Johnny Appleseed for Big Kids

Johnny Appleseed Day in an upper elementary classroom.

My second grade son recently brought home a note from his teacher asking him to bring in an apple so they could make applesauce in honor of Johnny Appleseed Day on September 26.   So, me being the history lover that I am, decided to do a little bit of research on Johnny Appleseed and discovered that there was a lot there for my fifth graders to work with too.  So this week, I teamed up with my partner teacher, Susie the Panicked Teacher, to have a little fun and learn a little bit about Johnny Appleseed at the same time.

We began the day reading two paired texted about the man who came to be known as Johnny Appleseed.  The first was a legend that was filled with lots and lots of legendary notes about him.  My students picked up on the fictional facts immediately.  As one of them said, "No one on earth can possibly walk across a whole state in one day!  Especially not if he is planting apple seeds.  That takes time!"  When we were done reading the text, we created an anchor chart of the facts and fictions that were presented in the legend.  

Then the students read and annotated a non-fiction piece about Johnny Chapman, underlining any facts presented and boxing any legendary aspects.  This article, which can be found here, was a great way to follow up on the legend with some research-based information.

Annotating a nonfiction article about Johnny Appleseed to look for legend vs facts about the man.

Using Google Slides to create a shared presentation about facts and legends of Johnny AppleseedAfter the reading was done, the students broke into groups of four and created a collaborative slide project in Google Slides.  One slide was to depict all of the legendary aspects of Johnny Appleseed and the other was to have the facts.   If the students needed more information on their slides, they were to do a simple google search using key terms (coincidentally our computer lab lesson for the week....funny how that works out like that ;)  lol) to gather more info.

These slide presentations were then presented to the class as a whole, making all of their learning accessible in a more public forum.

Then, during our math block, I gave each student an apple.  They used my kitchen scale (that measures to the tenths of an ounce) and recorded that measurement.  The students then broke into groups of 5 or 6 and used that data to work on some decimal concepts that we have been learning.  Things like ordering and comparing decimals, rounding them, adding the decimals, and Powers of 10.  The students used their own reasoning and made choices within the math so that I was getting a little look not only at how they were using the math skills but the math practices as well.  You can grab the sheet we used here.  

STEM activity where kids create a device to put on their heads that will hold an appleThe second half of the day found ourselves knee deep in a STEM investigation (that is, admittedly NOT about Johnny Appleseed, but we used apples so that keeps it thematic.)  Using this resource from Kerry Tracy, the students engineered some sort of hat that could hold an apple successfully AND be transferred to another hat during the course of a relay race.  My students had SO much fun doing this engineering challenge.  They tested their ideas, helped each other to create a better hat, scrapped those hats that just weren't working, and tweaked ones that were.  It was very interesting to see who shined during this process and who struggled.  I learned a lot about my students GRIT and PERSEVERANCE (or even the lack there of for some....) during this challenge as well.

Once the allotted time was up (only 35 minutes!) the students headed outside for a relay race.  While they were racing against each other, the primary goal of this challenge was to see what worked well while engineering the hats and what ideas weren't as good.  After a very fun race, the kids came back into the room to debrief about the successes and failures, detailing just what did make a good hat and why.  
The STEM relay race to test the apple holding structures they built.

All in all, this was a great way to get some rigorous learning in while still celebrating a fun little holiday in class.  The kid had a day that they will never forget and learned a little bit about an American legend to boot!

Want to read a few more ideas about how to Johnny Appleseed up your upper grade classroom?  Head on over to Susie's blog where she shares a great graphic organizer she used with her students!


  1. I would love to know what resources you put out to make the hats. That seems like a really fun way to STEM

    1. Stephanie definitely might have thrown in her own ideas, but for the base materials list, you can click on the link "this resource" and you'll find it in the description. :)

  2. That hat challenge looked like SO much FUN!!!

  3. Thanks so much for blogging about Apples A-head! I love that your kids loved it, and I'm always delighted to see students' designs! What you wrote about learning so much about your students' grit and perseverance is so true! Lots of practice with STEM challenges really helps develop a growth mindset over time. :)

    1. Thanks for such a great resource! The kids loved every second of it!

  4. I think when it is filled with games they will definitely love it.


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