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Pumpkins help Eastside Elementary students learn their lessons

Eastside third-grader Kasee Grant, 8, concentrates on a math problem. Pumpkin seeds were used in multiplication and division problems.

Paulette Lash Ritchie | Special to the Times

Eastside third-grader Kasee Grant, 8, concentrates on a math problem. Pumpkin seeds were used in multiplication and division problems.

HILL N' DALE — Eastside Elementary School third-grader Jalijone McClinton, 8, was up to her elbows in pumpkin guts, trying to answer a math question.

Jalijone and her classmates were outdoors on a recent school day evaluating pumpkins — every which way.

The students, third- and fifth-graders, were participating in what the school dubbed "pumpkinology," tying lessons in math, science, reading and writing to that big orange symbol of the season.

The first challenge was procuring the pumpkins. The teachers needed 50 of them. Title 1 parent educator Beth Zacharais put out a request, and the pumpkins were donated by parents Amy and Jonathan McDonald, whose son is an Eastside first-grader.

That's when instructional practice math coach Edward Finch and instructional practice science teacher John Pennington took over. Finch oversaw the scale that was used to weigh the pumpkins. The students were doing estimations on weight, circumference and height, in both inches and centimeters, Finch explained.

"And they're making a prediction in the number of seeds," he said.

The seed-counting activity required dividing the seeds — messy business — into groups of 10 and then counting the groups. Finch used that number to have the children do a number of multiplication and division problems. For fifth-graders, the math was a little more complicated. Third-graders were expected to do single-digit division; fifth-graders had single- and double-digit problems.

At Pennington's station, the students tossed ping-pong balls to get a general idea of how far a pumpkin seed can be thrown. (The air-filled balls and the seeds have similar mass.) Based on that, the children made their estimations. They did five trials and graphed their results. Pennington's focus was teaching the scientific method.

Jalijone, who by this time had cleaned all the pumpkin goop off her arms, had some observations about the activity.

"We learned that little pumpkins can have a lot of seeds," she said. "We counted, and there were about 200."

Kasee Grant, 8, grasped some of the math concepts.

"You can group seeds into 10. You can count all the groups and see what you have. You can estimate with weight, height and seeds, inches and circumference," she said.

Amy Sears, 9, did some of the digging for and counting of seeds with Jalijone and Kasee.

"You can weigh a pumpkin on a scale and then have fun with the seeds, and you can dig in the pumpkin and get all the seeds out," Amy said. "You do have to wash your hands when you get done."

Pumpkins help Eastside Elementary students learn their lessons 11/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 8, 2013 12:40pm]
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