I love fall! I love seeing the leaves on the trees change colour, hayrides, pumpkins all of the other wonderful things that come with the season. Since I teach young children, I also like creating easy science experiments and activities that incorporate the season.
This science experiment and STEM challenge is perfect for fall because it is a hands-on experiment with pumpkins!
The great thing about this easy science experiment is that although I used pumpkins, you could use a variety of other objects in place of a pumpkin. For winter you could use something as simple as a snowball, and for spring you could use an egg.
My of my favourite things to do during a science period are STEM challenges. Children are always excited when presented with the challenge and I am always impressed how much learning happens as they complete them.
If you have never done a STEM challenge before, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. A STEM challenge incorporates these various subject areas, often together, into one activity.
They are a fun, hands-on way for kids to experiment while learning about science and the world around them.
I typically avoid giving a lot of direction and suggestions on how to solve the challenge. A lot of the learning comes from the experimenting and the trial and error that children go through as they work to find a solution.
I can honestly say that, in my experience, after frequently doing STEM challenges with young children, these challenges increase childrens problem solving skills and develop their growth mindset.
STEM challenges are not intended to be solved in the first few minutes and often not even in the first several attempts. The process of finding a solution and not giving up, is the challenge and the fun.
I love doing easy science experiments because kids love doing them, they learn a lot from them and they always enjoy them. Children are always determined to find a solution to the challenge they are given.
For this easy science experiment for fall, you can use different materials that you have on hand. If you have a collection of something different than I suggest, feel free to use it.
Part of the challenge for this STEM activity is simply being able to create and find a solution with whatever supplies are available.
For this STEM activity, every child, or small group, is given a small pumpkin. (You can easily do this in groups or individually. )
Next, children were given the challenge of creating a structure to hold their mini pumpkin in the water. Something that they could set their pumpkin in without it falling off or sinking into the water.
The materials that I provided included:
- Pieces of small rectangular wood
- Large popsicle sticks
- Wooden sticks (3 sizes)
- Styrofoam plates
- Baby pumpkins
I laid all of the materials out so that students could choose what they felt they needed. I did not suggest to them how to make their structure; however, I did encourage them to test out some of their materials to see if any would float. (The wood and styrofoam plate float.)
In groups, students selected their materials and set off to work.
I had a large bucket of water as our testing station. Groups were welcome to test out their pumpkin raft at any point they wanted to and they could test as many times as they wanted to.
Giving children the option of testing their structure whenever they want gives them the chance to continuously make improvements.
After explaining the challenge and children choosing their materials, I gave them roughly half an hour to work on their structure. I could have easily given them double that time, but our time ran out on the day we did the experiment.
I am always amazed at how different each of the groups creations can turn out. Some children used lots of tape to hold it together. Others simply used elastics to attach their pumpkin to the rectangular board.
Once all of the groups were done, we gathered around our bucket of water to test the structures. We placed the pumpkin and structure into the water and if the pumpkin stayed on it and if everything floated we considered it a success!
The fun part about this experiment is that every structure and pumpkin will float. Children were excited to notice that their pumpkin floated on its own. Since pumpkins are hollow, they don’t need a structure to help it float, but they sure are fun to create anyways.
The fact that the pumpkins float in water make them a great object to use. It helps young children feel successful as they do the science experiments.
The challenge also comes from having to make a structure to hold the pumpkin steady – and hopefully right side up!
I love all of the different structures my students came up with. Each group was different, but they all worked very hard to find something that works.
There is no one solution. There isn’t even usually a best solution. Each structure had something that worked well on it.
Another great thing about this easy science experiment is although it works great for fall with the pumpkin, you could substitute the pumpkin out for something else that fits a theme that you are working with.
Also, using something simple, like a favourite toy, or stuffed animal, is a great way to get kids excited and engaged to complete the experiment.
Easy Science Experiments – Extension Activities
If you choose to use this activity in the fall with pumpkins, keep in mind that that doesn’t mean that you can’t use it again in the winter or at another time during the year.
Repeating the STEM challenge with only slight variations, encourages children to remember what they had done last time and think about what worked, and what didn’t.
Depending on how much time you have to do this science experiment, you can also have children present their rafts to the rest of the group. I had each group come forward one at a time to test and talk about their raft.
We placed each creation in the water with the pumpkin on it and watched what happened.
Groups also talked about what they liked about their structure and what they thought they did well. They also reflected on what they could do to improve their structure and what simply did not work.
There is a lot of learning that will come out of this experiment. Although it is done in a fun, hands-on way, children are learning about buoyancy and learning what objects and materials sink or float.
Children also learn about mass and weight as they explore what materials are too thin and light and on their own will simply fold with the pumpkin on top.
Encourage children to test out the different materials, including their pumpkins to see which float and which sink.
Although I did this experiment in the classroom, I also had my own kids try it out at home. It is a really easy science experiment and simple to set up. It is also a fun activity to do as kids get excited for Halloween.
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More Hands-On Teaching Ideas
If you are looking for more easy science experiments or STEM building challenges, below is a collection of my favorite and most popular learning activities.