Multiply the decimal by 100 to get a percent. This is the percent change in weight.
The one with the highest percentage of weight change is the best drying agent, but you also want to make sure that the fruit isn’t molded.
Most Native Americans or early settlers would not be bothered by browning, but it is something that modern people don’t like.
Why do fruits brown once they are cut?
Once a piece of fruit is cut, oxygen can come into contact with an enzyme in the chloroplast (Poly Phenol Oxidase). This enzyme will use oxygen to produce a family of substances known as O-quinones. It is the O-quinones that will cause the brown coloring.
There are two main ways to prevent browning-
- Reduce the activity of the enzyme
- Decrease the amount of oxygen available.
Let’s see which is best.
In this experiment, you will determine the best way to prevent fruit from browning.
- brush/cotton swab
- citric acid solution (or lemon juice)
- vinegar solution
- pineapple juice
- sugar water
- Cut an apple into 5 slices: 1 for each solution and a control
- Brush each solution on one slice of apple (make sure to label the apples) and leave one without a solution.
- Check the apples every 15 minutes until you see signs of browning on the control apple.
- If possible, leave overnight and observe which is the best at preventing the formation of O-quinones.
Are apples the only fruit that brown?
European influence changed transportation across the Americas. Before this influence, dugout canoes were the primary way to navigate rivers. Canoes need to be aerodynamic, water-safe, light enough to carry, but sturdy enough to hold people and cargo and of course, they needed to float. You will be recreating dugout canoes using vegetables and tools provided.
Canoes from what?
Dugout canoes were one of the main ways that some Native American tribes traveled before European influence. Dugout canoes were taken from a single hardwood tree and were a painstaking process. The process involved carving and burning out the center. Remember, this was all done with hand tools.
Build a canoe
Build a canoe, but for your lego mini-figure and his cargo (pennies).
You will pick one of the vegetables and use the tools provided to create a dugout canoe.
- Butternut squash
- vegetable peeler
Test the canoe in the provided water bath (a fish tank works great). I suggest adding pennies to the canoes to see whose canoe can hold the most weight.
Why does it work?
Want the printables for these Thanksgiving STEM Activities? Click the image below.