Pumpkin seeds, picture book make math engaging for students of homegrown Lawrence teacher

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Second graders at Schwegler Elementary learned a fun fact during their recent math unit: A pumpkin’s size doesn’t determine the number of seeds inside the fall fruit. Instead, pumpkins contain a row of seeds for each corresponding line on the outside. The longer a pumpkin grows on a vine, the more lines it grows and, in turn, more seeds.

Using hundreds of tiny pumpkin seeds and the picture book “How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin” by Margaret McNamara, Campbell Ragan and her colleagues helped teach their students the place-value concept.

Working in groups of four, Schwegler second graders estimated the number of seeds in their pumpkin, then compared that number to their peer groups’ estimates using the relational signs <, > and = (meaning less than, greater than and equal to).

After they dug into their pumpkin and dried the seeds, they counted their team’s actual number of seeds and sorted them by groups of 2, 5 and 10. They logged their findings in various mathematical forms while practicing adding 10 or 100 to a number.

The groups covered a lot of ground in reading and math, including four math standards in a two-day period. Illustrated by G. Brian Karas, “How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin” also has a social-emotional lesson for kids. Check the book’s availability at Lawrence Public Library via this link.

Campbell Ragan/Contributed Photo
Campbell Ragan/Contributed Photo Second graders in Campbell Ragan’s class at Schwegler Elementary School used pumpkins as part of a math lesson.
Campbell Ragan/Contributed Photo

Ragan said the second graders enjoyed the hands-on activity, but the classes skipped roasting and snacking on the seeds due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In the years before COVID, the Schwegler PTA has traditionally hosted an annual fall carnival fundraiser, including a contest where teachers decorate pumpkins that serve as raffle prizes. The school reserves costumes for the fall carnival, which traditionally occurs on a weekend day, again pre-pandemic.

Ragan was born and raised in Lawrence and attended Langston Hughes Elementary, Southwest Junior High (as it was known at the time) and Lawrence High School. While attending Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri, Ragan majored in public communication and earned minor degrees in Spanish and child studies. To meet the requirements of her scholarship, Ragan worked with 3- to 5-year-olds in a Head Start program. She moved back to Lawrence after graduation and worked in property management.

“These kiddos took a piece of my heart,” Ragan said about the preschoolers in an email. “I continuously realized I was meant to work with children and went back to school.”

Ragan then earned a Master of Arts in Teaching K-6 through Kansas State University’s online program. Her assignment last school year, as a first-year teacher: a full year of remote learning.

Ragan said remote and in-person teaching each offered plenty of pros. They just look different, she said.

In remote learning, she witnessed families connecting with their students’ learning. “I had students from six different schools! They were able to communicate with students from around Lawrence and meet friends they might not ever have met.”

She said in-person instruction provides unique opportunities for hands-on learning like the pumpkin seeds lesson. Another bonus, Ragan added: “Students are able to communicate, share, and connect with one another easily.”

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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