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NEA:National Education Association

Great Public Schools for Every Child


Make Your Lessons Pop(corn)!

by Gary Hopkins, EducationWorld.com

Add a little pop to your week -- popcorn, that is. These lesson plans will engage students as they create popcorn timelines, maps, and graphs; do popcorn science and math; explore popcorn history and nutrition; and, munch leftover popcorn snacks too!

  • How does popcorn pop?
  • Which states grow the most corn?
  • Is popcorn more nutritious than potato chips and other snacks?
  • Was there popcorn in Plimoth when the Indians and Pilgrims shared their first thanksgiving meal?

Those are just a few of the questions this week's lesson plans will answer.

And here's one more question: Can popcorn be used to teach place value, estimation, volume, percent, and fractions?
You bet -- just check out this week's Popcorn Math lesson plan.

Sidebar:

Lessons Popping Up Everywhere!

  • Measure popcorn kernels before popping; measure them after popping. What is the difference in volume?
  • Set up 5-10 coffee cans. Assign a different point value to each can. Students toss popcorn into the cans and add up their scores.
  • Challenge students to figure out the smartest purchase: an 8-ounce bag of popcorn at $1.99, a 16-ounce bag at $2.99, or a 2-pound bag at $4.99.
  • Pop three different brands (X, Y, and Z) of popcorn. Have students "taste test" each brand and vote for their favorite. Create graphs of the results. Then reveal the brand of the winning popcorn.
  • Add popcorn-related words to your class word wall. Write each word on popcorn-shaped paper.
  • Read aloud Stella and Roy. Stella and Roy race for the popcorn stand in this takeoff on the story of the tortoise and the hare.
  • Cover a 6-square-foot area of the floor with kraft paper. Place a popcorn popper in the center and let the popcorn pop -- uncovered! Measure how far away from the popper the popcorn lands.

    Click for more popcorn lessons.

 

FIVE LESSONS FOR TEACHING ABOUT POPCORN
Education World provides five lessons about popcorn. (Appropriate grade levels for each lesson appear in parentheses.) Here are the brief descriptions; scroll down for complete lesson plans.

Lesson One: Popcorn Geography
Use corn kernels to create a "Top Corn-Producing States" map. (Grades 3-12)

Lesson Two: Popcorn History
Research/create a timeline of the history of popcorn. (Grades 3-12)

Lesson Three: Popcorn Math
Use popcorn to teach a number of K-8 math concepts. (Grades K-8)

Lesson Four: Popcorn Nutrition
Read a snack nutrition chart and answer questions. (Grades 3-8)

Lesson Five: Popcorn Science
Five simple experiments demonstrate what makes popcorn pop. (Grades K-12)

Lesson One: Popcorn Geography

Subjects

  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Grades

  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Objectives
Students will

  • read and round off numbers,
  • identify on a U.S. outline map (PDF, 65K) the location of corn-growing states, and
  • create a visual (map or graph) illustration of the top corn-producing states.

Keywords
resources, natural resources, corn, popcorn, grains, production, economy, economics, fall, autumn, farm, farmer, rounding, place value

Materials Needed

Procedure
Corn is produced in most states in the United States. A total of 21 states produce at least 50 million (50,000,000) bushels of corn each year. In this activity, students use corn production data and corn kernels to produce a "U.S. Corn Production" map or graph.

Begin by sharing with students some samples of product/natural resources maps. Discuss how the maps show the products that are important to a particular area. Go to the U.S. States Thematic Maps page on maps.com. Click the name of your state, then click the Land Use map. Talk about the symbols shown on the map and the importance of those symbols/products to your state.

View the map by

  • using a computer with a projector attached;
  • printing the map, then copying it onto transparency film and using an overhead projector to display it; or
  • printing a copy of the map for each student or pair of students.

After talking about your state's map and its symbols, you might check out maps for neighboring states or for states in other parts of the country.

Next, provide an U.S. outline map (PDF, 65K) for students to use to complete this activity. In addition, provide one of the following two work sheets (depending on the grade level of your students):

  • U.S. Corn Production by State #1 (PDF, 14.5K) (for younger students -- grades 2-4).
    Students will not comprehend the large numbers that appear on the chart, but you can help them understand by using 17 kernels of corn to represent 1.7 billion (1,700,000,000) ears of corn, then 16 kernels would represent 1,600,000,000 billion ears, 9 kernels would represent 900,000,000, and so on. Complete the chart with students. Then let students glue the appropriate number of kernels to each of the top ten corn-growing states.
  • U.S. Corn Production by State #2 (PDF, 13K) (for older students -- grades 5-up).
    You might work with students to round off the large numbers on the chart and to determine the number of kernels of corn that represents each state's corn production. Then let students glue the appropriate number of kernels to each of the top corn-growing states on the outline map.

