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Explore Corn

Corn Field Scouting

Grade Level: High School

Farmers utilize field scouting as a sure-fire way to assess their crops in real-time. Surveying their field allows them to see the development of their crops to guarantee they are at the predicted growth stage based on the number of accumulated growing degree days. Farmers are also able to observe what types of pests are infesting their crops, what nutrients they are lacking, any diseases spreading throughout the field, the types of weeds competing for resources and the damage that was done after a severe weather event. From this analysis, farmers are able to immediately intervene and make adjustments to the amount of fertilizer, pesticides and/or herbicides needed in order to ensure the greatest performance of their crop.

The key to scouting is to have a random, yet methodical technique in observing the field. This is important so as to receive the most accurate representation of the conditions found within the corn crop. Students will utilize this surveying technique to determine the health of the field. This will be done by first learning the five classification types that hinder plant production – pests, disease, weeds, nutrition and weather damage – and the causes of each. There are telltale signs that can be observed with practice and a careful eye. Students will apply that knowledge in the field then finish by creating and presenting a scouting report to their peers.

Teaching the Lesson

Kansas College and Career Ready Standards

  • S.ID.2. Interpret differences in shape, center, and spread in the context of the data sets using dot plots, histograms, and box plots, accounting for possible effects of extreme data points
  • S.IC.1. Understand statistics as a process for making inferences to be made about population parameters based on a random sample from that population.
  • S.IC.4. Use data from a sample survey to estimate a population mean or proportion
  • S.MD.6. Use probabilities to make fair decisions
  • HS-LS2-2. Use mathematical representations to support and revise explanations based on evidence about factors affecting biodiversity and populations in ecosystems of different scales.
  • HS-LS2-6. Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.
  • HS-LS4-3. Apply concepts of statistics and probability to support explanations that organisms with an advantageous heritable trait tend to increase in proportion to organisms lacking this trait.
  • HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade- offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

Learning Objectives

  • To learn about conditions that affect corn growth and development.
  • To learn about proper surveying techniques used by farmers and agronomists.
  • To apply randomization in a real-world setting.
  • To perform analysis on field scouting data.
  • To present background information, field results and data to an audience.

Materials

For the Instructor

  • Scouting PowerPoint presentation (available at www.kscorn.com)
  • Exit ticket case studies for each scouting classification (pg. 15-19 or available at www.kscorn.com)

For Each Group

  • Field guides (listed below or available at www.kscorn.com)
  • Disease Field Guide (pg. 20-24)
  • Nutrition Field Guide (pg. 25-26)
  • Pests Field Guide (pg. 27-31)
  • Weather Field Guide (pg. 32-34)
  • Weeds Field Guide (pg. 35-41)
  • Field Logbook and Grid Map (pg. 10-14 or available at www.kscorn.com)
  • PowerPoint template for scouting results (available at www.kscorn.com)
  • Magnifying glass (optional)
  • Whistle (optional)
  • Protractor
  • Dice or random number generator
  • Portable shovel, spade or trowel (for digging 8-10 inches)
  • Camera or phone with camera
  • Plastic baggies for samples (if allowed by farmer)

Safety Considerations:

  • Wear appropriate clothing for the weather and outdoors.
  • Apply bug spray and sunscreen when necessary.
  • Use the buddy system to account for all students when in the field.
  • Be sure to get permission from owner before entering property.

Procedures for Instruction

Length of Time for Preparation

  • 30 minutes for planning lesson.
  • 30 minutes to 1 hour for planning and organizing field trip.

Length of Time for Classroom Teaching

  • 50 minutes for introduction to corn field scouting.
  • 50 minutes for each group to learn assigned scouting section.
  • 1-2 hours for field scouting trip.
  • 50 minutes for post-scouting to create presentation.
  • 50 minutes for group presentations (about 10 minutes each).

Preparation Procedure

  • Contact a local farmer to set a time for students to come out and survey. Kansas Corn can assist in finding a local farmer if needed.
    • Be sure to explain the purpose of the lab, what your students are looking for and how they collect the information.
  • Obtain equipment from the Materials List for each group.
  • Download the Scouting Lab PowerPoint presentation.
  • Print out the five Field Guide classifications: Weeds, Nutrition Deficiencies, Disease, Pests and Weather Damage.
  • Print out a blank Field Logbook and Grid Map for each group.

