Students Get Science, Math Lessons through Flying Pumpkins

Eighth-grader Jared Buchanan and his classmates at Conniston Middle School made a valuable, if somewhat messy, discovery while conducting an experiment on the school’s athletic field on Tuesday.

“It’s really hard to pull back a slingshot with a pumpkin in it,” said Jared, whose team launched its pumpkin the farthest of all the eighth-grade teams in the school-wide Flying Pumpkins project.

Conniston students load the slingshot to study the scientific and mathematical properties of the project.

The Flying Pumpkins activity was part of an ongoing collaboration between Palm Beach Atlantic University, the Palm Beach County School District and the City of West Palm Beach called the Parker Avenue Consortium. Established as a means to assemble resources to benefit students and their families living in the vicinity of the University’s Marshall and Vera Lea Rinker Athletic Campus, the consortium is developing partnerships with other private and public partners.

One such partner is the Quantum Foundation, which recently awarded Palm Beach Atlantic a three-year grant to develop an innovative approach to science education for middle-school students.

To prepare for Flying Pumpkins event, students have been testing their theories in the classroom. Then on Tuesday, the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes fired pumpkin after pumpkin using a giant slingshot specially constructed for the event by students in the after-school program.

Palm Beach Atlantic professor Dr. Mireille Aleman watches as the students aim pumpkins at targets.
The students quickly found themselves dealing with some external forces. “The wind was going against us,” said Karina Rodrigues, who also was part of the winning eighth-grade team along with students Gabriela Machin and Ava Marhee.

The students said there was a method to it all. “You just had to hold it in together, pull it back, drop down just a little and let it go,” Jared said.

The final pumpkin launch of the day involved a pumpkin with a video camera securely taped to it. Seventh-grader Anthony Love provided the camera in hopes of getting a pumpkin’s-eye view of the proceedings.

“I thought it would be really cool,” Anthony said.

In addition to the view from the air, students now have video of the pumpkins from the ground taken from multiple angles. Classes will now be able to model the path of the pumpkins using math equations, said Dr. Martha Guntharp, associate professor of mathematics at PBA. In addition, the science teachers will have follow-up assignments for the students as well, she said.

“I think it went well. The kids had a good time with this,” Dr. Guntharp said.

Conniston Principal Oscar Otero agreed. “I think the students were able to apply a lot of the theory they’ve learned,” he said. “Science came alive for them today.”