Extension Activities

  • You might do this activity as a class. Instead of using individual U.S. maps, print the U.S. outline map on a transparency. Place the transparency on an overhead projector and have a few students trace the map onto a bulletin board covered with white paper. Instead of using popcorn kernels on the copy of an outline map, use pieces of popped popcorn on the bulletin board map. (You might even spray paint some popcorn in advance so the map will be colorful.) You could map corn production statistics for every state instead of only the ones listed on the work sheets. You can find U.S. corn production data at http://usda.mannlib.cornell.edu/reports/nassr/field/pcp-bban/cropan02.pdf (PDF, 285K).
  • Students might create a bar graph illustrating the top corn-growing states. The graph will provide a visual reference point to help students see which states grow the most corn. They might create their graphs using popped popcorn on colored paper.

Additional Resource
Print the activity (PDF, 1MB)from National Geographic. This activity might be used as a discussion starter before or after the lesson.

More Map Resources

Assessment
Check students' maps for accuracy. Post the maps on a bulletin board.

Have students write a paragraph describing the meaning of the maps they created.

ANSWERS to U.S. Corn Production By State #1: Iowa - 17 kernels; Illinois - 16 kernels; Nebraska - 11 kernels; Indiana - 9 kernels; Minnesota - 8 kernels; Ohio - 4 kernels; Kansas - 4 kernels; South Dakota - 4 kernels; Missouri - 3 kernels; and Wisconsin - 3 kernels. ANSWERS to U.S. Corn Production By State #2: Colorado - 100,000,000 (1 kernel); Illinois - 1,600,000,000 (16 kernels); Indiana - 900,000,000 (9 kernels); Iowa 1,700,000,000 (17 kernels); Kansas - 400,000,000 (4 kernels); Kentucky - 200,000,000 (2 kernels); Maryland - 100,000,000 (1 kernel); Michigan - 200,000,000 (2 kernels); Minnesota - 800,000,000 (8 kernels); Mississippi - 100,000,000 (1 kernel); Missouri - 300,000,000 (3 kernels); Nebraska - 1,100,000,000 (11 kernels); New York - 100,000,000 (1 kernel); North Carolina - 100,000,000 (1 kernel); North Dakota - 100,000,000 (1 kernel); Ohio - 400,00,000 (4 kernels); Pennsylvania - 100,000,000 (1 kernel); South Dakota - 400,000,000 (4 kernels); Tennessee - 100,000,000 (1 kernel); Texas - 200,000,000 (2 kernels); Wisconsin - 300,000,000 (3 kernels).

Lesson Two: Popcorn History

Subjects

  • Language Arts
  • Educational Technology
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Grades

  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Objectives
Students will

  • improve their research skills and
  • create a timeline.

Keywords
timeline, media literacy, corn, popcorn, Native American, Indian, Thanksgiving, research

Materials Needed

  • library and/or Internet resources about the history of corn/popcorn (Internet resources provided)
  • art supplies for creating timelines

Procedure
In this lesson, students use library and/or Internet resources to research the history of popcorn. Students might work in small groups to create timelines showing that history.

This lesson offers an opportunity to teach media literacy skills. Because students use a variety of different resources, they might find contradictory information. You can introduce the concept of media literacy by sharing with students the Web resource No Popcorn! -- The Question of Popcorn at the "First Thanksgiving". This article, from the official Web site of Plimoth Plantation, states that there is no proof that popcorn was served at the thanksgiving meal shared by the Pilgrims and Indians. Other resources below, however, tell a different story. As students create their timelines, they might consider posting only information they can verify by more than one source.

If students do not have online access for this activity, you might print some of the following resources for them to use. If students are working in small groups, each student in the group could be responsible for reading one or two of the resources and sharing with their group what they learn:

Among the books you might share with students are Tomie DePaola's The Popcorn Book and Popcorn by Elaine Landau. Both books will provide valuable timeline information.

Encourage students to be creative as they make their timelines. They might work images of corn plants or popcorn into their timelines. They might even use actual corn kernels or popped corn.

