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The Art and Science of Pumpkins
adawson

Come fall, an obvious object of study for Kindergartners across the country is the pumpkin. Lower School science teacher Heather Smith has for years followed suit. This year, however, her approach was a bit different. Taking full advantage of both the season and the resources on the Short Hills campus, she invited Pingry Kindergartners—fresh off a trip to Wightman Farms to pick their own pumpkins—into the teaching garden, engaging them in their own creative pumpkin study. The hook? The study involved a collaboration with Lower School art teachers Lindsay Baydin and Russell Christian, transforming what might have been an ordinary classroom science lesson into a captivating, cross-disciplinary exploration in nature. Here, Ms. Smith explains. . .

 

"Every fall, I do a pumpkin science unit with the Kindergartners, which complements their study of pumpkins in their homerooms as well as their field trip to Wightman Farms. The pumpkin science unit is part of my 'introduction to science' and 'what scientists do' lessons at the beginning of the school year. Scientists use a lot of math and they observe, so we spend time learning about science tools, like magnifying glasses, and use them to observe the pumpkins. Then I apply math, asking students to estimate the weight of their pumpkins, then weigh and measure them. We also make predictions about whether they will sink or float, and then we go out to the garden and actually test them out in big buckets of water.

On Wednesday, I experimented with something a little different as part of my lesson on the science of pumpkins. [Lower School art teachers] Mrs. Baydin, Mr. Christian, and I collaborated, asking students to use their science skills and their art skills to examine and draw what they saw. Taking students outside to our outdoor classroom/garden, we asked them to use their observation skills to paint a still life—using a technique called crayon resist—of the pumpkins they picked at Wightman Farms. They found their own spot in the garden, set up their pumpkins, and then painted what they saw. They also learned about color mixing and figured out how to make orange and brown with the four water colors they were given. They absolutely loved being outside in the crisp, cool air to have this experience. We invited [Lower School Director] Mr. Corvino and [Assistant Director of the Lower School] Dr. Sandy Lizaire-Duff to join us out there as well.

We engage in these sorts of experiential learning opportunities with kids all the time. Now, we're just doing it in a more thoughtful way. Mrs. Baydin, Mr. Christian, and I all met briefly afterward to discuss if we hit all the points of the Kolb Cycle* of learning to make this a truly meaningful experiential lesson. I am always trying to get other teachers to bring their classes out to the garden and just enjoy a change of scenery. Mr. Corvino and Dr. Duff came out and stayed for over an hour, just painting and enjoying the quiet of the garden. I have begun teaching 'mindful minutes' in the garden with the K-2 kids so that they can settle down and focus when it's time to work. They are learning to find that inner quiet when they work. This happened in the garden in a most profound way on Wednesday! Everyone was quietly working and enjoying the outdoors at the same time." 

*In keeping with this school year's professional growth theme of experiential education, faculty have been introduced to the Kolb Cycle. Published by American educational theorist David Kolb in 1984, it is a four-stage cycle of experiential learning: (1) reflective observation, (2) abstract conceptualization, (3) active experimentation, and (4) concrete experience. Kolb's model remains popular among educators today as a framework to create meaningful learning experiences for students. "Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience," Kolb wrote.


Contact: Andrea Dawson, Senior Writer, adawson@pingry.org