Lively Lessons: Tall Tale STEM Challenge

Join Discovery Education in the month of May as we celebrate STEM Learning: the powerful critical thinking and exploration practice connected by a common or transdisciplinary theme.

Utilizing a STEM mindset in the classroom, students ask deep, real-world questions, collaborate with their peers, arrive at meaningful conclusions, and explore STEM careers.

This STEM Challenge was created collaboratively by a team of Discovery Educator Network Leadership Council members, including Susan Bowdoin, Sonja Fehlmann, Stephanie Harper, Dacia Jones, Cathy Maher, and Conni Mulligan.

Challenge: How you would solve the problems famous tall tale characters faced without the size of Paul Bunyan, the rattlesnake lasso of Pecos Bill, or the strength of John Henry? Read a tale and then come up with a solution to the problems you see in the story using your access to modern technology and knowledge.

Explore: Familiarize yourself with the tall tale of your choice by exploring one or more of the characters below. Then, use SOS: Puppet Pictures to represent the tall tale characters and identify the problem or challenges they faced.

JohnnyAppleseedJohnny Appleseed

Reading Passage, Content Collection

In this early American tale, Johnny Appleseed teaches us about goodwill by wandering the Ohio valley planting apple seeds, befriending others and spreading kindness and generosity to people and animals alike.


PaulBunyanPaul Bunyan

Reading Passage, Video

A lumberjack whose legendary feats were as big as the American frontier, Paul Bunyan is joined by Babe the Blue Ox and Hotbiscuit Sally in a number of unpredictable adventures throughout the forests of North America.


PecosBillPecos Bill

Reading Passage, Video, Video

Take a ride through the Wild West with Pecos Bill, an original cowboy who was raised by coyotes. Pecos Bill creates the first cattle drive while riding his wild mustang, Widow Maker, and gains control over a dangerous cyclone to form the Great Salt Lake.


JohnHenryJohn Henry

Reading Passage, Video, Video

John Henry, who was born with a hammer in his hand, becomes king of the railroad camps by hammering more steel than anyone else has before him.


DavyCrockettDavy Crockett

Reading Passage, Video, Video

Credited with acts of mythical proportion, the real-life Davy Crockett became one of the best-known American folk heroes.


MoseFiremanMose the Fireman

Reading Passage, Video

America’s favorite fireman was 8 feet tall with hands as big as Virginia hams, able to lift trolley cars over his head and rescue babies inside a stovepipe hat, and wore his own beaver hat that was two feet across the brim.


Book_SizesLiterature Connection: Divide into small groups and investigate a tall tale.


Create: Share your ideas through art and technology.

  • Hands-on Technology
    • Create a retelling of a tall tale with the solutions you designed using SOS: Paper Slide
    • Trace a character’s journey by placing and marking on Google Maps
    • Tell the story using green screen in miniature with 2D characters (resources)
  • Hands-on Art
    • Create marionettes of the characters to tell the story
    • Write song or rap about a character
    • Create a Noodle Head Puppet and design it as a tall tale character, then use the puppet to talk through a section of the tall tale through the perspective of the character


Extend: Learn about careers related to storytelling.


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One Comment;

  1. Deb Thonus said:

    This is a wonderfully, creative idea to connect STEM skills and traditional literature! Thanks for developing this challenge idea!

Comments are closed.