Assessment
Students will rate each timeline based on completeness of research, display of information, neatness, and creativity.

Lesson Three: Popcorn Math

Subjects

  • Educational Technology
  • Mathematics

Grades

  • K-2
  • 3-5
  • 6-8

Objectives
Students will

  • use popcorn to learn about place value, estimating, graphing, volume and more math concepts.

Keywords
corn, popcorn, cup, measure, measurement, estimate, estimation, estimating, count, counting, place value, survey, graph, time, consumer, fraction, percent, volume, cylinder

Materials Needed

  • Required materials differ for each activity, but all are easily accessible. See each activity below for materials specific to that activity.

Procedure
Use the activities that are appropriate for your grade level to teach simple math concepts.

Activity 1 -- Estimation.
Display a container full of popcorn kernels. (The size of the container might vary depending on the age -- and counting abilities -- of your students; you might use a jar, a 2-liter soda bottle, or some other container.) Challenge students to estimate how many kernels are in the container. Have each student write his or her name and estimate on a slip of paper. Then do Activity 2.

Activity 2 -- Counting/Place Value.
Appoint 4 or 5 students to be "collectors." The rest of the students are "counters." (If you teach young students, the collectors might be students you feel do not need counting practice.) Divide the popcorn kernels evenly among the counters by having each student take a handful or by pouring out even amounts on each student's desk. Instruct the students to count the kernels by sorting their share into groups of ten. When a student has ten groups of ten, he/she raises a hand; a collector goes to that student's desk, checks the piles to make sure there are ten groups of ten, and puts the kernels into a small paper cup (bathroom-sized cups are perfect for this activity). Count how many cups of 100 kernels (ten piles of ten) were collected.

If counters have any kernels left over, have them partner with another counter, combine their kernels, and arrange them into piles of ten. When they have ten piles of ten, have them call a collector who adds them to the popcorn tally. Finally, add any loose kernels. When you have a final tally, check the slips the students submitted in Activity 1 to learn which student's estimate is closest to the actual number of kernels in the container.

Activity 3 -- More Estimating.
Provide each student or pair of students with an unshucked ear of corn. Tell students they have 2-3 minutes to shuck the corn and estimate the number of kernels of corn on the ear. (The time limit ensures that students do not have time to count the kernels, but allows time for students who might have the skills to count the number of kernels in a row and the number of rows -- and then use addition or multiplication to come up with what might be a pretty accurate estimate.) Have students record their estimates.

After students have recorded their estimates, the counting can begin. You might allow students to count in any way they choose, and then discuss the different approaches they used; or before counting, you might talk about possible approaches, including:

  • making a mark on a sheet of paper for every 10 kernels counted;
  • counting the kernels in each row, then adding together the counts for each row to learn the total; or,
  • any other approach students might think of.

After the counting is done, have students record the actual kernel count next to their estimates and determine the difference between their estimate and the actual kernel count.

Activity 4 -- Graphing.
In this activity, students use recorded data to create a simple picture or bar graph. Students might work individually or in groups.

  • If you teach primary-grade children, you might work with them to create a graph illustrating their responses to one of the questions below.
  • If you teach grades 3 or 4, you might assign a different question to each individual and/or small group. Then students conduct the survey themselves, collect data, and graph the results.
  • If you teach older students, they might decide on their own survey question, conduct the survey, and graph the results.

Possible questions:

  • Do you prefer your popcorn a.) plain, b.) with salt only, c.) with butter only, or d.) with salt and butter?
  • Do you prefer popcorn a.) popped on the stove, b.) popped in the microwave oven, or c.) popped in an air popper?
  • Do you prefer popcorn a.) bought in a sealed bag in the store, b.) popped at home, or c.) popped at the movie theater?

Possible activities and questions:

  • Provide unmarked samples of popcorn. Sample A might be popcorn bought in a sealed bag in a store, sample B might be popcorn popped in oil on a stove, sample C might be air-popped popcorn, and sample D might be microwaved popcorn. Students can sample each and respond to the question, "which popcorn sample did you like best?" After data is collected and graphed (alongside headings such as Sample A, Sample B…), reveal the nature of each sample.
  • Provide samples of four different brands of microwavable popcorn and ask students to record which sample they prefer. Students then can graph the results. Do not reveal the brands of popcorn used until the results are tallied and graphed.
  • Challenge students to think up their own survey question and/or activity.

Simple idea for integrating technology:
Have students use the free and easy-to-use online bar-graphing tool Create a Graph to make graphs illustrating the results of their surveys.

