Monday, October 25, 2010

Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick: Now THAT would be a Great Pumpkin

Twig lives in and around the Wooster campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, where he enjoys the prairie plant in Secrest Arboretum. His alter ego is Kurt Knebusch, one of our super-talented writers and editors on campus. Each month, look for Twig to answer a reader questions and some additional interesting facts below. After Twig's post, we will be providing some ideas and suggestions on how to incorporate the info in Twig's column into fun science learning for your students and children.

Q. Twig: What if there were flying pumpkins?

Wobbity, wobbity. Um, yes, well, if there were, you’d have to keep looking up all the time so you wouldn’t get klonked in the head by one. But: As far as I know, for better or worse, there are no flying pumpkins.

Reason being, pumpkins don’t have wings. They also don’t have propellers. Nor Rolls Royce vectored-thrust turbofan engines, as used on the AV-8A Harrier vertical/short takeoff and landing aircraft. A pumpkin with vertical/short takeoff and landing capabilities would be a powerful pumpkin. And hard to carve.

The Great Pumpkin flies but isn’t real. He’s in that Charlie Brown Halloween special. He “flies through the air to deliver toys to all the good little children in the world,” say Linus and Wikipedia. “(He) is likely to pass by anyone who doubts his existence.” Which means no Nintendo DS for me, boo!

Birds have wings. So do bats and most insects. Seeds with wings are called samaras. But pumpkins and their seeds aren’t samaras.

The wind beneath your pumpkin,

P.S. Examples of samaras are those spinning “whirligigs” that come down from maple trees.

To find out more, try the Ohio State University Extension fact sheets “Growing Squash and Pumpkins in the Home Garden”  and “Growing Giant Pumpkins in the Home Garden” (but not flying ones); Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 2007-2008; It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966); and “Blowing in the Wind: Seeds & Fruit Dispersed by the Wind."

Webster’s New World College Dictionary gives two ways to say “samara”: “SAM-er-uh” and “suh-MAR-uh.”

Using this information for education:
Pumpkins are a fabulous fall plant that most students are familiar with carving. In addition to being a great tool to study decomposition, they also provide an excellent opportunity to learn about plant life cycles. Students can draw or order the sequence of pictures depicting a pumpkins life cycle...but be sure not to leave out that important part of decomposition.

I also love all of the great pumpkin activities that reach across the curriculum from literacy to art to math and science and yes, even recipes the Mrs. Nelson provides. These are some great ideas!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pumpkin, pumpkin, what comes next?

It's that time of year. Pumpkin patches and corn mazes are thriving. Families and even classrooms of students are picking pumpkins and decorating and carving them. But have your students thought about what comes next? After the pumpkin is carved?

This is a perfect opportunity to teach your students about the science of decomposition. Decomposition is one of the most importance processes in the garden and in nature. It's the process by which fungus, bacteria and invertebrates chance matter that was once alive (as in fallen leaves, rotting logs, and yes, even pumpkins) into fertile soil. It's not just a necessary part of the process in the garden; it's a crucial part of the life cycle. The following experiment will provide a wonderful opportunity to experience and observe this immeasurable important ecological function first hand.

The details of decomposition will become more familiar to children as they get older. The important concept for young children to walk away with is that the dead material helps grow new life. As they watch the pumpkins in this experiment rot, they will see beetles, worms, mold and other tiny organisms participating in this cycle. But there will also be millions of organisms too small to be seen participating in this process.

What you will need:

  • 2 pumpkins (1 carved and 1 not carved)
  • hand lenses
  • Optional supplies: Sign explaining your experiment, your camera and the books Pumpkin Pumpkin by Jean Titherington and The Story of a Garden by George Levensen

You will need to find a protected spot near your classroom or home where you can leave your pumpkins to decompose on a patch of soil or under a bush. If you're conducting this experiment at a school instead of your home, it's a good idea to talk to the grounds staff about your experiment and you may want to put up a sign to prevent your experiment from getting "cleaned up."

  1. Ask the children what they think will happen if the pumpkins are left outside. Record their ideas and place the pumpkins in their outside spot. Take a picture if possible to track the process. Ask them to describe what the pumpkins look like now and record their answers.
  2. Visit the pumpkins every day or at least twice a week. During that time, you can read pumpkin stories out load, starting with Pumpkin Pumpkin and later, near the end of your experiment, Pumpkin Circle. Each time you visit, ask the children to describe the appearance of the pumpkins and what is happening. Record their observations with pictures and/or words. Take another picture. 
  3. Using hand lenses, have students search for worms, beetles and other decomposers at work and discuss their role in "munching up the pumpkins" and helping them turn back into soil. Be sure to have the children look for mold and fungus as well.
  4. When the pumpkins are gone (or mostly gone), continue to visit the spot to see if new plants begin to grow there.
  5. Review the predictions the class made about what might happen to the pumpkins. Display your photographs and read the children's observations about the pumpkins over time. Ask what happened to the pumpkins, Why? What helped the pumpkins break down? What would happen if they didn't break down like this?
Decomposition is a concept that's easy to reiterate on a frequent basis, especially in the garden. What might happen to a tomato left on the ground? Who might want to each my apple core? There are many possibilities to keep in mind and remind students of the life cycles taking place in nature and in the garden.

Looking for more pumpkin fun? Here are some ideas for going even deeper!
  • Place another object, like a pile of wet leaves, another fruit or vegetable or a piece of plastic or styrofoam next to the pumpkin to compare what happens to it. Which decomposes more quickly? Which has more bugs and decomposers on it? Watch and learn together!
  • Place 4 to 8 pumpkins a few feet apart and have students hope over each one. It's pumpkin leap frog!
  • Try a pumpkin slalom, where children run in an s-shape through a line of pumpkins.
  • Have a pumpkin seed tasting. Roast seeds from a carved pumpkin or buy them in the store. Taste and compare seeds prepared in a variety of ways: roasted, toasted, salted, unsalted, etc.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's all about bulbs

Are you a flower fanatic? Do you love the bright, vibrant colors of the first blooms of spring? Now is the perfect time to plant bulbs for your spring enjoyment...but did you know it's also a great time to study plant life cycles with students?

That's right! Instead of studying flowers and plant life cycles in the spring, consider moving that up to your fall curriculum instead. Why? When you study plant life cycles in the fall, and incorporate the chance for students to plant their own bulbs at your school, the bulbs will be up in plenty of time for the kids to enjoy them before they head home for the summer.

Planting bulbs also provides a great opportunity for students to make their own hypotheses about the bulbs and test those hypotheses in real life. Tulips and daffodils are both great choices. Here are some great questions for your students to answer:

  • What date will the plants first emerge in the spring?
  • When will you see the first bloom?
  • What percentage of the bulbs will live through the winter and produce flowers in the spring?
  • If using mixed color tulips, how many of each color blossom will there be?
On top of that, studying bulbs as part of your plant life cycle curriculum provides a great chance to talk about the plants on your plate....and all the different plant parts we eat every day. From the broccoli "flowers" to the carrot "roots"...and who can forget the bulbs we eat, like onions?

For more great ideas on how to incorporate science that's All About Bulbs into your curriculum, check out the book Growing Together published by Ohio State University Extension. The book is chock-full of lesson plans and activities for incorporating garden-based science into your classroom.
Tuesday Tag-Along
Related Posts with Thumbnails