School children: lost in the maize
--Jeena Tharp and Torbert Rocheford, Departments of Education/Agronomy, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana

The following is written by Jeena Tharp who was raised on a farm in Illinois, is a senior majoring in education, and is an undergraduate worker in the Rocheford laboratory. Jeena is also working with her father to produce a video on growing corn on a farm. They have completed portions covering harvesting and moving the grain to storage, and expect to complete the planting and growing portion this summer. The video will be available for distribution in late 1995.

As a student in elementary education, I volunteered to go with Dr. Rocheford to his son's second-grade classroom to give a brief introduction to maize and to determine the background knowledge of the students. It was stunning to hear that in such a large farming area very few of the students knew much about this important crop.

We started the lesson by asking questions that gave us an idea of their vocabulary and pre-existing knowledge. I then read a few pages from The Story of Corn by Peter Limburg, and later gave them pictures to color. Next we showed and discussed the parts of a mature plant and gave each of them an ear of corn which they shucked and silked. This led to a discussion of the properties of maize, such as the various types (popcorn, sweet corn, field corn), colors, sizes, how it grows, and its many uses. In closing the lesson we gave each student a dish of soil with his/her name on it and seeds to plant and watch grow.

Overall, I feel that the lesson went well. The students were very interested and excited. The students really liked husking the corn and being able to take an ear of corn home. However, there are a few points to remember when visiting a classroom of any age group.

- Take concrete things for the students to touch and observe.
- Be aware of the timing when giving students handouts and manipulatives. You can lose their attention very quickly.
- When doing demonstrations, be sure to do a few that the students are capable of and allowed to do.
- Have the cups of soil already prepared and have a sunny, warm place that is easily accessible to the students.
- Include personal stories.
- Select students to be helpers.
Other ideas and extensions:
- Take a field trip to a farm where maize is grown.
- Take a field trip to a factory or plant that uses maize.
- Make or watch a video of a process that maize might go through.
- Do a lesson on different food products made from maize. Grind corn into cornmeal and make different types of food.
- Do a unit on different uses of corn. Have the students make charts and bulletin boards.
- Tie maize to Thanksgiving and do a lesson on the history of maize.

I encourage everyone to get involved in the schools. Most teachers and students like to have the people of the community and professionals visit the classrooms to share their knowledge about special topics. Students of all ages enjoy this and will usually give more of their attention to the guest than to the teacher because it is something different. The teachers are very helpful in preparing the class for the guest. They can also be helpful in giving the guest suggestions for activities to go along with the topic. I really think that students should be given the opportunity to learn more about their environment and possibly their options for the future. 


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