Wyoming — Pumpkin Jack sat comfortably in a bed of soil inside a fish tank in the West Elementary Media Center.
Still smiling its pulpy grin in early November, the gourd was set to decompose, creating mushy compost for the school garden.
In a nearby classroom lab, students nibbled on pumpkin pie made from the puree of other pumpkins they picked at a local farm. They talked about their October filled with lessons, thanks to Pumpkin Jack.
‘Some pumpkins float and some pumpkins don’t. It doesn’t matter about their weight. It matters about their density.’— fourth-grader Bryce Perry
They’ve learned about the pumpkin’s life cycle, anatomy, buoyancy and artistic and edible uses. The happy jack o’lantern was an inspiration for writing, drawing, math and reading lessons.
“We tested him to see how many seeds he had — there were more than 300,” said Bryce Perry, a fourth-grade student. “We put him in water to see if he would sink. He floated. Some pumpkins float and some pumpkins don’t. It doesn’t matter about their weight. It matters about their density.”
Leading Pumpkin Lessons
Teachers Bridget Lewis and Abi Ediger’s students studied all things pumpkin starting with lots of research. The young pumpkin experts then helped students in other classes learn through a read-aloud of the book, Pumpkin Jack, by sharing facts and creating a video. In the media center, they danced and sang with their peers.
The students are enrolled in the kindergarten-through-fourth-grade West Regional Program. Formerly housed at the Wyoming Regional Center, regional programming was moved this year to West Elementary, Wyoming Intermediate School and Wyoming Junior High School.
Lewis said her students are often stigmatized due to emotional impairments, but having them help other students learn — like by leading the pumpkin lessons — can help dispel misconceptions.
“They are leaders in learning and they are great student examples and peer models,” she said. “This not only builds esteem for them, but flips the switch to get rid of that stigma. That esteem gives them more ownership of their learning.”
While polishing off their pie, students discussed other ways to use pumpkins at the end of a season.
“You can put it in the wild for an animal to come eat it,” said one student.
“You can plant it so more pumpkins can grow!” said another.
Lewis agreed: composting, planting and eating are great ways to use pumpkins after Halloween. In fact, Pumpkin Jack grew from seeds from last year’s gourd that she used for the unit.
The students will check on their pumpkin as it decomposes in the fish tank before planting it in the spring.
Seeds will again sprout and grow into gourds, and, just in time for October, Pumpkin Jack will be back.