Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Air Popper

As part of my unit on cows, I talk about corn. Because cows eat corn, you see. So, we talk about corn, and all the different things we eat that come from corn, usually steering clear of high fructose corn syrup. But it's fun to help the kids discover that corn on the cob, popcorn, tortilla chips, corn flakes and corn bread are all made from corn. It blows their minds, and I usually have a couple kids doubt me.

Last year I had a student proclaim, "There is no way that cornflakes come from corn on the cob - they are not even the same color." This little guy marched away from me in a bit of a huff, certain that I was telling tall tales.

It wasn't until after he had peeled kernels off a piece of Indian corn, and ground them with a mortar and pestle and compared his result with cornmeal that I had bought from a store that he maybe thought I was onto something. He was dubious about the cornflakes ("they are brown, not yellow!"), but he could wrap his mind around the fact that corn was in lots of things he ate.

Every year, as part of this unit, I drag out an old air popper to pop popcorn with. I set it up on my carpet, on top of a clean piece of butcher paper, and I let the popcorn just come out of the popper and onto the paper, and the kids eat it right up. This is always a good time.

In years past, I always had a couple of students know what the air popper was. But it was still fun to eat the popcorn off the floor. This year is the first year none of my students had a clue as to what I was about to do.
I showed them the air popper, "What's this?" I asked. A sea of blank faces stared back at me.
I showed them the bag of popcorn kernels, "What's this?"
"Popcorn kernels!" they all scream back. No surprise here; we have had popcorn in the sensory table all week, even if they hadn't seen popcorn kernels in the clear plastic bag before, they had certainly heard me say, "Keep the popcorn kernels in the table" a thousand times.

"How do you make popcorn at your house?" I asked the class.

A confident little girl raised her hand, "At my house, the popcorn comes in white squares. We put them in the microwave this side up, press the popcorn button, it has a picture of popcorn on it, and then the square gets popcorn in it!" she stated triumphantly. The rest of the class assured me this was the same procedure that was followed in all of their homes, although one little boy noted he had to use numbers on his microwave as opposed to the button with the picture of popcorn on it.

"Well," I said to the class, "I am going to make popcorn by pouring this," as I held up the bag of popcorn kernels, "into this" and I pointed at the air popper. As I was greeted with the chorus of, "No Way's", I dumped the kernels into the popper.

As the kernels spun around, I told the kids to use their noses to see of they smelled anything. And then to keep their listening ears wide open to see if they heard anything. Before long, the scent of popcorn filled the room, and all the kids sniffed excitedly, "I smell popcorn!" I had to get the kids calmed down so they could hear the first "pop, pop, pop". The excitement that filled the room when they heard the popcorn start to pop was amazing. And then, the looks on their faces when the popcorn starting spilling onto the butcher paper? They were beyond thrilled.

"Do it again!!" they all yelled. And this was before they had even tried the popcorn. I encouraged them to take a taste. Wow! It tasted just like "real popcorn"!

So I did it again. And again, and again. Their excitement never waned. For such a simple thing, the kids had such a great time. I loved hearing what they said to their parents at pick up time, "She put popcorn seeds in that thing and then popcorn came out all over the floor and I smelled it and heared (not a misspelling, just an exact quote) it!"

It makes me think I might need to invest in one of these old fashioned contraptions for my own home. The popcorn is healthy, and maybe my own kids would get even a quarter as excited as my students did. And that would be worth the cost.

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