“The heart of science is measurement.” ~ Erik Brynjolfsson
Years ago I worked with a group of young children who loved the book Big Pumpkin by Erica Silverman. They listened to the cassette tape so many times that I had eventually memorized the melody for the text! In recent years, I have dressed up in a witch costume and sung this story to children in my class, recruiting the help of assorted ghosts, mummies, vampires and bats to help “pick” a fictional pumpkin that is too “heavy” for me to lift on my own. In addition to communicating an important message to readers about teamwork, this wonderful book has become the launching point for a classroom inquiry about measurement. For the last couple of weeks we have explored three pumpkins – one small, one medium and one large and learned a lot about size and weight. This has been a great hands-on experience that has tied in beautifully with our other fall activities.
The idea for this line of inquiry came from a teacher resource book called Teaching STEM in the Early Years by Sally Moomaw. Choosing to measure pumpkins enabled us to integrate science into the experience. As a living being, we could learn something about its life cycle from seed to pumpkin. We could investigate its parts; I was surprised to learn that a child in my class was familiar with the word peduncle (stem)! We eventually carved open the pumpkin to see the flesh and seeds inside. But before we did that we asked the children what they knew already about measurement, and why we measure things, to activate their memories and link this lesson to their personal experiences. We then measured each pumpkin using both standard and non-standard units. Using linking cubes, we measured the length of each pumpkin’s stem, and the height of each pumpkin. We measured the stacks of linking cubes in both inches and centimeters using a measuring tape. To measure the circumference we wrapped yarn around each pumpkin and then measured the length of the yarn. We documented all of the data we collected so we could compare what we found out about each pumpkin. This was a great way to become acquainted with rich mathematical language- height, length, tall, short, circumference and width!
Next we explored the weight of each pumpkin. Each child had the opportunity to lift all three of the pumpkins and make a prediction about how many pounds each weighed. The lightest pumpkin could be lifted easily by its stem. The middle sized pumpkin required a bit more effort. The largest pumpkin could be lifted, with some assistance, by wrapping arms around it. Predictions about each pumpkin’s weight ranged from zero pounds, to 100 pounds, to 1,000,000 pounds! We wrote all of our predictions onto a chart; once all the data was collected we weighed each pumpkin on a bathroom scale so children could see how the scale worked, and also find out how close they were in their guesses to the actual weights. Their favourite part of the activity was without a doubt feeling the weight of the pumpkins as they lifted them. Words like heavy, medium, light, gigantic, huge, big, bigger and biggest got added to our math vocabulary!
Finally, we prepared our display by painting three pumpkins, combining red and yellow paint to make orange and pressing red and yellow tissue onto the paint before it dried. We created voice bubbles for each pumpkin where we documented our collected data about measurement, and then perched each pumpkin at the top of a paper post. Children had the chance to write all of the math words they had generated, and share all of the words related to measurment and weight that emerged from our inquiry. This simple activity integrated not only math and science, but also visual art and storytelling. This provided the children with a creative learning experience involving multiple skills – measuring, weighing, data collection and management, language and creative art – appealing to different learning styles and interest levels. I hope that this is a lesson plan that inspires similar learning opportunities in other classrooms! Enjoy.
“Science cannot progress without reliable and accurate measurement of what it is you are trying to study. The key is measurement, simple as that.” ~ Robert D. Hare