Tuesday, October 20, 2009

From pumpkins to science literacy

----Post under development----

Here's a quote on pumpkin:

Canned or fresh, pumpkin is a superfood, according to the authors of SuperFoods HealthStyle. And this squash is especially good for your ticker because it's chock-full of carotenoids that are known to reduce heart disease risk.

It is from a popular website on health: http://www.realage.com/tips/eat-this-fall-treat-for-your-heart, accessed today 11-20-2009. How can students evaluate this information or use such a post to encourage science learning?

Example discussions and activities: Science studies can take many directions. Here are some ideas. (Note: Modify the ideas for your students. For example, for young children, the graphs or charts will likely be class-wide and teacher assisted. Attend to safety issues.)

Small children-

Small children might have pumpkin snacks and discuss how pumpkins grow, families might carve pumpkins, bake pumpkin pie, or visit a farm where pumpkins are grown.

Young children- Seeds are found inside the pumpkin. Seeds can be saved and can grow. Some won't grow. Why or why not? Could you design an experiment to see if the pumpkin seeds grow and count the ones that do or don't and make a table to show the data you collect? How would you do that? Are these seeds like other seeds? Visit a pumpkin farm. Plant seeds and see how fast they grow by measuring them over several days and again making a chart or table to show the data. To lead a discussion, you might ask questions about objects such as pumpkin seeds, organisms such as the pumpkin plant or an insect or fungus attacking a pumpkin, and events in the environment like for what a family might use a pumpkin. You might ask students to tell about why and what would happen if the pumpkin was left outside all winter.

Students predict outcomes based on observed patterns such as pumpkin leaf shapes. Students can name and use simple equipment and tools such as rulers, meter sticks, thermometers, hand lenses, and balances to explore pumpkins and gather data and recognize that they are extending their senses. Young children can even record observations and data about pumpkins with pictures, numbers, or written statements. After school, they can discuss observations with others. Teachers might be interested in another site on pumpkins: a site on pumpkin ideas for the curriculum (click here).

Middle school students-You could hold similar ideas and discussions as for the younger children but enhance the depth. For example, when reflecting on the pumpkins, students can ask questions and make predictions that can be tested. They can select and use tools and technology that may require more skill such as: calculators, computers, balances, scales, meter sticks, and graduated cylinders, in order to extend observations. They should build their abilities to keep accurate records while conducting simple investigations or experiments on the pumpkins. Students could work on experimental designs and also decide what data to collect. Also, they can add replications to experimental designs by conducting multiple trials to test a prediction about the pumpkins.

Some students might like to see if they can extract DNA from the pumpkin using dish detergent a baggy and very cold alcohol as is sometimes done with strawberries and bananas, for example. In fact, in designing an experiment, they might use strawberries as the control. They could compare and contrast the results of the control (strawberry or banana that the student selected) with the experimental (pumpkin).

Students can learn to recognize simple patterns in the pumpkin data and use data to create a reasonable explanation for the results of their investigations or experiments.

Students could write about the data and about what they learned by doing the experiment. They could also suggest other experiments. at these ages, roughly 9-12, many students like, "slimy," things and enjoy the guided DNA extraction. What do the pumpkin seeds have in common with the children...This discussion could then lead into concepts about cell theory.

High school students- Like younger students, high school students can make observations, raise questions, and formulate hypotheses about the pumpkins. For example, students 12 to 18 may like to examine point of view of the quote at the start of this post. Who is presenting the information?

Using information they read or discuss with others (such as each other, grandparents, other teachers, 4-H leaders, ...), they
can design and conduct scientific investigations about pumpkins or pumpkin plants (teacher-approved before the conducting part, for safety and economic reasons). High school students can compare and contrast their results to those of other students or to results found in texts or in the technical literature. The ability to do this depends somewhat on the student, but, all should be capable of doing some analysis, interpretation, and discussion. Students at this level can also communicate and apply the results of their scientific investigations on pumpkins.

High school students might look at learning unknown vocabulary, too. If, for example, "carotenoid," is a new word for them, they might want to find out what it means and how it is used. These students also may wish to do their own literature searches to find out more about pumpkins. What can they find out about classification? Modern research on pumpkins? Ethnobotany? Students might wish to hold a debate on whether pumpkins are vegetables or fruits.
Hopefully they become increasingly interested in science research as applies to their own lives and as possible career tracks.

A Google search will lead to finding posts like these (Source: Google search on 10-20-09).
  1. Pumpkins and More - University of Illinois Extension

  2. Pumpkin Nook : Everything about pumpkins, growing, Halloween

  3. Pumpkin Patch - Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Pumpkins!

Using Reach Reading...students might want to try to locate and read journal articles and find something like these:

Articles on pumpkins can be found in many languages and from many countries, so students all over the world can read about pumpkins in their own languages. Remind students to get complete references as they do library research. Some students might like to do science fair projects on pumpkins, or contact the professional societies, such as the Botanical Society of America. Some students may decide to go into botany, horticulture, agriculture, plant physiology biotechnology, genetics, or other plant related career. Please feel free to post your classes activity or professional societies that take an interest in student research.

(Check out: "Reach Reading") Science Literacy and International Science Education

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