Critical Corn Cultivator: A Thanksgiving STEM Activity

You’re so close to a well-earned Thanksgiving holiday break! But trying to keep kids engaged as they inch ever closer to the holidays can be a Herculean task! This Thanksgiving STEM activity is just what you need to help you cross the finish line. Corn Cultivator is naturally enjoyable and engaging for kids, chock full of academic rigor (when done properly/with intent), and will help you channel your students’ holiday fever energy for good. Win, win!

This fall STEM activity challenge works any time, but was originally created as part 4 of the Thanksgiving STEM activity series. These five STEM activities help your kids think about the challenges the Pilgrims and Wampanoag people faced in their daily lives.

Mini Mayflower / Mini Mishoon (Get to where you’re going)
Protect the People (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!)

We’re nearing the end of the Thanksgiving journey this week with the Corn Cultivator STEM challenge.

This Thanksgiving STEM activity challenges students to design and build one or more tools to aid in the cultivation of corn. The tool(s) must till, dig holes, plant & cover seeds, and water the crops.



Corn Cultivator is a hands-on Thanksgiving STEM activity that allows students to step back in time and explore the essential role of corn cultivation in the Thanksgiving story. They will delve into the practices of the Wampanoag people, who shared their knowledge of corn cultivation with the Pilgrims.

Students are tasked with designing and constructing a model corn cultivator, using everyday materials, that will till, dig holes, plant seeds, and lightly irrigate. This activity provides a unique opportunity for students to gain a deeper appreciation for the historical significance of corn while also enhancing their problem-solving and engineering skills, making it a great addition to Thanksgiving-themed lesson plans.

Students can work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to design one or more farming tools. Results can be measured in the number of tools created as well as the time it takes to fully prepare the farmland.

Note of warning: this one can get a little messy, and you’ll want to set aside more time than your average challenge!

Many of the materials needed for this Thanksgiving STEM activity can be already found in your classroom. The materials for Corn Cultivator can also be easily modified to make it work with what you have.

The list of materials you’ll need is short and easily modified, making this STEM activity simple to incorporate with very little need for additional prep. You’ll need:

  • Popcorn kernels (30 – 50)
  • Paperclips or Swedish Fish candies (to symbolize fertilizer)
  • Farmland
    • plastic or foil container filled with flour, sand, or soil – or perform the challenge outdoors and have students stake off their farms
  • Water (to test irrigation)
  • Straws (5 – 10)
  • Pipe cleaners (5 – 10)
  • Popsicle/craft sticks (5 – 10)
  • Foil sheet
  • Plastic spoons, knives, and/or forks (2 – 4)
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Ruler

Optional material ideas:

  • Q-tips, toothpicks, clothespins
  • String
  • Binder clips
  • Rubber bands, cable ties
  • Small paper cups

Where Can I Find Out More?

The video walk-through of Corn Cultivator is embedded below. This video is your go-to source for all things related to the challenge including materials needed, how to tweak the difficulty level to fit your students’ needs, extension ideas to dive deeper into the challenge, and some handy tips and tricks to help you guide your students like a pro. Check it out!

Where are the other Thanksgiving STEM Activity Challenges?

You can find this Fall and Thanksgiving STEM activity alone (top left) or in a bundle of 5 Thanksgiving STEM activities (top right). You may also like the Fall STEM Activities Bundle & the Halloween STEM Activities Bundle.

This Thanksgiving STEM activity challenges students to design and build one or more tools to aid in the cultivation of corn. The tool(s) must till, dig holes, plant & cover seeds, and water the crops.

5 Thanksgiving STEM fall activities cover with Pumpkin Picker and Turkey Transporter designs shown.

5 Fall STEM Activities with Apples with apple wrecking ball shown

6 Halloween STEM activities bundle - Bone Bridge®, Bat Wings Wanted and Treat Toss designs shown.

You can also find the Corn Cultivator STEM activity on Etsy!

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