Clairbourn’s First Grade Pumpkin Drop STEM Challenge

First-graders in Mrs. Watt’s class at Clairbourn just completed a fall-themed S.T.E.M. activity to develop their engineering design skills as well as their prediction, adjustment, and re-testing abilities. Students were required to construct special containers/packages to keep a pumpkin safe when dropped from a height of 10 feet.

Before they started the project, the class discussed the different physical properties of a pumpkin and what would happen when it was dropped. Their teacher asked them questions like, “What pumpkin properties should you think about when designing a package? How do pumpkins move? Do they roll? How can you keep them from moving around inside a package?”

They worked in groups to design an impact-absorbing cradle for their pumpkin using bubble wrap, newspaper, styrofoam plates, tape, and paper bags. When they were brainstorming, the teacher asked them questions like, “What properties do these materials have? How could each of these materials be used in a design?”

There was a 5-step process involved in the process: investigate, brainstorm, plan, build, and test/results. They also used technology to research, design, test, and present their ideas. As they worked together in groups, students learned and practiced good collaboration and verbal communication.

The students were all assigned different jobs in their groups- materials manager, speaker, recorder, and timekeeper. To make sure the thought process behind their projects were well-developed, students filled out a questionnaire before and after the drop to analyze the work they had done and to predict the outcome. As each group came forward to test their design, students were assigned to document the experiment by videotape and photography as the teacher climbed the ladder to drop the pumpkin.

In the first round of testing, two of the four pumpkins cracked, with another one cracking almost in half. Only one pumpkin suffered minor damage. Following the tests, the students regrouped to discuss ways to better protect their pumpkins with new kinds of design elements. They had to answer the questions, “Overall,

Teacher Brittany Watts reveals the state of a dropped pumpkin to a team of students.

was your design successful? What part of the design would you improve? How would your design change now that you have new knowledge about pumpkin packaging?”

As much as the students wanted to protect their pumpkins…they couldn’t help but enjoy the mighty THWACK of the dropped pumpkins that didn’t make it, and gleefuly chanted, “Pumpkin Pie! Pumpkin Pie!”

Clairbourn School, 8400 Huntington Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 286-3108 or visit

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