Fall is a season for traditional harvest
festivals and county fairs. In many parts of the United States and
Canada, these fairs and festivals are a place for farmers and serious
backyard gardeners to show off the biggest and best of that summer's
growing season. And in what is becoming a regular occurrence, fall
is also a time when the world record for biggest pumpkin is certain
to be broken.
The 2001 fall festivals and fairs were no exception. A new world's
record pumpkin weighing 1260 pounds was displayed at a fair in Massachusetts.
But within a week, that world record was broken at the Great Pumpkin
Commonwealth Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off in Canby, Oregon. The new world
record pumpkin, weighing an incredible 1262 pounds, was grown by
Geneva Emmons of Washington state. Giant pumpkin enthusiasts believe
there's no reason to think next year won't see more records broken.
How big is a giant pumpkin? The circumference of a 1000 pound
pumpkin (measured around the widest part since the pumpkin is a
rather flattened sphere at best) is around 15 feet. During the height
of the growing season, the giant pumpkin's circumference increases
by an average of 4 to 6 inches per day. Depending on the size of
the pumpkin, that means it is adding between 10 to 20 pounds of
weight each day.
Teaching the Problem
- For more information on giant pumpkins, you and your students
can visit The
Pumpkin Patch. Another site supporting giant pumpkin enthusiasts,
features photos of this year's record breakers.
- Students might want to try growing their own giant pumpkins
next year. They can find growing hints from former world record
pumpkin growers in the article, How
to Grow Atlantic Giant Pumpkins. Seeds are available from
Enterprises and should be bought enough ahead of time to have
seedlings ready for planting in May.
- Your kindergarten and first grade
students will enjoy weighing
pumpkins in this activity from Riverdeep's new Destination
Math, Mastering Skills & Concepts Course I. Teacher
support for this session, including a lesson plan, are also
- This is also a great opportunity to
practice estimation skills. Have students look at a pumpkin and
cut a piece of string that they think will be as long as the pumpkin's
circumference. Then the students can wrap their strings around
the pumpkin to check their prediction. Was it too long or too
short? Repeat with a different-sized pumpkin.
- Take a small pumpkin. Open it; clean
it out; wash the seeds and put them in a container. Have students
estimate the number of pumpkin seeds. Count the seeds and compare
results. Have students do a bar graph showing class estimates.
Repeat with a second pumpkin of a different size.
- Students might also find it fun to
predict pumpkin weights, collect data on weights versus circumference,
circumference versus number of ribs on the pumpkin, etc.
- Great pumpkins get bigger every year
partly because pumpkin enthusiasts constantly devise improved
ways of providing the pumpkin plant with perfect growing conditions.
But the pumpkins are also giants due to selective breeding. Science
students can explore the concepts behind improving seed lines
in the Logal Middle School Science Gateways activities, Principles
of Heredity and What
is a Trait?
- While giant pumpkins are not exactly
spheres, you can use them to help teach and reinforce math concepts
involving circles, spheres, pi, circumference, and volume. (If
students need to review pi, have them explore the Tangible Math
Geometry Inventor activity, Circles
The formula for circumference of a circle is:
The formula for the volume of a sphere is:
where r is the radius and
Students can use these formulas to solve for missing data. For
example: If a pumpkin's circumference increases by 24 inches,
how much has its volume increased? Why does a 5 inch increase
in radius on a small pumpkin create less of an increase in volume
than the same 5 inch increase in radius on a large pumpkin? (Hint:
What is being cubed? The increase or the whole radius?)
Extending the Problem
- Students can see how close their calculation of a pumpkin's
volume using the sphere formula is to the pumpkin's actual volume.
It the pumpkin is small enough to fit in a wastebasket, you can
use water displacement to find the pumpkin's volume. Just in case,
you might want to do this outside. Place the wastebasket inside
a dishpan or a large plastic box. Fill the wastebasket to the
rim with water. Place the pumpkin in the wastebasket. Water will
be pushed out of the wastebasket and collected in the dishpan.
Measure the volume of water displaced by the pumpkin to find the
volume of the pumpkin. How close were the two results? Is there
a noticable difference between pumpkins that are more spherical
versus ones that are squat or oblong?
- Can a person grow giant pumpkins just anywhere? Students can
examine this list
of the top 1000 giant pumpkins grown in North America over
the last several years. Which states or Canadian provinces are
on the list? If states are not on the list, does this indicate
that giant pumpkins cannot be grown there? Is it possible that
Southern states are not represented because no one has tried growing
giant pumpkins in the South? What growing conditions do giant
pumpkins need that may not be present in different parts of the
- By some estimates, 90% of the pumpkins grown and sold in North
America eventually become... jack-o'-lanterns. If you or your
students are looking for new ideas on carving this year's wildest
or most inventive pumpkin, visit the following sites:
O' Lantern Carving 101, which offers great tips on how
to transfer designs to your pumpkin and how to carve.
- Speaking of designs, you can find jack-o'-lantern design
patterns to download and transfer to your pumpkin when you
visit the Halloween
site at Byroads Magazine. (And a few ghost stories, too!)
- Read the CNN.com story, "Carving
up a spooky Halloween," in which a "kitchen
artist" from Atlanta tells what it's like to turn a 500-pound
pumpkin into a monstrously huge jack-o'-lantern.