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November 9, 2012 Pumpkin Investigations Using Mean, Median, and Mode By Meghan Everette
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    Pumpkins have to be one of my favorite fall things — I even love a pumpkin latte. (It must run in the family because there is a famous story of my little sister demolishing an entire pumpkin pie before anyone else had a piece after Thanksgiving dinner one year!) My students, however, don’t usually have pumpkins on their porch or eat pies baked from scratch. They are a luxury item that cannot be afforded. After Halloween I use the discounted pumpkins or smaller cooking pumpkins to teach pumpkin investigations. After attending the ExxonMobil Teachers Academy this summer, I also incorporated estimation activities with mean, median, and mode. The result is a pumpkin-scented classroom and happy students engaged and enthralled with their pumpkin and mathematical knowledge.


    Purchasing Pumpkins

    To begin, consider your class size and budget. I usually get one larger pumpkin to sit in my room throughout the fall. Left uncut, this pumpkin is the center of our investigation questions. When we are ready to cut open pumpkins, I usually get one $2 or $3 pumpkin per three students. I like to have students work in groups, and it saves me from purchasing and hauling 24 pumpkins around. Surprisingly, smaller pumpkins do not necessarily yield fewer seeds, which is key for this experiment. The pie pumpkins are useful after they have been sliced open.



    I open with a series of pumpkin-related investigation questions. Over the years, I’ve had students answer one question a day in their journal in the days leading up to the experiment, proposed a few each morning in morning meeting, and selected several key questions and recorded group answers the day of the investigation. I let my class time, size, and students’ ability determine what will work best each year. We revisit some key questions before we literally get inside the pumpkin.

    Boys Digging for SeedsExcel Estimates



    To start, I ask groups to come to a consensus on how many seeds they believe are inside the pumpkin. Most of my students have limited experience with pumpkin seeds, and we usually discuss how big we think pumpkin seeds are at this point. I take and record an estimate from each group on an Excel chart on the Seperating SeedsSMART Board. Then, I slice the top off each pumpkin and allow students to look — only look — inside. This is a very exciting part for the students because their brains are trying to reach that equilibrium between what they expected and what they are seeing. I had guesses this year ranging from 20 seeds to 600 before they took a peek inside. Based on this look, I record a new estimate from each group. Now the fun begins . . . 

    I have each group pull out their seeds and separate them from the goo. This is a point where we reference our original investigation questions and discuss how the seeds are arranged in the pumpkin, what is actually in there, and how the inside of the pumpkin looks compared to the outside. Once separated, each groSeed Countingup begins counting their seeds. There is usually one group that will start counting by twos, fives, or tens. Then we stop and discuss why this is a more efficient way to count seeds. When the groups continue, they all place their seeds into little piles this time. Every person can help count out smaller groups, and they add them all together at the end. This helps with counting, division, and scale. We put our final actual results on our chart.


    Mean, Median, and Mode

    When finished, we talk about how to find an average and how mean, median, and mode are really all just versions of finding the average. I show students how to find the mean with the first estimates. We work together using the second set of estimates, and finally they determine the mean for the actual results. After comparing and talking about the data, we repeat the process with the median and the mode. Then we figure out which function provides the most accurate number and why some functions are better than others for this problem. Finally, we create a huge class bar graph of all the information on chart paper, and using various Excel tools, we finish our investigation questions with newly found answers.

    Pumpkin Mean Chart Pumpkin Mode and Median


    Just Desserts

    Our pumpkin fun doesn’t stop there. I take the pumpkins home, roast the seeds, and create pumpkin pies for the students to sample. At training this summer, I was reminded of how we teach these math concepts in isolation, but they really need to be made relevant to the students. I like to explore topics that will enrich my children’s knowledge, and my inner-city babies certainly aren’t up close and personal with pumpkins often.

    It’s a great season to make the classroom smell like a spiced candle and get the hands gooey. Here are a few other pumpkin cross-curricular ideas from Scholastic. And see what fellow bloggers Tiffani Mugurussa and  Alycia Zimmerman have going on with pumpkins. What other ways are you using pumpkins in your classroom?

    Pumpkin Excel Graphing Investigating and Counting Seeds


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