Find Out What Makes Popcorn Pop

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.

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