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Popcorn Math


  • Educational Technology
  • Mathematics
    --Applied Math


  • K-2
  • 3-5
  • 6-8

Brief Description

Use popcorn to teach math concepts including place value, estimating, graphing, and volume.


Students will

  • use popcorn to learn about place value, estimating, graphing, volume and more math concepts.


corn, popcorn, cup, measure, measurement, estimate, estimation, estimating, count, counting, place value, survey, graph, time, consumer, fraction, percent, volume, cylinder

Materials Needed

  • Required materials differ for each activity, but all are easily accessible. See each activity below for materials specific to that activity.

Lesson Plan

Use the activities that are appropriate for your grade level to teach simple math concepts.

Activity 1 -- Estimation.
Display a container full of popcorn kernels. (The size of the container might vary depending on the age -- and counting abilities -- of your students; you might use a jar, a 2-liter soda bottle, or some other container.) Challenge students to estimate how many kernels are in the container. Have each student write his or her name and estimate on a slip of paper. Then do Activity 2.

Activity 2 -- Counting/Place Value.
Appoint 4 or 5 students to be "collectors." The rest of the students are "counters." (If you teach young students, the collectors might be students you feel do not need counting practice.) Divide the popcorn kernels evenly among the counters by having each student take a handful or by pouring out even amounts on each student's desk. Instruct the students to count the kernels by sorting their share into groups of ten. When a student has ten groups of ten, he/she raises a hand; a collector goes to that student's desk, checks the piles to make sure there are ten groups of ten, and puts the kernels into a small paper cup (bathroom-sized cups are perfect for this activity). Count how many cups of 100 kernels (ten piles of ten) were collected.

If counters have any kernels left over, have them partner with another counter, combine their kernels, and arrange them into piles of ten. When they have ten piles of ten, have them call a collector who adds them to the popcorn tally. Finally, add any loose kernels. When you have a final tally, check the slips the students submitted in Activity 1 to learn which student's estimate is closest to the actual number of kernels in the container.

Activity 3 -- More Estimating.
Provide each student or pair of students with an unshucked ear of corn. Tell students they have 2-3 minutes to shuck the corn and estimate the number of kernels of corn on the ear. (The time limit ensures that students do not have time to count the kernels, but allows time for students who might have the skills to count the number of kernels in a row and the number of rows -- and then use addition or multiplication to come up with what might be a pretty accurate estimate.) Have students record their estimates.

After students have recorded their estimates, the counting can begin. You might allow students to count in any way they choose, and then discuss the different approaches they used; or before counting, you might talk about possible approaches, including:

  • making a mark on a sheet of paper for every 10 kernels counted;
  • counting the kernels in each row, then adding together the counts for each row to learn the total;
  • any other approach students might think of.

After the counting is done, have students record the actual kernel count next to their estimates and determine the difference between their estimate and the actual kernel count.

Activity 4 -- Graphing.
In this activity, students use recorded data to create a simple picture or bar graph. Students might work individually or in groups.

  • If you teach primary-grade children, you might work with them to create a graph illustrating their responses to one of the questions below.
  • If you teach grades 3 or 4, you might assign a different question to each individual and/or small group. Then students conduct the survey themselves, collect data, and graph the results.
  • If you teach older students, they might decide on their own survey question, conduct the survey, and graph the results.

Possible questions:

  • Do you prefer your popcorn a.) plain, b.) with salt only, c.) with butter only, or d.) with salt and butter?
  • Do you prefer popcorn a.) popped on the stove, b.) popped in the microwave oven, or c.) popped in an air popper?
  • Do you prefer popcorn a.) bought in a sealed bag in the store, b.) popped at home, or c.) popped at the movie theater?

Possible activities and questions:

  • Provide unmarked samples of popcorn. Sample A might be popcorn bought in a sealed bag in a store, sample B might be popcorn popped in oil on a stove, sample C might be air-popped popcorn, and sample D might be microwaved popcorn. Students can sample each and respond to the question Which popcorn sample did you like best? After data is collected and graphed (alongside headings such as Sample A, Sample B), reveal the nature of each sample.
  • Provide samples of four different brands of microwavable popcorn and ask students to record which sample they prefer. Students then can graph the results. Do not reveal the brands of popcorn used until the results are tallied and graphed.
  • Challenge students to think up their own survey question and/or activity.
Simple idea for integrating technology:
Have students use the free and easy-to-use online bar-graphing tool Create a Graph to make graphs illustrating the results of their surveys.

Activity 5 -- Counting and Measuring Time.
Provide three different brands of microwave popcorn. Pop each brand for the same amount of time (for example, 2-1/2 minutes). For each brand, time how long it is before students hear the first kernel of popcorn pop. Which brand is the first to pop?

