Title: Corn Tastes Good: Current Issues With One of the World's Largest Crops

Grade Level: 9-12

Subjects/CA Standards:  Social Studies, Economics, Science

Overview: Corn is one of Mexico's ancient Mayan crops, yet today the effects of globalization and genetic modification have taken a toll on this important food source. This lesson looks at current issues and controversy surrounding corn.

Purpose:  The purpose of this lesson is for students to think critically about where their food comes from and what they consume on a daily basis.  They will also look at the international impacts of US food supplies and the current debates surrounding GMOs.  

Objectives:

Resources/Materials:

  1. Refer to articles under “Headlines” section of http://www.organicconsumers.org/Corn/index.cfm
  2. Large poster paper and markers.
  3. Research facilities (computers, library) for pre-debate information.

Activities and Procedures:

  1. Ask students if they have eaten any corn yet today.  If they say no, ask if anyone has had any soda to drink, cereal to eat, bread for breakfast…If possible, look at a soda bottle and read the second ingredient: high fructose corn syrup.  Then, brainstorm how many foods use some derivative of corn. Learn more about the importance of corn in the US economy and as a world food source at http://www.grains.org/grains/corn.html.
  2. Next, discuss the definition of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Life forms that are the result of combining the genes of one organism with that of another, thus altering the make-up of the “target” organism. What is produced in this process in often not something that could occur naturally or through conventional breeding - for example, crosses between tomatoes and fish are possible (from http://www.thegreenguide.org/definitions.php).  
  3. Have each student choose one article from the Headlines section of the Organic Consumers Association website.  Write it up as a current event, summarizing the Who What Where When Why and explaining the article in their own words.
  4. On a large piece of butcher paper, students will fill in information as a class.  Title the banner with five column headings:  What is GMO corn?  What is the difference between GMO corn and non-GMO corn?  What are some of the negative effects of GMO corn?  What has happened in Mexico with GMO corn?  What have people been doing about GMO corn recently?  Then, leave a space at one side, titled Vocabulary Words and Words I Do Not Understand / Questions I Have.  Have students go up as they finish writing their current event - taking the information from their article, have them fill in information under whichever column they can.  They should also add vocabulary words to the list and write any questions they have.  

Tying It Together:

  1. Have students debate the production and use of GMO products, using the example of corn.  Divide the class in half, and put them on opposite sides of the debate.  Assign roles (such as farmers, agrobusiness representatives, Mayan people, governments) for each side and have students argue from that perspective.  Allow time for research and encourage students to form solidarity groups among others on the same side of the debate.  Format of the debate is up to the teacher - this works well as a press conference style debate (See Zapatista Revolution lesson for format suggestion).
  2. Final assignment: write a persuasive essay on the topic of GMO corn, arguing one side or the other, using examples from the debate.