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Seventh-Graders Create Dichotomous Keys For Pumpkins

As seventh-graders in Mrs. Hoffman's Life Science class examined the small piece of pumpkin they had carved out and placed under a microscope, they chatted amongst themselves.

"This is so awesome," exclaimed one middle schooler. "Who knew a pumpkin looked like this under a microscope," chimed in another.
 
As a part of the IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) unit, Classifying and Exploring Life, students studied the characteristics of Life, how to use a microscope and the science of taxonomy. In the spirit of fall, students brought in pumpkins for a few laboratory activities. First, they dissected a pumpkin examining the fruit, fiber, seed and stem under the compound light microscope. The students were thrilled to see the clusters of cells that characterize pumpkins as living organisms. They also enjoyed seeing the different color pigments making the fruit orange and the stem green.  

  

"With this exercise, they could see this typical fall decoration in an entirely new way and connect their world outside of the classroom to their studies in the science lab," said Mrs. Hoffman.

Continuing their fall-themed activities, they learned about dichotomous keys, a tool that allows users to determine the identity of items in nature, such as trees, animals, reptiles, minerals and fish. Keys consist of a series of choices that lead the user to the correct name of a given item. Using their pumpkins, the class made a whole class jack-o-lantern dichotomous key.

"They had to use the key to "earn" their pumpkin back, said Mrs. Hoffman. "Luckily, they all worked and could take their pumpkins home!"

The activity ended up being a fun and engaging way for students to absorb and retain the MYP curriculum they were learning in science.