How Far Will Popcorn Fly?

By Marie Faust Evitt

A chilly day is the perfect time to pop a batch of popcorn and practice making predictions. This activity makes science and math irresistible and delicious!

making popping predictions

Start with a hot-air popcorn popper, plain popcorn kernels (not a microwave bag) and a timer—a sand timer or timer on a wristwatch or smart phone.

Cover the bottom of a large tray or clean shallow box with unfolded paper napkins. Number the squares of the napkin to create a grid.

Have the children wash their hands because they will be eating the popcorn later. Show a small group of children the popcorn kernels, and ask if they know what the kernels are. Many children have never seen uncooked popcorn because they buy popcorn ready-made or microwave it in a bag. Invite the children to hold the kernels and squeeze them. Do they look and feel like popcorn? Ask, “What would these seeds be like to eat before they are popped?” Record the children’s observations. Say, “Let’s see if we can make the seeds easier to eat.”

Set a shallow box or tray on a table near an electrical outlet for the popper. Place the popper in front of the box, and place the numbered napkin squares in the box to catch the popped corn. Ask the children on which numbers they think most popcorn kernels will land. Record their predictions, including each child’s name on a sheet of paper. To help children feel comfortable making predictions, I predict a number far from the popper.

Ask the children how long they think it will take for the popcorn to pop. Record their predictions.

making predictions

Make half a batch or less of popcorn following the directions on the popper. Safety note: It’s essential that children not touch the hot popcorn popper.

Invite a child to start the sand timer, or start the timer on a wrist watch or smart phone. If you are using a sand timer, children can take turns flipping and counting the flips until the popcorn finishes popping.

Record how long it takes for the first seed to pop and how long it takes for the rest of the batch to pop.

popping popcorn

Observe where most kernels land. Invite the children to count how many are on each square. Compare the results with the children’s predictions.

Empty napkins of popped popcorn into the bowl to share. You can either serve it immediately or wait until lunch or snack time.

Make multiple small batches, asking for new predictions each time. Children in my class often continue to predict that the popcorn will land on number four or five, even though the popcorn usually lands on the numbers right in front of the popper each time. Why don’t their predictions change? Because they are four or five years old, and so obviously those are the “best” numbers. “I’m five, you know,” they tell me. That’s okay. They are still getting practice making predictions and observing what actually happens within a quick turnaround time. And it’s so exciting when a child realizes that the popping is fairly consistent and then changes his or her prediction!

This activity also gives children opportunities to practice the math skills of counting, estimating and measuring distance and time.

We read The Popcorn Book by Tomie de Paola to enhance literacy and learn a wealth of fun, interesting information about the science and history of popcorn. Popcorn seeds contain a little moisture. When heated, the water becomes steam, which puffs up the starchy interior. Eventually the outer seed coat bursts, sending the kernels flying.

It’s easy to incorporate dramatic play by inviting children to pretend they are popcorn seeds. They can crouch down in balls while I say, “It’s getting hotter in the popper. It’s getting hotter. Let’s count to ten and the moisture inside you gets really, really hot and--POP!--you’re popcorn.” The children jump up. They can take turns deciding how long to count before everyone pops.

For more curriculum ideas, see my book Thinking BIG, Learning BIG: Connecting Science, Math, Literacy and Language in Early Childhood.

Have fun making popping predictions with your young scientists!

thinking big, learning big

This post was contributed by Marie Faust Evitt, head teacher of a preschool class for four- and five-year-olds. Prior to teaching, Marie was an award-winning newspaper reporter and freelance journalist for more than twenty years. Her articles and essays on education, parenting, and child psychology have been published in Newsweek, Parents, Child, Parenting, Scholastic’s Parent & Child,, and Family Fun. She posts about her classroom activities at and on her Facebook fan page. She lives in Mountain View, California.

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