Experiments with Pumpkins: Graphing

Other than the obvious benefits of summertime, Fall is my favorite season of the year. It’s such a beautiful season– the sunshine enters the windows differently, the air is crisp and cool, and the seasonal decor is warm and inviting. Fall is also the time where we’ve settled into our new school routines and learning is in full swing, often when we’re knee deep in providing interventions and trying to help our students stay on track to demonstrate success at the end of the year. For these reasons, unlike our primary colleagues, upper grades teachers don’t get many opportunities to celebrate the season. If you’ve had this experience, you know what I mean, but I’ve got something for you to help the season come alive in your classroom. We’re celebrating the season with pumpkin graphing!

As an upper elementary and middle school math teacher, every school year brought a frantic dash to teach and reinforce many standards, usually 30 – 40. An average school year for me has about 36 weeks, so even if we covered one standard a week, it would be challenging to complete all of the standards before the state assessments in April and May. After a few years of feeling like I was on a hamster wheel, I started looking for ways to teach some of the Spring content and skills earlier in the year. One of the strategies I used to accomplish this goal was teaching my graphing skills, one week at a time, during the Fall. Each week, usually on a Friday, we collected some data and graphed it. Sometimes, this activity was accompanied by a mini-lesson about a type of graph or representation if it was new for the students.

With this strategy in mind, I’ve created some ways to combine celebrating the season with graphing. In today’s post, I offer ways to collect data from pumpkins and then display the data with a variety of graphs. I’ve provided a detailed description of the activity guidelines and process below.

A. For this set of tasks, students will need access to pumpkins. I recommend getting small pumpkins for individual students or pairs or getting larger pumpkins for small groups of three – four. (Short on funds? Consider asking your PTA or PTO to purchase the pumpkins or ask parents to donate them. You may even be able to go to a local grocery store or farmer’s market and ask them to donate to your cause.)

B. After students have access to a pumpkin, they need to collect the following information: diameter, color, number of seeds, shape, weight/mass, height, and buoyancy. The activity download for this post includes a collection card (see the picture above); however, listing the information on an index card would work well too.

C. Once students have collected the data about their pumpkin, combine the class’s data and share it with the students. One way to do this might be to assign seven small groups the data to sort and organize. (Consider giving each group a specific amount of data collection cards, allowing them time to record the data for one of the attributes, like diameter, color, shape, weight/mass, height, and buoyancy, and then rotating the set of data to the next group.) This is an excellent opportunity to discuss how to organize data. This activity does include an opportunity for students to create a stem-and-leaf plot, as well as, a frequency table to display data, but orchestrating a discussion about presenting data using an organized list or table would be helpful for the students.

D. Once all of the data has been sorted and organized, make copies of the data sheets for students to use to represent the data. (Consider providing small groups of students with a folder of data to use to create their graphs). Students will then create the following representations with the class data: dot plot (a.k.a. line plot), bar graph, stem-and-leaf plot, frequency table, scatterplot, and circle graph (see the activity page to the right). This activity represents many of the graphs and representations with which upper elementary students should be familiar; however, students may need to be introduced to some of them before beginning this activity. Please Note: The data to show whether the pumpkins have buoyancy (ability to sink or float) is included on the collection card but not the activity sheet. The buoyancy of the pumpkins can be tested using a large tank of water (like an aquarium) and represented with a pie chart. This would be an excellent challenge activity for students who are fast finishers or who need an extension.

E. After students have created the created the graphs, have them place them in a construction paper bound book with the title, “Experimenting with Pumpkins.” (You can find directions for the bound book here. It’s a Dinah Zike foldable creation!)

Other Ideas:

• While the pumpkins may have an expiration date, the activity does not. You may want to consider collecting and organizing the data early in the month and then having the students work on the graphs throughout the month. If your students are unfamiliar with the graphs, you may want to introduce a single graph on one day of the week and give students the time to work on creating the graph until the next one is introduced.
• Use the data to reinforce measures of central tendency and range.
• If your students are already familiar with the graph types, use the activity like a menu and allow students to complete the tasks in order to demonstrate mastery. You can always create a few folders of data and place them in a central location where students can use them as needed.
• Assign groups of students one graph to create and display them in the hallway.

It’s time to get excited about Fall y’all! I hope these activities help you and your students celebrate the season and reinforce skills related to data, graphing, and statistics,

Grab a free copy of the downloads here or by clicking on the images above.

Sound Off! How do you celebrate the season with your students? Respond in the comment section below.

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