Knowledge, Creativity Send Pumpkins Airborne at Conniston

Like a good scientist, eighth-grader Katie Matos donned safety goggles before using a wooden launcher to send a pumpkin flying some 10 meters on the athletic field at Conniston Middle School on Friday.

Matos’s team ultimately finished in a three-way tie for first place in the second Flying Pumpkins event at Conniston. The schoolwide science and mathematics activity was part of an ongoing collaboration between Palm Beach Atlantic University and Conniston that adopts an innovative approach to science education for middle school students.

Students and teachers watch as a sixth-grader prepares to launch a pumpkin using a specially designed mechanism at Conniston Middle School on Friday. Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) is a private, Christ-centered college in West Palm Beach, Fla., USA.
Students and teachers watch as a sixth-grader prepares to launch a pumpkin using a specially designed mechanism at Conniston Middle School on Friday.

The Quantum Foundation awarded Palm Beach Atlantic University a three-year grant for the partnership.

Matos, 14, said the keys to a successful pumpkin launch were to avoid bending the elbows when pulling back the spring-operated mechanism and to use as much of one’s body weight as possible.

Also, “you do have to pick the right pumpkin,” she said, adding that the medium-sized ones seemed to fly the farthest.

The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes all took part in the event, with the winning teams receiving a pizza party. The winning sixth-grade team posted the longest launch of the day at 12 meters.

Mathematics teacher Zachary Rickards fashioned the launching device out of wood and other materials from a home improvement store. Students from the art classes then painted it black and orange, he said.

He designed it so that the height would be adjustable, he said. “It can go all the way up to 45 degrees,” Rickards said.

Palm Beach Atlantic Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Mireille Aleman and other faculty in PBA's Center for Integrative Science Learning worked in partnership with Conniston teachers to develop the activity. The distance and time of the launches were carefully recorded. Some of the pumpkins were filled with paint that splattered upon impact, helping to determine the landing point.

Meanwhile, Associate Professor of Physics Dr. Fred Browning and several of his students at PBA have been working with after-school classes at Conniston to construct catapults. Recently the group tested their catapults with ping-pong balls, Dr. Browning said, adding that “it was a lot of fun.”

In addition, Conniston science team leader Varsha Dabiesingh said that some classes recently experimented with distance travel by creating bottle rockets.

“We’ve been doing the same concepts on a different level in the classroom,” she said.

Eighth-grader Nik Darczuk, 14, who attended PBA’s Science Days camp last summer and was on a team that participated in the pumpkin launch, said he enjoys these types of activities.

“Labs are better than reading from a textbook,” he said.

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