Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Measuring Corn Growth with Lego Guys

Photo of young boy measuring small corn plants with lego guys

For a girl who wanted to get out of the midwest and move to the west coast, I sure do enjoy the planting season. I thoroughly enjoy watching the crops go into the soil, and then seeing the baby corn grow into tall stalks! Since we have fields right outside our home, I decided to develop a summer project that would help Caleb appreciate the growth of corn. 

Last fall we picked up seed corn (not the same as sweet corn) out of the fields after harvest. And this is what it looks like, for you city folk, who've never need it!

Photo of clear plastic glass with corn seeds sprouting along with an ear of seed corn

I believe everything looks cooler closer up. While we've all seen corn, look at it! Isn't is beautiful? All lined up in straight rows...all that potential to become something great, if only put into the right environment. I'll resist the urge to go into an object lesson here, but you get the point. 

Photograph of Seed Corn
So the field across the street was planted on April 17th, and I just happened to be home and able to capture the moment. For me, the corn is the "data" because that is what we will be measuring. We "planted" some corn in paper towels that same day so we would know what is going on under the soil.

Tractor planting corn in a midwest field

Then, just this past week, the corn poked out of the soil. Oh, the cute baby corn! 
Rows of 1 week-old corn with clipboard in the foreground

Here's Caleb as we photograph our inside corn and observe the structures of root and stem! 

It took a lot of persuasion to get Caleb out into the field. I just couldn't get him excited about my big corn project! UNTIL, a good friend of mine, Brenda, mentioned to me that I should have him measure the corn using his Lego That was it. That is just the motivation he needed. So out we went. 

Boy with barn boots walking across baby corn rows

I also made it a "treasure hunt" of sorts in that we randomly chose 4 corn plants to measure, and we made a treasure map so we would remember which plants to measure next time. Currently that means, 10 steps past our mailbox, 1st row...that's plant A. Count 13 plants to the left, that's plant B. You get the idea.

Black soil with 1-week old corn spouts with 3 lego guys scattered around

Measuring with Lego Guys was a great idea, but it took both of us to line them up along the baby stalk. All four of our corn data points were either 3 or 4 Lego Guys high. I'm hoping that I'll be able to help Caleb make the connection of Lego guys and centimeters (although I'm pretty sure the Lego guys will translate better into inches..oh well.)

Boy bending down next to 1-week old corn spouts measuring with lego guys

I had Caleb's attention for measuring the first 3 plants, but not for the last one. Instead he wanted to jump between corn rows. It will be fun to compare these photos to the ones I'll take in the fall. Ah, I really do like the midwest.  

Boy walking down rows of 1-week old seed corn sprouts

What have you done to help your kids understand the concept of distance and measuring?

This is the first post in the series, "Corn Unit."  You may want to read the other posts in this series. 

This post is featured in the Online Magazine Bonbon Break.
Bonbon Break


  1. Hey Darci! I'm visiting for the first time via Sits. I think it's great that you and your hubs are able to only work a couple days out of the week. I'd take 4 any day of the week. I also feel guilt leaving Princess. It's tough. It sounds like what your doing will benefit the community. We need more people to help the teens in our community. I work in News and cover so many tragic stories about young people expiring way before their time. Just last week ago a 12 year old died because he was playing around on an electric gate. The gate went up, he stayed on. Needless to say, he didn't make it. His hands and head got crushed. He was too afraid to let go. All the neighborhood kids watched on in horror. Some took pics of the little boy's body hanging from the gate in mid air. Tragic. Sorry for the long comment. All the best in your endeavors and homeschooling.

  2. What a tragic story. You are right, there are a lot of tragedy in life, and when it involves children and teens, it seems so much worse. The boys I work with often have some huge obstacle in their life. Sometimes its drugs, other times its dealing with a death of someone very close to them. Its an interesting balance to cut kids slack because of their emotional baggage, and yet holding them to high standards at the same time. Thanks for your post, I wish you the best of luck!

  3. I'd like to share an email I received from a math professor I had take a look at this post. His research area is measurement and has worked with elementary aged children on this topic for years. I thought what he had to say was worthy of sharing. Enjoy!

    "I am glad you are working with Caleb on this measurement topic. I looked over your blog notes. Cool project and photos! Our oldest is graduating this year from high school. Enjoy these years!

    Rich Lehrer (now at Vanderbilt, Peabody College of Education) and colleagues did some similar fun projects with grades 2 and 3 students using cabbage plants from a Wisconsin research project (Wisconsin fast plants he calls them) when he was at Madison, at the U of W. I think it is cabbage... but I may be wrong. Anyway, it is challenging to decide how to measure plants. What do we mean by "how much they grew"? IS it only height? or also width, or number of leaves, or overall plant density? What about mass of plant (total weight, including root system?)? So you can "invent" a measure, based on your research question. So what is interesting?

    I think it is important to talk about repeated measures, and about comparison as central aspects of measuring. Eventually, you want to talk about representing your measures and collecting lots of measures means you will be building up statistics ideas (seeing trends and patterns in lots of data).

    With a 5 year old: I think it is great to get him noticing attributes that we can compare, to answer questions. How much bigger will the corn be in 10 days? in 40 days? Predict, and then check. See who "wins" and makes close predictions.

    Later: DOes the corn grow as fast (by ratio) all through the growing season? Of course its growth levels out at the end, but that can be an experiment too.

    Great blog site!

  4. Great post! We'll have to try this one. I've also made notes of Professor Jeff's ideas. Thanks to both of you!


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