At the end of the popping time, arrange students into six groups. Divide each bag of popcorn evenly into two bowls; be sure to label the bowls according to the brand of popcorn. Be sure to empty the bag of all its contents, including the unpopped kernels. Have students keep a record of the number of pieces of popcorn they eat. (To ensure accuracy, students might record a mark for every ten pieces of popcorn they eat.) When each group's bowl is empty, students in the group tally the number of pieces of popcorn eaten by the entire group. Then they tally the number of kernels of unpopped kernels in their bowls. Next, students share their data with members of the group who ate the other half of the same brand of popcorn they ate. Have them combine data to determine how many pieces of popped and unpopped kernels were in each bag. Which brand had the best popping results (the most seeds popped; the fewest kernels unpopped)?

Note: The estimates might not be completely accurate because you only allowed the popcorn to pop for a specific length of time; if you had left the popcorn in the microwave longer, the results might have been different. Of course, more popcorn might have burned too!

Activity 6 -- Using Fractions and Percents.
Count out 100 kernels of popcorn and pop them. Count the number of kernels that did not pop. How many of the 100 kernels popped? did not pop? Use the data to teach fractions and reducing fractions. Because you popped 100 kernels, this activity is especially useful for introducing/teaching the concept of percent.

Activity 7 -- Measuring Volume.
Use a measuring cup to measure cup (level) of popcorn kernels. Ask students to estimate how many quarter-cups of popped corn will result. Then pop the kernels. Have student measure to find out how many quarter-cups (level) of popcorn resulted. Which students' estimates came closest to the actual number?

Activity 8 -- Another Volume Activity.
Use a sheet of 8-1/2- x 11-inch paper for this activity. Fold, and then cut, the sheet of paper in half, so you have two sheets of paper 8-1/2- x 5-1/2-inches in size. Hold one sheet of paper horizontally and roll it into a tube until one end of the paper overlaps the other slightly (enough to place a piece of tape along the whole length of the edge). Hold the other sheet vertically and do the same thing. You should have one tall, thin tube and one shorter, fatter tube. Fill each tube with popped popcorn. Ask students Which tube has more popcorn in it.? After students record their ideas, measure the volume of popcorn in each tube to learn who was right.


Assessment will vary depending on the activity(s) completed; make an informal or formal assessment of each student's grasp of the activity concepts.

Lesson Plan Source

Education World

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

National Standards

MATHEMATICS: Number and Operations
GRADES Pre-K - 2
NM-NUM.PK-2.2 Understand Meanings of Operations and How They Relate to One Another
NM-NUM.PK-2.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates
GRADES 3 - 5
NM-NUM.3-5.2 Understand Meanings of Operations and How They Relate to One Another
NM-NUM.3-5.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates
GRADES 6 - 8
NM-NUM.6-8.2 Understand Meanings of Operations and How They Relate to One Another
NM-NUM.6-8.3 Compute Fluently and Make Reasonable Estimates


GRADES 3 - 5
NM-GEO.3-5.1 Analyze Characteristics and Properties of Two- and Three-Dimensional Geometric Shapes and Develop Mathematical Arguments About Geometric Relationships
GRADES 6 - 8
NM-GEO.6-8.1 Analyze Characteristics and Properties of Two- and Three-Dimensional Geometric Shapes and Develop Mathematical Arguments About Geometric Relationships
GRADES 9 - 12


MATHEMATICS: Measurement
GRADES Pre-K - 2
NM-MEA.PK-2.1 Understand Measurable Attributes of Objects and the Units, Systems, and Processes of Measurement
NM-MEA.PK-2.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements
GRADES 3 - 5
NM-MEA.3-5.1 Understand Measurable Attributes of Objects and the Units, Systems, and Processes of Measurement
NM-MEA.3-5.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements
GRADES 6 - 8
NM-MEA.6-8.1 Understand Measurable Attributes of Objects and the Units, Systems, and Processes of Measurement
NM-MEA.6-8.2 Apply Appropriate Techniques, Tools, and Formulas to Determine Measurements

MATHEMATICS: Communications
GRADES Pre-K - 12
NM-COMM.PK-12.1 Organize and Consolidate Their Mathematical Thinking Through Communication
NM-COMM.PK-12.2 Communicate Their Mathematical Thinking Coherently and Clearly to Peers, Teachers, and Others

MATHEMATICS: Representation
GRADES Pre-K - 12
NM-REP.PK-12.1 Create and Use Representations to Organize, Record, and Communicate Mathematical Ideas

NT.K-12.1 Basic Operations and Concepts
NT.K-12.3 Technology Productivity Tools
NT.K-12.4 Technology Communications Tools

Find more popcorn activities in Education World's article, Popcorn Isn't Just for Movies Anymore.

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