Activity 5 -- Counting and Measuring Time.
Provide three different brands of microwave popcorn. Pop each brand for the same amount of time (for example, 2-1/2 minutes). For each brand, time how long it is before students hear the first kernel of popcorn pop. Which brand is the first to pop?

At the end of the popping time, arrange students into six groups. Divide each bag of popcorn evenly into two bowls; be sure to label the bowls according to the brand of popcorn. Be sure to empty the bag of all its contents, including the unpopped kernels. Have students keep a record of the number of pieces of popcorn they eat. (To ensure accuracy, students might record a mark for every ten pieces of popcorn they eat.) When each group's bowl is empty, students in the group tally the number of pieces of popcorn eaten by the entire group. Then they tally the number of kernels of unpopped kernels in their bowls. Next, students share their data with members of the group who ate the other half of the same brand of popcorn they ate. Have them combine data to determine how many pieces of popped and unpopped kernels were in each bag. Which brand had the best popping results (the most seeds popped; the fewest kernels unpopped)?

Note: The estimates might not be completely accurate because you only allowed the popcorn to pop for a specific length of time; if you had left the popcorn in the microwave longer, the results might have been different. Of course, more popcorn might have burned too!

Activity 6 -- Using Fractions and Percents.
Count out 100 kernels of popcorn and pop them. Count the number of kernels that did not pop. How many of the 100 kernels popped? did not pop? Use the data to teach fractions and reducing fractions. Because you popped 100 kernels, this activity is especially useful for introducing/teaching the concept of percent.

Activity 7 -- Measuring Volume.
Use a measuring cup to measure 1/4 cup (level) of popcorn kernels. Ask students to estimate how many quarter-cups of popped corn will result. Then pop the kernels. Have student measure to find out how many quarter-cups (level) of popcorn resulted. Which students' estimates came closest to the actual number?

Activity 8 -- Another Volume Activity.
Use a sheet of 8-1/2- x 11-inch paper for this activity. Fold, and then cut, the sheet of paper in half, so you have two sheets of paper 8-1/2- x 5-1/2-inches in size. Hold one sheet of paper horizontally and roll it into a tube until one end of the paper overlaps the other slightly (enough to place a piece of tape along the whole length of the edge). Hold the other sheet vertically and do the same thing. You should have one tall, thin tube and one shorter, fatter tube. Fill each tube with popped popcorn. Ask students which tube has more popcorn in it.  After students record their ideas, measure the volume of popcorn in each tube to learn who was right.

Assessment
Assessment will vary depending on the activity(s) completed; make an informal or formal assessment of each student's grasp of the activity concepts.

Lesson Four: Popcorn Nutrition

Subjects

  • Mathematics
  • Health

Grades

  • 3-5
  • 6-8

Objectives
Students will

  • compare nutrition levels of snack foods and
  • correctly calculate differences in nutritional value.

Keywords
nutrition, snack, snack foods, popcorn, ice cream, fat, carbohydrates, cholesterol, calories, serving, math, statistics, calculate, protein, sugar, sweet

Materials Needed

Procedure
Share with students the nutrition information on the packages of some common foods. Talk about the information displayed on the nutrition information panels.

Introduce students to the How Nutritious Are Your Snacks? chart (PDF,12.5K ). You might

  • project the chart from the Internet onto a screen;
  • copy the chart onto a transparency and use an overhead projector to project the chart; or,
  • provide a photocopy of the chart for each student.

Discuss the chart.

Provide each student with a copy of the How Nutritious Are Your Snacks? work sheet (PDF, 16K). Give students time to complete the work sheet on their own or in pairs. After students complete the work sheet, go over it with them to make sure they know how to read the chart and understand the meaning of the chart's nutritional information.

Assessment
Students should provide at least eight correct answers: 1. 343 calories; 2. fruit roll-up; 3. potato chips; 4. wafer and milk chocolate candy bar; 5. vanilla ice cream cone; 6. vanilla ice cream cone; 7. potato chips; 8. 71 grams; 9. 1 gram; 10. 107 grams.

Lesson Five: Popcorn Science

Subjects

  • Mathematics
  • Science

Grades

  • K-2
  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Objectives
Students will

  • hypothesize about the result of five experiments and
  • summarize the results of the experiments in a written conclusion.

