It's fall, and everyone is buying and cooking pumpkins! This is a high interest lesson to do in the autumn with students to really capitalize on their natural interest in plants - although they don't know it, yet!
Pumpkins and part of the gourd family. In this lesson, students will take a really close look at pumpkins and gourds and find out what is inside them all - seeds! As we learn about Essential Standard 1.L.2.1, determining the basic needs of plants for growth and energy, this lesson supports understanding how plants use seeds to grow. Also, students will understand that without the basic needs, the plants cannot produce seeds and therefore the life cycle stops. Click here to find out why I teach the Essential Standards.
*2 large pumpkins, 2 small pumpkins, and 4-6 small gourds
*A kitchen knife (to be safe, you can cut off the tops before the lesson if you'd like)
*Hand lenses (a.k.a magnifying glasses)
*Student journals, pencils, colored pencils
*1-2 baby wipes per student for easy cleanup!
To start this lesson, I review the anchor chart about plant's basic needs with students that we made in the previous lesson. Then, I say,
"Today, you are going to study a pumpkin, both inside and out! Does anyone know what we will find inside? That's right - seeds! First, we're going to watch a quick video of a pumpkin seed".
I show this time-lapse video of a pumpkin seed growing and dying because it is not watered. After it ends, I say,
"What happened to the pumpkin seed?".
The students have some good insight into the basic needs of plants, but I realize that they are getting mixed up between the basic needs of plants and the basic needs of animals, which I immediately clarify for them!
Making predictions supports Science and Engineering Practice 4, Analyzing and Interpreting Data because students are comparing predictions (based on prior experiences) to what actually happened. It also supports Practice 6, Constructing Explanations, because students are making observations from media to construct an evidence based account of natural phenomena. That is, if the seed's basic needs are not satisfied, it will die.
For this activity, students are going to get their hands dirty! Have some gloves nearby for students who don't want to touch the gooey insides of the pumpkins. I say,
"Today, you're going to use a hand lens to look at the outside and inside of a few different fruits that came from plants. You will have time to look at all 3, so don't worry if you don't get to see your favorite one first. When you get to the table, you will look, smell, and touch them. Then, you need to draw a diagram of what you saw and write what you smelled and touched. That will be your record of your scientific exploration for today. You are going to work with your regular table groups today, so go to your seat and I'll bring you the plants so you can begin".
My students already sit at table groups of 4-5 students who work well together, so I decided for this lesson to leave them with those groups. I know they will be really excited to touch the pumpkins, so I want to give them as much 'normalcy' as possible so that they focus on the activity and not their new partners! However, to make this work with 3 different pumpkins, I took one student from my larger table groups and made a 6th group.
I take a pumpkin to each group and the exploration begins! After about 5 minutes, I carry each pumpkin around in a rotation. I have 6 groups and 2 large pumpkins, 2 gourds, and a selection of the little gourds that are different colors and textures, so I make sure each group gets to see one of each type of plant. After another 5 minutes, I switch again so everyone has seen all 3 types of plants today. As students are finishing up, I give each group several baby wipes to clean their hands with. Then I say,
"Clean off your hands and then bring your science journal and pencil to the carpet with you".
As students gather on the carpet, I tie the exploration back to the basic needs of plants. I say,
"The five basic needs of plants are air, water, food, space, and light. Think about the video we watched of the seed sprouting and dying. You said it died because nobody watered it. How might pumpkins and gourds change if they don't have their basic needs met?"
My students are working to connect the video of the plant beginning to grow and dying, the exploration of the fruit, and the knowledge of the five basic needs. If pumpkin vines don't have their basic needs met, they do not produce fruit. I show a few pictures of withered vines and ask,
"What do you think happened?"
To end, I also show a picture of a different kind of pumpkin-a square pumpkin! The space of the growing pumpkin was limited, so it grows into a cube shape. I ask,
"Which basic need was changed when this pumpkin grew?"
Our conversation supports Science and Engineering Practice 8, communicating information using pictures and words from both media and their own experiences.