Exploring our world: Do pumpkins float?

Have you ever wondered if pumpkins float? Help youth explore their world by asking questions and discovering answers.

Pumpkins

Do pumpkins float? Will bigger pumpkins behave in the water differently than smaller pumpkins? The Michigan State University Extension science team’s goal is to increase science literacy across Michigan. One way we increase interest in science is to provide information and ideas for engaging youth in the exploration of their world. Adults can help youth increase their science literacy by encouraging them to ask questions and discover answers. Exploring buoyancy is just one way to engage youth in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Collect a variety of different sized pumpkins. Then ask youth to predict what they think will happen if they submerge each pumpkin in water. Allow youth time to touch and explore the pumpkins before making their prediction. Ask youth to explain their predictions before they submerge each pumpkin in water. Can they recall evidence, something they’ve seen or heard, that makes them think the way they do? Asking youth to explain their predictions helps youth realize the knowledge they already have and how they are applying this knowledge in new ways.

After submerging all the pumpkins, discuss the predictions the youth had made. Why did they think their prediction was correct or incorrect? Remind youth that making a prediction that turns out incorrect is never bad because they still make a discovery. Next, ask youth what they think will happen if they cut holes into the pumpkins and submerge them again. Help youth cut at least two holes into the pumpkins and submerge them again.

Allow time for youth to discuss what happened. Ask youth what changed between the two trials. Allow time for youth to discuss their ideas and evidence. They should realize that air was trapped inside the pumpkins before holes were cut. Once there were holes in the pumpkins, the air could be pushed out by the water and the pumpkins could fill with water, causing them to sink when submerged.

Science engages youth in exploring and explaining their world; the backyard, a pond, outer space or a pet dog. It’s not about being right or wrong. Working through questions to discover answers develops a curiosity for lifelong learning. A scientist is an explorer, always on the hunt for the why and how. Pumpkins can be used for more than just jack o’ lanterns and pumpkin pie; they can help youth become lifelong learners as they explore their world.

For more ways to encourage youth to become lifelong learners exploring their world, visit the MSU Extension 4-H Teaching Science When You Don’t Know Diddly-squat series, a series of free activities designed to encourage the joy of discovery by asking questions and discovering answers.

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