Keywords
corn, popcorn, percent, hypothesis, inquiry, science, pressure, experiment, steam, temperature, conclusion

Materials Needed

  • popcorn kernels for popping
  • pan with cover or popcorn popper (traditional) or or hot-air popper
  • oil (not needed if you use a hot-air popper)
  • stove (not needed if you use a hot-air popper)
  • test tube (optional)
  • foil (optional)
  • candle (optional)
  • matches (optional)
  • tongs (optional)
  • needle (for teacher only)

Procedure
Popcorn pops because each kernel has a tiny bit of water inside it. When the kernels are heated, the water inside heats up to the point where it exerts enough pressure to burst the kernel open. The soft material inside puffs up as it explodes.

You can present to students a simple experiment to prove that moisture is inside popcorn kernels. Use a test tube for this experiment. Place one kernel of popcorn in the bottom of the tube. Cover the tube with aluminum foil and poke a few small holes in the foil. Use tongs to hold the test tube as you hold it over a lighted candle. The students should be able to see steam escape. Where is that steam coming from? (The moisture inside the kernel turns to steam.) If you hold the popcorn over the candle for a few minutes, it should heat up enough to pop. (The pressure builds up inside the kernel until it bursts.)

The knowledge that water is inside each kernel of corn might lead students to wonder about some things… Introduce the ideas below and challenge students to hypothesize what will happen and why. Have students record their hypotheses before completing each experiment. After each experiment, have students record whether they hypothesized correctly or not. If their hypothesis was incorrect, have them record what they learned.

Note: In each case below, students count out 100 popcorn kernels. Using 100 kernels enables older students to quickly and easily convert the number of kernels that pop or don't pop into percents.

Experiment 1: The Control Experiment.
Before students perform any experiments, have them first set up a control: Count out 100 popcorn kernels. Heat oil until it begins to smoke. Add the popcorn and let it pop. When the popping stops, count how many of the 100 seeds popped and how many did not pop.

Experiment 2: What will happen if there is more water inside the popcorn kernels?
Count 100 popcorn kernels from the same bag used in the control experiment. Soak the kernels in water overnight. The next day, drain off the water and pat the kernels dry. Have students hypothesize what might happen when the kernels are heated and why. Follow the same popping procedure used in the control experiment. When the popcorn is done, count how many of the 100 seeds popped and how many did not pop. Did the kernels with more water pop bigger or faster or better? (Or was the popcorn too saturated to pop?)

Experiment 3: What if the popcorn is heated at a lower temperature?
Count 100 popcorn kernels from the same bag used in the control experiment. Heat the oil in the popper to a temperature of only 250 degrees F. Have students hypothesize what might happen when the kernels are heated and why. When the popcorn is done, count how many of the 100 seeds popped and how many did not pop. Did the lower temperature pop the kernels bigger or faster or better? (Or did the lower temperature fail to heat the water in the popcorn kernels enough to pop them?)

Experiment 4: What if you warm the popcorn kernels before popping them?
Preheat an oven to 200 degrees F. Spread 100 popcorn kernels on a baking sheet and preheat them for 90 minutes. Remove the kernels from the oven and allow them to cool. (Alternative: Leave the popcorn sitting on a very sunny shelf for a few days.) Have students hypothesize what might happen when the kernels are heated and why. Follow the same popping procedure used in the control experiment. When the popcorn is done, count how many of the 100 seeds popped and how many did not pop. Did the preheated kernels pop bigger or faster or better? (Or did preheating dry up the tiny bit of water inside each kernel, so it would not pop.)

Experiment 5: What if you poke holes in the popcorn kernels? Will that help the heat get inside and pop the corn more quickly?
If you are doing this experiment with younger students, you might want to puncture the kernels yourself. Use a needle to make several tiny punctures in the outer covering of a handful of popcorn kernels. (Puncturing 100 kernels could take some time; you might prepare the kernels ahead of time or use 10 kernels instead of 100.) Have students hypothesize what might happen when the kernels pop and why. Follow the same popping procedure used in the control experiment. Did the punctured kernels pop bigger or faster or better? (Or did the holes let more steam escape and prevent pressure from building up inside the kernels?)

Proof Positive?
Popcorn production is an exacting process. The amount of water inside a kernel of popcorn must be quite precise, as was proven in some of the experiments above. Perhaps students will come up with additional experiments to test other popping hypotheses?

Assessment
Check students' hypotheses and/or explanations of what they learned from each experiment. You might have students write a conclusion summarizing what they learned from the experiments.

 

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