Tuesday, July 20

Pumpkin Life Cycle STEM Activity

Autumn is the perfect time of year to learn about pumpkin life cycles.  You can find pumpkins at farmer's markets, grocery stores, and roadside stands.  And... you can even find them in coffees, teas, bread, pies, soups, muffins, and more!  Since pumpkins seem to be everywhere and in everything during this time of year, it makes sense to incorporate pumpkin life cycles into your science lessons in the fall instead of waiting until spring when other plant concepts are taught.

Blakely Kantor... an elementary school teacher in North Dakota... starts teaching pumpkin life cycles as soon as school starts in September.  She has her students conduct this  year-long science and STEM experiment in which they watch a pumpkin decompose and new seedlings grow from it.  This would be a terrific activity to integrate with your own science lessons.  Keep reading to learn more!

Decomposing Pumpkins Science and STEM Experiment: A STEM and science experiment inspired by the children's book Pumpkin Jack. Learn about the pumpkin life cycles/decomposition. #kellysclassroomonline

Disclosure: Affiliate links to Amazon are included in this post.
All photos were used with the permission of Blakeley Kantor.

Pumpkin Life Cycle

The first thing Blakely Kantor does is introduce the phases of a pumpkin life cycle to her students.  There are many ways to teach these phases, so feel free to teach them in a way that works for you and your students.  Just be sure your students are familiar with these vocabulary words:
  • seed
  • seedling, sprout
  • adult plant
  • vine, blossom
  • green pumpkin
  • orange pumpkin
  • life cycle
  • vine, leaves, roots, stem, blossom

Pumpkin Life Cycle

Other important vocabulary words to review for this STEM activity include:
  • harvest
  • germinate
  • germination
  • decompose
  • compost
  • fungus

Reading Pumpkin Jack

After reviewing the phases of a pumpkin's life cycle, Blakeley Kantor then reads Pumpkin Jack by William Hubbard to her class.  Reading Pumpkin Jack helps set the stage for what the students will be doing next.  Pumpkin Jack is about a pumpkin that was discarded outside once Halloween was over.  Throughout the story, we can see the changes the pumpkin went through as it rotted and how seedlings emerged from it in the spring.  Pumpkin Jack is the inspiration for this STEM experiment.

Pumpkin Jack by Will Hubbard

About Pumpkin Jack

Author Summary: The first pumpkin Tim ever carved was fierce and funny, and he named it Jack. When Halloween was over and the pumpkin was beginning to rot, Tim set it out in the garden and throughout the weeks he watched it change. By spring, a plant began to grow! Will Hubbell's gentle story and beautifully detailed illustrations give an intimate look at the cycle of life.

🍎 TitlePumpkin Jack
🍎 Author: Will Hubbell
🍎 Illustrator: Will Hubbell
🍎 Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
🍎 Date: January 1, 2000
🍎 Pages: 32

Pumpkin Life Cycle STEM Activity

Once Blakeley Kantor has introduced the phases of the pumpkin life cycle to her students and read Pumpkin Jack to them, it is time to get the experiment set up.  These are the steps Blakely used in her classroom.  Feel free to modify them as needed.

You Will Need

Step One: Getting Everything Set Up

Take the large plastic container and cut a hole large enough to fit your small pumpkin through.  Save that piece.  Add several inches of planting soil to the bottom of the container and spritz with water until damp.  Do not saturate the soil.  Place the pumpkin in the container and replace the top of the container.  You may need to use packaging tape to fasten it in place.

Pumpkin Life Cycle STEM Activity

Step Two: Letting Mother Nature Do Her Thing

Your pumpkin will need warmth and water in order to decompose.  The warmer the air and soil get in the container, the faster your pumpkin will rot.  Place the container in a warm area of your classroom and leave it be.  Don't open it unless you absolutely have to.  Opening it will allow the warm air and moisture to escape from it... which will make it take longer for the pumpkin to decompose.

Pumpkin Life Cycle STEM Activity

Step Three:  Ewww

Throughout the autumn and winter, you will see the pumpkin go through the phases of decomposition.  Fungus and will grow on it and spread to the soil.  As the fungus decomposes the pumpkin, the pumpkin will change colors, shrink, and eventually disintegrate into the soil.  All of this is normal... kind of gross... but normal.

Pumpkin Life Cycle STEM Activity

Step Four: New Growth

Once the pumpkin has disintegrated into the soil, it's time to open the container and let the fresh air in.  (May I suggest doing this outside?  This will be really smelly!)  Cover the remains of the pumpkin and the seeds with planting soil.  Spritz the soil with water until it's damp, replace the top, and wait.  In a week or so, you should see little seedlings emerge!

Pumpkin Life Cycle STEM Activity

Step Five: A Mature Plant

After you see seedlings begin to emerge, you can remove and discard the top of the container.  Keep the container in a sunny window so the seedlings can grow.  Water the seedlings as needed and watch your seedling become mature plants!  

If there are too many seedlings in the container, you can thin out the smallest ones to make room for the others.  Don't throw those small ones out!  You can transplant them into paper cups for your students to grow at home.

Pumpkin Life Cycle STEM Activity

Step Six: Transplanting the Pumpkin Plants

Eventually, the pumpkin plants will outgrow the container they're in and will need to be transplanted.  Depending on the type of pumpkin you used for this activity, its vines can grow up to 20 feet long!  Carefully remove the plants from the container and transplant them into the ground... far away from the playground... or to a raised garden bed.  Continue to water and care for the plants as needed.  Depending on when your school year ends, you may be lucky enough to see some yellow blossom on the plants.

Pumpkin Life Cycle STEM Activity

Additional Resources

🍎 Blakeley Kantor is an elementary school teacher in Bismark, North Dakota.  Visit Blakeley's Youtube page where you can watch her read some of her favorite stories and conduct some calendar time activities.

🍎 Scholastic has a pumpkin-themed observation record sheet available you can download.  Students will be able to record their observations as the pumpkin grows and decomposes.  It's a free resource that'd integrate well with this lesson.

🍎 Farmer Christiana from Jones Family Farms talks about the pumpkin life cycle and reads Pumpkin Jack in the video below:

Special shoutout to Blakeley Kantor for letting me write about her pumpkin science activity and use her photographs.  If you are on Facebook, you can check out more of her pumpkin life cycle photos.  Thanks, Blakeley!

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