September 2016 – Vol. 29 No. 1

Lesson Plan: Ornamental Corn Inquiry (Grades K-2)

Posted: Monday, November 4th, 2013

by Valerie Joyner 

Ornamental corn

Ornamental corn

Ornamental corn, available this time of year, is great for setting up an inquiry activity for your primary (K-2) students to explore.  If the weather in your part of California is still warm, you can begin this activity right away.  However, due to the size and diversity of weather conditions around California, you may need to purchase a few ears of ornamental corn now and save the activity until the spring when the weather warms up. 

Focus Question:  What are the kernels on an ear of corn?

Materials you will need:

1 or more ears of dry (colorful) ornamental corn (available in the fall)

1 or more shoe box size plastic containers (1per ear of corn)

My Corn Book – 1 per student

Corn Book Sample

Corn Book Sample

Depending on your students’ writing ability, you may have to take dictation for the students, make sentence strips for them to copy using their words, or allow students to write on their own.

Access to water and sunlight

Chart paper and pens


Have your students sit as a group in a large circle.  Hold up an ear of ornamental corn and ask the students what they think it is.  Do not tell them it is an ear of corn.  Pass the corn around and ask students to touch and smell it.  Once everyone has had a chance to observe it, ask them what they think it is.  This can be confusing for some students as they may not understand why an ear of corn is dry and colorful.  Allow students to come up with their own ideas.


Explain to the students that they are going to be scientists and discover what happens when they put the corn in water and watch it for a few weeks.  But, first they must observe it closely and then predict what they think will happen.

My Corn Book

Step 1 – Distribute ears of corn to each group.  Allow students time to observe and discuss their observations with each other.  When they are finished they should record their observations and color the ear of corn as accurately as possible based on their observations.  You will need to tell the students this is not the time to take artistic freedom and color the corn pink, blue, or rainbow-colored. 

Notebook Page 1

Today I observed an ear of corn.  It is   _________________________________


Step 2 – Have students place an ear of corn in a plastic container and add 1” of water.   Allow students time to predict what they think will happen and record their predictions.

You may be very surprised with their predictions.  In the past my students’ predictions have been everywhere from it will turn yellow so you can eat it, to it will pop, to it will turn the water a different color, but seldom do they predict it will grow.  Allow all predictions.

Notebook Page 2

We put the corn in water. Then we put it in the sun.  I predict the corn will ________________________________________, because ______________________________________________.

Ornamental corn in plastic bin.

Ornamental corn in plastic bin.

Step 3 – Place the corn in a warm sunny location.

On a daily basis, put the corn in the sunny location and check the water level and quality.  You will need to rinse the ears of corn every day or two to ensure that it does not become cloudy or smelly.  Within a few days students will notice that the kernels are getting larger and soon begin to sprout roots.

When the students notice roots sprouting, bring the corn inside and allow students to observe and discuss what is happening.  After they have had a chance to observe have them record their observations through writing/dictation and by coloring the ear of corn on the pages accurately.

Notebook Pages 3-5(or more)

Today we observed the corn.  It has ________________________________________________.

Repeat Step 3 allowing students to record their observations each time.

Within a few weeks the ear of corn will send up green shoots in addition to the roots.  Often the kernels will begin to fall off the ear with their attached roots and shoots.  When this happens the students become aware that the ear of corn is actually a group of seeds.

Step 4 – Final Observation

Allow students to make one final observation.  Discuss the word “results” and ask the students to share verbally their “results”.  Have students record their results in their Corn Book.

Last Notebook Page

Results:  When you put an ear of corn in water it ______________________________________________________.  I think the kernels on an ear of corn are _____________________________________, because ___________________________________________.


Use the students’ results page to check for understanding.  The students should understand that an ear of corn contains the seeds of corn.


  • Predictions are difficult for students this age.  They may want to copy each other’s ideas and ask an adult for advice.  Remind them that a prediction is their own thinking based on what they already know.
  • When students color in their ears of corn remind them that they need to color it the same as their observations.
  • Depending on students’ writing abilities, either have them record the date of each observation or add the date for them.  It is important to establish proper recording skills as early as possible.


  • Plant the seeds in the school garden or in a paper cup.
  • Plant the ears of corn in the school garden or planter box and continue to observe
  • Measure the shoots, then record and graph measurements
  • Compare and contrast the results of all the ears of corn.

Written by Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner

Valerie Joyner is a retired elementary science educator and is CSTA’s Primary (grades K-2) Director.

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California Science Assessment Update

Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

by Jessica Sawko

In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.

At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Some ways to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in your classroom

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

by Carol Peterson

1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

2016 Award Recipients – Join CSTA in Honoring Their Accomplishments

Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference  on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!

Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award

John Keller

John Keller

The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

NGSS: Making Your Life Easier

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Peter A’hearn

Wait… What?

NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?

The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Celestial Highlights, September 2016

Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt 

Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…

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Written by Robert Victor

Robert Victor

Robert C. Victor was Staff Astronomer at Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University. He is now retired and enjoys providing skywatching opportunities for school children in and around Palm Springs, CA. Robert is a member of CSTA.