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Corn -- An A-Maizing Plant

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Grade Level: 4-6

Approximate Length of Activity: Two to three class periods

Objectives:

Teacher:

  • Guide students in a discussion on corn production.
  • Help students understand the history of corn production.

Students:

  • Locate and label the states on a U.S. map that make up the "Corn Belt".
  • Become familiar with the parts of the corn kernel.
  • Recognize products made from corn used in our daily lives.
  • Be able to distinguish, through dissection, the four different parts of a corn kernel.

Michigan Content Standards: (Social Studies) II.2.2; II.2.3; IV.2.3

Introduction:

The Corn Belt is a group of states where most of the corn in the United States is produced. Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota produce 50 percent of all the corn grown in the U.S. Other major corn growing states include Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, and Ohio. These 12 states make up the Corn Belt.

Corn is the major feed grain grown by farmers in the United States, leading all other crops in value and volume of production. Corn is a major component in foods like cereals, peanut butter, and snack foods.

An ear of corn has an average of 16 rows with 800 kernels. A pound of corn consists of approximately 1,300 kernels. An acre (about the size of a football field) of corn, yielding 100 bushels, produces approximately 7,280,000 kernels. Most of the weight of a bushel of corn is the starch, oil, protein, and fiber, with some natural moisture.

Farmers grow corn on every continent of the world except Antarctica. Hybrid varieties of corn have been developed to adapt to specific growing conditions and locations worldwide. Hybrids are the offspring produced by breeding plants of different varieties.

One hundred years ago, starch was basically the only product resulting from corn refining and the rest of the kernel was thrown away. Today, there are uses for every part of the kernel – even the water in which it is processed.

The corn seed (kernel) is composed of four main parts: the endosperm, the pericarp, the germ, and the tip cap. The endosperm is most of the dry weight of the kernel. It is also the source of energy for the seed. The pericarp is the hard, outer coat that protects the kernel both before and after planting. The germ is the living part of the corn kernel. The germ contains genetic information, vitamins, and minerals that the kernel needs to grow. The tip cap is where the kernel was attached to the cob.

Corn can be made into fuel, abrasives, solvents, charcoal, animal feed, bedding for animals, insulation, adhesives, and more. The kernel is used as oil, bran, starch, glutamates, animal feed, and solvents. The silk is combined with other parts of the corn plant to be used as part of animal feed, silage, and fuels. Husks are made into dolls and used as filling materials. The stalk is used to make paper, wallboard, silage, syrup, and rayon (artificial silk).

Materials Needed:

Activity Outline:

  • Discuss the background information with the students
  • Using a map of the U.S., have students identify which states are part of the “Corn Belt”.
  • Hand out “A Brief History of Corn.” Have students take turns reading paragraphs out loud to learn about the history of corn, its uses, and corn development and growth.
  • Soak some kernels overnight. Then give each student several kernels of corn. Pass out table knives and allow the students to dissect the kernels. Allow time to make observations. The handout, “A Golden Nugget” will be helpful during the dissection and discussion.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who used corn in ancient times?
  2. What are some of the ways corn is used today?
  3. Where is most of the corn grown in the U.S.?
  4. How have the uses of corn changed over time?
  5. What are parts of the corn kernel called, and how are these parts useful?

Related Activities:

  • The lesson, "Food and Fiber Products - Helping the Environment and You" located in the Science section of the Michigan Farm Bureau's Ag In the Classroom Lessons.
     
  • Have students cut pictures from newspapers, magazines, and/or food labels to create a collage depicting the by-products derived from corn. (Examples: corn oil, cereal, candy, etc.)
     
  • Have the students bring corn products to the classroom. Check ingredients on the label.
     
  • Make corn dishes, such as a corn casserole, grits, corn muffins, chocolate covered popcorn, etc., and have a corn feast.
     
  • Students could collect a variety of corn recipes. Have the students sort the recipes into logical categories, illustrate, and combine into a class cookbook.
     
  • Students can make a corn plant out of construction paper to create a bulletin board.
     
  • Hold a “Corn Kernel Counting Contest” and have the students try to guess how many kernels are in a jar or a bag. This could be done with kernels of popcorn, dried feed corn, or seed corn. Have students prepare posters or slogans during the contest which identify the number of kernels on a single ear of corn, in a one-pound bag, in a single bushel, etc. Challenge students to see how many other relationships they can think of and to express them creatively.
     
  • Read to the class: Corn Belt Harvest by Raymond Bial. A photographic essay of producing corn in the Corn Belt in the 1990s; The Story of Corn by Peter Limburg.
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