Target Grade Level / Age Range:



1 hour


Students will learn the importance of corn production to Iowa and the nation, understand what a by-product is and how they are used, and discover the weights and sizes of different measurements of corn. 


  • A bushel of corn
    • A bushel of corn can be obtained at many local farms. Candy corn can be used as a substitute if field corn cannot be obtained.
  • Measuring  cups
  • Bathroom scale
  • Whole ear of field corn for each student
  • Tootsie Rolls
  • Frosted Flakes Cereal
  • Toy car
  • Toy hamburger, steak or cow
  • Soda
  • Fruit snacks
  • Canned fruit
  • Corn nuts
  • Doritos or other corn chips
  • Taco shells
  • Salad dressing
  • Oats and Honey granola bar
  • Pure corn oil
  • Pure corn starch
  • Chocolate pudding mix
  • Cornbread mix or Corn muffin mix
  • Infant formula
  • Biodegradable corn plastic or packing peanuts

Suggested Companion Resources

  •  Iowa Ag Today


  • Kernel – the softer and sometimes edible seed on an ear of corn
  • Yield – the amount of grain produced from a corn plant. In corn, this would be kernels per ear times ears per plant.  
  • Ear – The part of the corn plant that holds the kernels
  • Starch – an odorless and tasteless substance that occurs in plant tissue and functions to store carbohydrates. It is an important part of the human diet. The starch in corn can be found in the white part of the kernel, or the endosperm.
  • Biodegradable – a substance capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms. Corn is used to make biodegradable packing peanuts.

Interest Approach or Motivator

This hands-on activity will have students measuring and counting all things corn. Students will also have the opportunity to explore the many products that include corn as an ingredient, and through that understand the importance of corn grown in Iowa.

Background – Agricultural Connections

Iowa is the #1 corn producing state in America, and corn is Iowa’s #1 most produced crop. Many farmers in Iowa grow corn in rotation with soybeans. Iowa is a top producer of soybeans as well. Corn can be used for many things, including corn starch, ethanol and corn syrup. It is important to note that the vast majority of corn grown in Iowa and the U.S. is field corn, or yellow dent corn. It is different the kind that we eat on the cob, which is sweet corn. Sweet corn is primarily used for human consumption and is often eaten off the cobb. Field corn is used for ethanol production and livestock feed, or is further processed into high fructose corn syrup, cereals, and corn chips.


  1. Use a bushel of corn, a bathroom scale and measuring cups to explore the weight of corn. Have students guess how much the bushel weighs (56 lbs is average). Then, have the students weigh the bushel with the scale. Have students scoop a cup of corn out of the bushel, and estimate how much it weights. Then, weigh it, and compare that to the bushel. How many cups are there in the whole bushel? Weigh other classroom materials, like books or pencils, to compare them with the weights of the corn. What weighs around the same as a cup of corn? How does the weight of your pencil compare to a teaspoon of corn?
  2. Give an ear of corn to each student and have them estimate the number of kernels on their ear. Then, have them count the number or rows in the ear and record the number they get. Compare the row numbers as a class. Are there any similarities or patterns? If age appropriate, have students count the number of kernels per ear. This can relate to the yield of the plant. The higher the yield, or the amount of grain per plant, the more products can be made from that plant. A higher yielding plant is a more efficient user of resources.
  3. Introduce the many different products containing corn (Coca Cola, corn syrup, corn chips, corn bread, corn flakes, gasoline with ethanol, packing peanuts, etc.). Have the students examine the products and guess what corn ingredients are in the product.

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Did you know? (Ag facts)

  •  The average yield for a corn field in Iowa is 168 bushels per acre.
  • An acre is roughly the size of a football field.
  • Distillers Grains, a by-product of ethanol production, can be fed to cattle and hogs.
  • There are about 90 million acres in the U.S. devoted to corn production, and corn is grown in all 50 states.
  • The U.S. produces about 40% of the world’s corn.
  • Corn’s ancestor is a grass called teosinte, which originated in Mexico.

Extension Activities

  • Incorporate products that do not contain corn ingredients into the lesson (peanuts, vegetables, canned fruit, dried cranberries, etc.). Have students sort out the products that do not have corn in them from products that do.


Erin Murty

Organization Affiliation

Grundy County Agriculture in the Classroom

Agriculture Literacy Outcomes

  • Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy Outcomes
    • Health: Identify examples of feed/food products eaten by animals and people
  • Culture, Society, Economy & Geography Outcomes
    • Social Studies: Identify plants and animals grown locally that are used for food, clothing, shelter and landscapes
    • Social Studies: Explain the value of agriculture and how it is important in daily life

Common Core Connections

  • K.CC.C.6 Identify whether the number of objects in one group is greater than, less than, or equal to the number of objects in another group, e.g., by using matching and counting strategies.
  • 21.K–2.ES.5 Essential Concept and/or Skill: Work productively and are accountable for their actions.
  • 3.MD.A.2 Measure and estimate liquid volumes and masses of objects using standard units of grams (g), kilograms (kg), and liters (l).
  • 3.MD.A.2 Measure and estimate liquid volumes and masses of objects using standard units of grams (g), kilograms (kg), and liters (l).15 Add, subtract, multiply, or divide to solve one–step word problems involving masses or volumes that are given in the same units, e.g., by using drawings (such as a beaker with a measurement scale) to represent the problem.

Creative Commons License

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