Digging Deeper With Corn

By Eve Pranis

Whether you have only an indoor classroom garden, or are able to also grow outdoors, there are a wide range of "corn-related" activities that can engage your students. Consider the following:

* Challenge students to determine how a corn plant actually grows as compared with a bean plant (from the top? bottom? middle?). They might, for instance, place dots on stems of both plants with a marker, and observe and measure to determine where growth takes place. (Corn grows from the bottom. New leaf cells continually form at the base, pushing older cells ahead, while beans grow from the tip of the plant). Ask students, after this investigation: why do you think grasses are typically used for lawns and pastures?

* Find out about the structure and uses of different types of corn (flint, dent, sweet, popcorn, flour corn) and try to get seed samples to compare and grow in the classroom or outdoor garden.

* Investigate the nutritional value of corn and compare it with the value of a meal made with corn, beans, and squash.

* Find out about traditional and contemporary foods that are made from corn (e.g., tamales, hominy, succotash, corn bread, corn pudding), then try some!

* Locate some Native American Stories and folklore regarding corn, the three sisters, and other native crops. Explore what we can learn about cultures through their food- and agriculturally-related stories.

* Have students bring in and/or keep an ongoing list of products from home that are made with corn products.

* Native American farmers in New England would know to plant their corn when the leaves of the oak tree were the size of a squirrel's ear. What natural signals can your students find in your area that indicate it's time to plant corn? Have students find out how modern farmers decide when it's time to plant corn and other crops.

* Design and conduct experiments to determine how corn responds to different types of planting systems, fertilizers, etc. Will buried fish really supply the nutrients corn needs?

An Earful of Sprouts

Fourth graders in Linda Bishop's class in Wichita Falls, TX, had been studying hydroponics and exploring Indian corn. They discovered that an ear of corn is composed of many seeds, and wondered whether the seeds would actually sprout in place. Working in small groups, students laid their ears of corn in bread tins, then filled each with enough water to come halfway up the corn, and left them in the GrowLab. "In about ten days," reports Linda, "students were amazed to see the kernels on the submerged part of the corn begin to sprout."

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