popcorn in education

As a teacher, the beginning of the year can always be tough when it comes to reining in that unruly class. They’re fresh from their holidays and the last thing they want is to be stuck in the classroom but what if you could put the fun back into your lessons by helping them learn in a new and rather inventive way? As one of the leading suppliers of popcorn, Empire Popcorn Company not only produce the most delicious gourmet popcorn but we also know that there’s more than one way to use the popcorn too – popcorn can be used educationally. We hope you find Empire’s guide to putting the ‘pop’ back into your lessons with popcorn helpful.

Popcorn history

The objective of this lesson plan is to give your students the ability the research or in the very least, improve their research skills. It will also teach them to create a timeline. For this they’ll need access to a search engine and art supplies for creating the timeline.

In this lesson, students will need to use the Internet in order to research the history of their favourite fluffy white snack – popcorn. This lesson will help them learn media literacy skills. It will also teach them that not everything they read on the Internet will be true, as they’ll no doubt come across a few contradictory points. While some articles will explain the lack of proof that popcorn was eaten at the Thanksgiving meal shared by the Indians and the pilgrims, others will tell a very different story providing the perfect discussion topic.

You may even explain the importance of only using information that can be verified by more than one source, even if it means leaving some parts of their timeline blank. Encourage your students to be creative with the timeline by adding imagery or even actual popcorn kernels.

Popcorn geography

In this lesson, children will learn to read and round off numbers. They’ll also be able to identify the different corn growing states in the United States of America as well as learning to create a visual map stating the top states for producing corn. For this they’ll need popcorn kernels, glue, an outline map of the US and access to the Internet.

In the lesson, you’ll need to explain to the children that corn is produced in the majority of the U.S. states. There are a total of 21 states that create at least 50 million bushels of popcorn each and every year. The aim is for them to use corn production data along with corn kernels to produce a U.S. Corn Production map. To make things easier, you may consider using a computer that has a projector attached. You may even want to print a map and then copy onto a transparent piece of film for your students to trace. To make things easier, simply print a copy of the map for each student before letting them get to work gathering data. Younger students will struggle to comprehend the large numbers within the data they find so we suggest using the popcorn kernels to make things easier.

If one state produces 1.7 billion ears of corn then perhaps use 17 popcorn kernels to demonstrate it within the outlines of that state on the map. If you’d like to extend this activity then instead of using individual maps, use a large map for the entire class and instead of using popcorn kernels, use pieces of popped popcorn. You could even spray paint some of the popcorn to make it colourful. Once you’ve recorded corn production statistics for every state, ask your students to create a graph in order to provide a quick visual reference point for the information cleverly displayed on the map.

Popcorn maths

The objectives within a popcorn maths class are to teach students basic maths concepts including place value, volume and estimating. Materials will differ for each and every activity but the vast majority are easily accessible.

Activity 1 is based on estimation. In this lesson you’ll display a container of kernels and simply challenge your students to estimate the amount of kernels in the jar. Have each student write down their own estimation before moving on to activity 2. Activity 2 is about counting and gathering an idea of place value. You need to appoint roughly 4 students to be the ‘collectors’ while the rest will be ‘counters’.

Divide the popcorn kernels evenly amongst the ‘counters’ and instruct them to count the kernels by sorting their share into groups of ten. When a student has ten groups of ten then they must raise their hand. A ‘collector’ will then go to that student’s desk and check the piles to ensure there are ten groups of ten. Place each pile of 100 kernels into paper cups and then count the amount of cups you have. If there are any kernels left over, have the counter partner with another counter to combine their leftovers. Finally, create a popcorn tally and count the total amount of popcorn kernels that were originally in the jar. 

Popcorn science

Through popcorn science, students will hypothesise about the results from experiments and then summarise the results through a written conclusion. For this you’ll need popcorn kernels for popping, a pan to pop your popcorn, oil, a stove, a test tube, some foil, a candle, matches, tongs and a needle (the needle is only for use by the teacher). Popcorn pops due to each kernel having a small amount of water inside of it. When the kernel becomes hot, the water heats up and begins to exert a certain amount of pressure until the kernel bursts.

The soft material inside puffs up and explodes. You can present to students a simple experiment to carry out, that will allow them to prove that water is inside of the kernel by using a test tube. Place one kernel of popcorn in the bottom of the tube and cover with aluminium foil. Make sure you poke a few holes in the foil. Use tongs to hold the test tube as you hold it above a lit candle. As it heats, the students should be able to see steam escape but where is the steam coming from? If you hold the popcorn over the candle for a few minutes it should heat up enough to burst and show them just how it pops.

When they learn that water is inside of each kernel, it may lead students to wonder about a few other things. Before starting each experiment, get them to write down their hypothesis. With each experiment, have the students count out 100 popcorn kernels. By using 100, it allows the students to easily convert the amount of kernels that don’t pop into percentages.

Experiment 1. The Control Experiment – Count out the 100 kernels. Heat the oil in the pan until it starts to smoke. Add the popcorn and quickly cover with the lid. Let it pop and then count the percentage that pops and the percentage that doesn’t pop. They may even like to watch a video of popcorn popping in slow motion to really get a feel of just what happens.

Experiment 2. Adding more moisture inside the kernel – Count out the 100 kernels and then soak them overnight in water. The next day, drain and pat dry. Ask your students what they think will happen before carrying out the same popping procedure used in the control experiment. When the popcorn has popped, count the percentages once more and compare unless the popcorn was just too saturated to pop?

Experiment 3. Popping popcorn at a low temperature – once again count out 100 kernels and heat the oil in the popper to a maximum of 250 degrees F. Before placing the popcorn in the pan, have your students hypothesise what they think will happen. Throw the popcorn in the pan and cover immediately. When the popcorn is done, count how many have popped and how many haven’t. That’s if they have popped at all. Did the lower temperature fail to heat the water enough perhaps?

Experiment 4. Warming popcorn before popping – Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F and place the 100 kernels onto a baking sheet and preheat for 90 minutes. Remove the kernels and let them cool before you ask your students to hypothesise the result of what will happen when the popcorn is eventually heated. Pop the popcorn just as you normally would i.e. as you did in experiment 1. Did the popcorn pop any quicker or bigger? Or did the preheating dry the moisture out of each of the kernels resulting in failure to pop?

 Experiment 5. Poking holes in the popcorn – if you’re doing this experiment with younger students then you may want to poke the kernels with the needle yourself. It’s also worth noting that puncturing 100 kernels could take a long time so you may want to prepare the kernels ahead of time. Have your students once again hypothesise what they think will happen, before popping as you normally would. Did the kernels pop as normal or did they pop faster? Or did the holes allow the steam to escape before pressure could build up and make them pop?

 The result of such experiments is to show just what a scientific process popcorn production actually is. The amount of water inside each kernel must be just so, as was proven in each experiment. Perhaps your students could come up with some more experiments of their own? 

To make your lessons even more enjoyable why don’t you pick up a tub of popcorn to enjoy whilst carrying out the above lesson plans. Perhaps you could even use the Strawberry Pink Sweet Popcorn mixed with our Toffee Popcorn to make the U.S maps more colourful? You could even flavour the popcorn you popped in the science lessons to make your students a tasty treat after their hard work. 

Source – National Education Association, Tools and Ideas, Lesson Plans, Popcorn Activities Grade K-5