Background Information

  • Students should complete the Explore Corn and Growing Degree Units activities before this lab.
  • See accompanying PowerPoint presentation for an introduction to field scouting.

Classroom Discussion

  • Why would a farmer want to scout their field?
  • What should a farmer be looking for when scouting their field?
  • What are the major parts of a corn plant that should be looked at when scouting?
  • How often should a farmer scout their field?
  • At what stages of corn growth would be the best time to scout?
  • Should a farmer scout their field the same way each time or do so in a variety of ways?
  • What are some ways that a farmer can randomly survey their field?
  • What kind of equipment or technology could be used to scout a field?

Procedure for Lab

Introductory Lesson: 1-2 50 minute class periods

  • Present the introductory slides of the PowerPoint presentation to the class.
    • These include a brief introduction to each scouting classification as well as field scouting procedures and techniques.
  • Split your students into at least five groups and assign them one of the following scouting classifications:
    • Pests, Weeds, Diseases, Nutrition Deficiencies and Weather Damage
  • Have students read over their assigned scouting classification.
    • Provide additional resources for research – see the Resources Section.
  • Have students complete an exit ticket for their assigned scouting classification.

Class Period before Field Visit

  • Provide students with the PowerPoint template for their scouting results.
    • Use as a rubric for what they need to observe and include in their final report.
  • Have students determine the type of survey method and pathway they will take onsite:
    • Survey walking pattern – roll the dice:
      • odd number: zigzag pattern
    • even number: “M” pattern
  • Starting angle when facing field – roll the dice:
    • 1 – 30 degree angle relative to crop line
    • 2 – 60 degree angle relative to crop line
    • 3 – 90 degree angle relative to crop line
    • 4 – 120 degree angle relative to crop line
    • 5 – 150 degree angle relative to crop line
    • 6 – Roll again
  • Number of paces (about 30 inches) to each observation stop – roll the dice:
    • 1 or 4 – 15 paces
    • 2 or 5 – 24 paces
    • 3 or 6 – 33 paces
  • (Optional) Classification Type – Roll the Dice:
    • 1 – Diseases
    • 2 – Nutrition deficiencies
    • 3 – Roll again
    • 4 – Pests
    • 5 – Weather damage
    • 6 – Weeds

Field Survey

  • Be sure students are appropriately dressed for fieldwork and weather.
  • Be sure students apply any needed sunscreen and bug spray.
  • Be sure to use the buddy system for safety.
  • Each student group should have a whistle or way to communicate in case they get disoriented or have any issues.
  • Have students set an alarm or timer for 10 minutes before having to come back.
  • Student groups start at an edge of the corn field.
  • When told to do so, the students can then start and apply their random scouting pattern.
  • At each stopping point, the students will observe the three closest corn plants directly to their right-hand side.
    • Each group will survey their corn plants according to their assigned scouting classification guidelines.
    • Be consistent in how you choose the corn plants to be scouted.
  • After scouting the corn plants, students will take a picture of their conditions using a camera or their phone.
  • Log the conditions of the corn plants in the Field Logbook. The first stop is labelled A, the second stop B, etc.
  • Mark down and label the position (A, B, C, etc.) on the Field Grid Map.
  • If allowed, the student can take a sample of an interesting or atypical condition and place it in a plastic baggie for later analysis. The sample should be kept moist by wrapping it in a damp paper towel.
  • When the end of the field is reached or the allotted time is up, students will make their way back to the starting area.
  • Make sure all materials and students are accounted for before leaving.
  • Thank your farmer for letting you scout their field.

