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Ooey, gooey math lessons

Doing pumpkin math at Riverview Elementary School involves getting your hands dirty.2 / 2

Kindergartners at Riverview Elementary School had a chance to dig right in to their math and science skills last Friday.

Literally. Dig right in. Slime and all.

But they had fun with it. They were taking part in the annual Pumpkin Math curriculum, and that meant they got to dig into pumpkins and count seeds, and do all kinds of other fun things. They might have thought they were just having fun, but really, they were learning.

Riverview Elementary School principal Kim Grengs isn't sure when the concept of Pumpkin Math first surfaced around Farmington schools - she could only guess at "for years" - but the reasoning for the curriculum is simple.

"We do it because it covers math and science standards, and it's a fun thing to do," Grengs said.

Kindergarteners get to invite their parents or grandparents to come to school to help with Pumpkin Math. Once they're there, the kids and their guests set about making observations about the pumpkins in front of them.

They describe what it looks like, then the kids draw a pumpkin. They compare their pumpkins to objects of different sizes, then the students weigh the pumpkins. For fun, the kids can weigh themselves, and make that comparison, too. They measure the pumpkin's height, and then guess whether it floats. They put the pumpkins in water and see if their guess was correct. Finally, with the help of an adult, the kids open up their pumpkins and count seeds, putting the seeds in groups of 10.

Kids may not realize they're learning, but they are. Usually, Grengs said, kindergartners have to be taught in a three-phase manner she called "I do; We do; You do." For instance, a teacher might start out talking about concepts like how things float, and then maybe read a story about it. That's the "I do" part of it, where kids watch and listen. They move on to the "we do" when the teacher shows students how things work and asks for the kids to help in those projects. What happened during Pumpkin Math was part of the "you do" process, where the kids do their own experiments and are able to draw their own conclusions.

"The kids are doing something to show they understand," Grengs said. "It does take some time, but I think the hands-on piece is really important. They really do learn. They make that connection. I think that's what is great about things like Pumpkin Math. It's so hands-on."

There are little bonuses to programs like Pumpkin Math, she added. For instance, kids react differently to putting their hands into the slimy center of a pumpkin, which helps teachers understand some of the character traits of the kids in their classes. And the kids react to those experiences, as well.

Events like Pumpkin Math can also help parents understand the education process.

"It's great because parents can see what we actually do in the school. I think for a lot of people, they might think kindergarten is just for play. But there's a reason for it. Everything they do is planned and there's a purpose for it," Grengs said.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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