Origins of Corn







To discuss human impact on the environment through corn from colonization to today


How has modern corn come to be?

How do humans impact our environment?

How does our environment impact us?


Seed catalogs
Indian corn or any dried corn on husk Dried wheat

For Tortillas: Masa harina, hot/warm water, salt, Tortilla press, parchment paper, griddle, bowls, spatula, measuring cups, plates or napkins for finished tortillas


Lay out tortilla materials in an assembly line with room for students to work, boil/heat water for tortillas prior to the lesson

What do you need to grow corn? What does the plant look like? Discuss what plants need to grow and what corn specifically needs.

Teosinte originated in Balsas River Valley in Mexico about 8,000 years ago. Why were river valleys so important to early agriculture? They are a natural irrigation system!

Why do we grow so much corn? Show break down of corn production today (39% biofuel, 37% animal feed, 13% export, and only 11% is for food). Show photos of beef, dairy, pork, chicken, and egg operations that rely on corn for feed.

Tortilla Activity

Corn has come a long way since humans first started cultivating it thousands of years ago. One of the oldest ways corn was used is still extremely popular today – to make tortillas!


This lesson could be broken into two parts – there is a lot to discuss and students will have a lot of questions.

If you’d like to focus on corn for multiple lessons (or to create a whole unit on corn!), the below extensions might offer ideas on where to take the discussion:

Genetically modified corn: intro to genetically modified organisms and food

Corn biofuel: the production of corn into fuel, the ethics of using food for fuel
Agricultural runoff: water systems, designing a system that is able to absorb a contaminant most effectively and have the least amount of runoff. Research organic pesticides and herbicides.
Corn origins: Study other food origins and food system connections, research other corn recipes from around the world, host a corn-centric meal.
Modern corn: in government, how is corn a major player in the US government and foreign policy? What crops could replace corn?