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Find Out What Makes Popcorn Pop

Find Out What Makes Popcorn Pop Activity

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See more activities in: First Grade, Physical Science

First graders frequently study the way matter changes, starting with water. After all, it’s pretty amazing when you think about it, how water can go from solid ice to liquid to gas.

But it’s even more fun when you mix these revelations with a classic kid food—popcorn. Nowadays it’s easy to make the stuff in the microwave and watch the kernels bang on the sides of the paper bag; it’s just that it’s really hard to see what’s happening inside.

So here’s a return to old fashioned days … as long as you can find a pot that’s newfangled enough to have a clear lid.

What You Need:

  • A heavy saucepan with a clear glass lid
  • About 2-3 tablespoons of plain cooking oil (such as canola or olive)
  • ¼ cup old fashioned popcorn kernels
  • Salt to taste

What You Do:

  1. With your first grader, take a look at a couple of dry popcorn kernels.  What do you think could possibly make this little bean thing turn into a popcorn kernel to eat? The answer is that we heat it very hot, because inside there’s a teeny bit of water. When the kernel gets hot enough, the water inside boils and then turns into water vapor. The pressure builds up inside the kernel until it literally explodes into the beautiful popped corn that people love to munch.
  2. Pour cooking oil onto the bottom of a heavy saucepan to coat it thoroughly. Then pour in the dry kernels. Cover tightly with the glass lid, place the pot on the stove, and turn on the burner to high heat. Holding the lid on tight, gently move the pan back and forth so that the kernels roll around and are equally exposed to the heat.
  3. Invite your child to stand on a tall stool—safely clear from any heat or steam, of course—to watch what happens as the kernels start to explode. This should only take 2-3 minutes at high heat, and will be over in another 2 minutes or so, but when it’s going strong it will be great fun to watch!

When the popcorn has popped, sprinkle with salt and add a little butter if you want; or consider getting fancy and putting on a little brown sugar instead. Either way, make it a celebration—science is all around, waiting for curious minds to enjoy its wonders.

Julie Williams, M.A. Education, taught middle and high school History and English for seventeen years. Since then, she has volunteered in elementary classrooms while raising her two sons and earning a master's in school administration. She has also been a leader in her local PTA.

Updated on Oct 11, 2012
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See more activities in: First Grade, Physical Science
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