Popcorn: A Unit Study

Popcorn: A Unit Study
Popcorn: A Unit Study

Born in Indiana in 1907, Orville Redenbacher started growing popping popcorn when he was 12 years old.  It became his passion, and he devoted most of his life to finding the perfect gourmet popping corn.

Like other corn breeders, he created thousands of hybrid strains of the corn before settling on the one he decided to put his name on — one that was light and fluffy and left very few unpopped kernels.  His first TV advertisement ran with the slogan:  “You’ll like it better or my name isn’t Orville Redenbacher.”  Apparently, America did like it better, and the company enjoyed great success.  Though Orville Redenbacher sold the company, he continued as its spokesman until his death on September 19, 1995.  The popcorn still retains his name.

The History of Popcorn

Popcorn kernels have been found in tombs in Peru that are over 1000 years old — and so well-preserved that they still pop! Popcorn was used in decorations, necklaces, and ornaments by the Aztecs.  It was observed in action by the Spanish conquistadors who saw the corn burst in Aztec rituals and ceremonies.  And it was eaten by North American Indians.  But it really took off during the Great Depression, when the inexpensive treat found its place as an alternative to candy and other expensive snacks.

What is Popcorn?

So what is popcorn?  Popcorn is simply a variety corn, or maize, that differs from other varieties of corn in that it has a thick hull that allows it to retain moisture.  This moisture when heated turns into steam, and also turns the starch inside the corn kernel into a superhot gelatin.  Eventually the pressure inside the kernel will cause it to pop, essentially turning the kernel inside out.  The gelatin cools immediately.  What is left is … well, popcorn.

Popcorn Nutrition

Nutritionally popcorn is a whole grain consisting of fiber and carbohydrates while being a low-calorie option — in other words, it makes a healthy snack without ruining your meal.  Of course, we tend to like our popcorn with large doses of butter, salt, and sometimes sweet sticky stuff, which brings its nutritional value into question.  The invention of the microwave revolutionized the industry as most of the popcorn consumed today is popped in a special microwave popcorn bag.

Further Investigation

Orville Redenbacher’s History

Popcorn Popping in Slow Motion
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How It’s Made: Popcorn
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Popcorn Dissected
Discussing color, shape, nutritional content, and kernel parts.

Popcorn: From Seed to Snack
From breeding through through planting, harvesting, and processing — the life of a popcorn kernel.


The Poppin’ Popcorn Game
A physical activity game from Scholastic where you are the popcorn.

Popcorn Seed Mosaics
Fun craft with popcorn The Popcorn Board (USDA).

Let’s Make Music
Ideas for making musical instruments filled with popcorn kernels The Popcorn Board (USDA).

Perfect Popcorn
A recipe at SimplyRecipies.com for a perfect batch of microwave-free popcorn for those who are interested.

Popcorn Recipes
From Orville Redenbacher.  Yum!

So What Do You Know About Popcorn?
Quiz from Wisconsin Ag in the Classroom for wrapping up.

The Popcorn Book

The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola
From a favorite author.

Unit Studies & Lesson Plans

Popcorn Teaching Guide ~ Free
Free 12-page interdisciplinary guide with 31 activities involving popcorn.

Popcorn Math
Great lesson plan at LearnNC.org covering fractions, decimals and percentages with a popcorn manipulative.

Popcorn Science
ScienceDays.org lesson plan covering the scientific method, different types of scientific controls, and forming hypotheses, while discovering variables that make popcorn pop.

Popcorn Science
Five experiments at EducationWorld.com.

Popping Hot
A lesson plan covering conduction, convection, and radiation using popcorn.

Analysis for Percent of Water in Popcorn
A scientific experiment for older students at the Community College of Baltimore County.

The Science of Popcorn
Lesson plan for older students from Carolina Biological Supply Company.

Printables & Notebooking Pages

Popcorn: From Seed to Snack
Poster showing the process from The Popcorn Board (USDA). Great for notebook!

Popcorn Notebooking Pages
Simple pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.