Fun with science and popcorn

Discover science through activities with food!

Did you know that October is National Popcorn monthMichigan State University Extension suggests using popcorn as a way to teach children science in a number of different ways.  Popcorn can be used to teach children about their five senses. They can describe what they see with an unpopped versus popped kernel; ask them to share what they smell when the corn is popping, and what they hear.  How does the popcorn feel?  Lastly, what does the popcorn taste like? 

Let’s consider what type of corn is used for popcorn.  How is popcorn different then sweet corn, used for corn on the cob or field corn used for livestock feed? 

This is terrific way to discuss kitchen chemistry with children.  Discuss how popcorn has a hard starch and a level of interior moisture that allows it to pop.  As the cooking temperature rises to about 450 degrees Fahrenheit, the moisture inside the kernel turns to steam and pressure begins to build. When the shell cannot withstand the force any longer, it “POPS!” 

Children can do various experiments with popcorn including comparing the taste of yellow versus white popcorn.  Encourage them to predict which will taste better, sample and discuss their findings.  Another experiment they can do is to compare different brands of popcorn; do some pop more kernels than others?  Does refrigeration or freezing affect their results?

Children are sure to enjoy these fun, and very tasty activities.

The National 4-H Program encourages adults to use inquiry-based learning methods while working with children.  To do so the adults should refrain from giving answers to youth, but instead encourage them to seek answers to questions.  This can be done by asking open-ended questions.  Use terms that encourage discussion and interaction such as explaining and comparing, if or what if possibilities.  It is important to remember that the adult’s attitude toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has an impact on children’s attitude.  Youth who are around adults who show interest and enthusiasm for STEM will be more likely to develop the enthusiasm themselves.  For more information about Michigan 4-H Youth Development, visit the Science Literacy website.

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