Scouting Report

  • Students are to research any conditions found in the field that were not included in their Field Guide.
  • Students are to calculate the percentages of each condition encountered (see Lab Analysis Section).
  • Students will create a final scouting report using the provided PowerPoint template which includes:
    • An introduction to their assigned scouting classification with examples.
    • What the students were specifically looking for when scouting a corn plant.
    • The scouting pathway that was taken along with a picture of their completed Field Grid Map.
    • Pictures with accompanying conditions of the corn plants that were observed.
    • Researched corn conditions that were not found in the Field Guide.
    • Suggestions on what can be done about observed conditions.
    • Mathematical analysis of observed corn plant conditions.
    • Final conclusions.
    • Students are to present their findings to the class.

Teachers Tips

  • Have students do an image search on their assigned conditions in order to see even more examples.
  • Before the field trip, have the students calculate the growing degree days that have been available so far for the region using the Growing Degree Days activity from Kansas Corn.
    • Have students calculate the number of growing degree days on the day they scout.
    • Have students predict the corn stage based on the growing degree days.
    • Have students predict the date when the corn plants will reach R6 – the black layer.
  • Onsite at the cornfield, before scouting:
    • Have students review the parts of an actual corn plant.
    • Have students identify the growth stage of the corn plants.
    • Have the farmer give a quick talk about any potential hazards and what to expect (do not give away too many details so as not to influence students’ observations).
  • Onsite at the cornfield, after scouting:
    • Have students ask the farmer questions about what they observed.
    • If students found any conditions, what would the farmer most likely do to remedy the situation?
    • This is a great time for the farmer to talk about their experiences and what they feel the future of farming will bring.
    • Provide snacks and drinks for the students so they can replenish while listening to the farmer.

Lab Analysis

Reflection and Conclusion

  • Students are to create a PowerPoint on their results and present it to this class
    • What types of conditions did they observe and at what percentages?
    • What can be done to remedy and prevent these conditions?
    • Was there anything they observed that was unexpected?
    • What would be some other methods or equipment to make scouting easier or more efficient?

Assessments

  • Students should be able to pass the provided exit ticket quiz before going out in the field.
  • Have students identify the parts of the corn plant when out in the field.
  • Have students identify the growth stage of the corn plant.
  • Students should be graded on the thoroughness of their PowerPoint and presentation.

Science and Agriculture Careers

  • Certified appraiser
  • Crop adjuster
  • Data processor
  • Extension agent
  • Grain buyer
  • Geospatial analytics specialist
  • Precision agriculture specialist
  • Biosecurity manager
  • Climate change analyst
  • Ecologist
  • Environmental engineer
  • Environmental scientist
  • Nematologist
  • Nutrient manager
  • Pest control advisor
  • Produce inspector
  • Irrigation specialist
  • Aerial applicator
  • Agronomist
  • Crop advisor
  • Crop scout
  • Crop systems specialist
  • Entomologist
  • Horticulturist
  • Microbiologist
  • Plant biologist
  • Plant breeder
  • Plant geneticist
  • Plant pathologist
  • Field agronomist
  • Row crop producer
  • Soil scientist
  • Weed scientist
  • Seed production agronomist

To learn more about agriculture careers, visit agexplorer.com.  You can also find career profiles at kscorn.com/careerconnections.

Sources

Any educator electing to perform demonstrations is expected to follow NSTA Minimum Safety Practices and Regulations for Demonstrations, Experiments, and Workshops, which are available at http://static.nsta.org/pdfs/MinimumSafetyPracticesAndRegulations.pdf, as well as all school policies and rules and all state and federal laws, regulations, codes and professional standards. Educators are responsible for abiding appropriate legal standards and better professional practices under a duty of care to make laboratories and demonstrations in and out of the classroom as safe as possible. If in doubt, do not perform the demonstrations.

About Kansas Corn STEM

Investing in Kansas teachers and students is a priority for the Kansas Corn Commission. We are committed to providing materials and training to support STEM education while fostering an understanding of how corn farming and agriculture fit into our daily lives. Professional development workshops are offered to teachers seeking to expand their knowledge and inquiry-based teaching skills. Workshop participants receive free lab supplies needed for the lessons.

Workshop Info

This lesson is the work product of the Kansas Corn Commission. Our lessons are written in collaboration with Kansas teachers for use in the classroom. Teachers may copy and share this curriculum. Use of this product for commercial or promotional use is prohibited without express permission of Kansas Corn.

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