The biological sciences departments at OSU sponsor regular "Museum Days" when they set up museum-type displays and activities that are attended by children from the local schools. Last year, I was asked to do one on maize. I used some of the ideas from Sue Wessler's newsletter contribution, and I got some wonderful materials from Bill Tracy. I tried to emphasize two things: 1) the role of indigenous people in the history of maize agriculture, and 2) the huge variety of foods and products that use components of the maize plant.
My display was not going to be staffed most of the time, so I designed it to have only a small amount of text and a self-explanatory activity. The physical format was a walk-thru with three parts: I had an entrance wall with some posters showing the origin of maize, and maize agriculture and the general uses and products from corn plants. This was followed by a display case area showing some of the varieties of maize and origins of Corn Belt maize. Many of the materials in this section were very graciously provided to me by Bill Tracy. The centerpiece of the display was a large table heaped with household items of all kinds and a sign asking each student to try to identify those items that contained maize products. At either end of the table I put a box of pencils and check-off sheets that listed each item in the display. The items ranged from the obvious (tortillas) to the obscure (a corn plastic pen). I tried to include a lot of things they would be very familiar with like breakfast cereals and soft drinks. The kids were encouraged to look at labels and see what things listed corn syrup, dextrose, cornstarch, etc. On an exit table, I put a small packet of corn seeds for each child to take home. Inside the packet I put instructions for planting and a note telling them that all the items on the display table contained corn products.
It was a successful display and mostly easy to mothball for future use or to bring into individual classrooms. I did have a little problem with theft of small, tempting items from my display table (small toys and candy), so when I repeated it I just used empty boxes or wrappers stuffed with cotton.
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