National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
From Soybeans to Car Parts
3 - 5
Students learn about soybeans and investigate the collaborative work of an agricultural scientist and engineer who found new uses for an agriculture product (soybeans). This lesson can be used as an opportunity to discuss careers in science and engineering, biobased products, and the use of renewable resources.
Interest Approach – Engagement:
- 10-15 items from home or classroom (tools, kitchen utensils, school supplies, toys, etc.)
- Soybean Ag Mag or Soybean Reader
- Interactive Map Project Soybean Map
- Background Information handout
- Newspaper - 4”x4” (10 cm x 10 cm) piece for each student or team
- Plastic cups
- Silken tofu
- Stir stick
- Microwave Oven
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
Bio-based: material or product derived from biological or renewable resources
Coagulate: change to a solid or semi-solid state
Industrial uses for agriculture crops used in non-food manufacturing include: replacements for petroleum, newsprint, wood resins, rubber, and degradable plastics
Protein: Organic compounds, polymer chains of amino acids
Tofu: coagulated soy protein made form soy milk
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
- One acre of soybeans can produce 82,368 crayons.2
- The United States grows half of all the soybeans grown in the world.2
- Soybean products include: soy meal, soy flour, soy milk, tofu, soy sauce, infant formula, biodiesel fuel, and animal feed.3
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Collect 10-15 items from around your home or classroom. Examples: tools (jammer, screwdriver, pliers, etc.) kitchen utensils (fork, spoon, cup, spatula, pizza cutter, etc.), school supplies (pencil, ruler, scissors, eraser, etc.), toys (stuffed animals, cars, etc.) Display the items to the students and ask them to brainstorm ideas for things they could make from the items you have collected. Could they make a musical instrument, trap for insects/pests, a shelter, something they can spin, etc?
- Praise the students for their creative thinking. Inform the students that scientists and engineers must be creative. They are constantly thinking of new ways to improve the things that we need to survive or make our life easier. Many times they try to develop uses for products that are renewable resources – like plants. (If needed, explain the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources)
- Ask students to list as many uses as they can think of for plants. Make a list on the board. When the list is complete, add "to make plastic" to the list. Ask your students if they knew that plastic can be made from plants. Inform your students that they will be learning about how science has been used to make farm products (like soybeans) more useful.
- Introduce soybeans to your class. Depending on their background knowledge, provide one of the following resources for your class to help them learn about soybeans, what they are used for, and where they are typically grown.
- Soybean Ag Mag: "Ag Mags" are magazines designed for kids. They are interactive and SmartBoard capable. Click on the leaves to connect to videos and additional content.
- Soybean Reader: This 4-page reader contains information about soybeans. It can be printed and used for group or individual reading time.
- Visit the Interactive Map Project website and view the Soybean Map. Identify the top soybean producing states. Then, find your state and see how many soybeans are grown there each year. (Note: Some states do not produce soybeans.)
- Share with students, or have them research, the source of many plastics that we use. Many are created from petroleum products that are not renewable.
- Read the Background Information found in the Essential Files of this lesson. Students can read on their own, as a small group, or as a class. Ask students the following reading comprehension questions:
- How did George Washington Carver and Henry Ford work together to make car parts using soybeans?
- How were these two men and their team of scientists creative?
- How are scientists and engineers still working together to invent new products that use living things (biobased products)?
- Inform students that you are going to show them how to make a form of plastic from tofu. Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the curds into blocks.
- Model the following steps to create a bio-based product.
- Tear a 4”x 4” piece of newspaper into small pieces (preferably smaller than a dime) and place in a plastic cup.
- Add water until the newspaper is soaked. Stir the mixture so a slurry forms.
- Add 2 tablespoons of silken tofu to the slurry and mix until a consistent mass is formed. Add more tofu if needed for consistency.
- Remove mass from cup and squeeze out extra water. Shape into a ball.
- Place in microwave oven and cook on high for 10 minutes. Check to see if the ball is hard. If not continue cooking and checking in increments of 3 minutes.
- Remove ball from cup and cool.
- Allow students to follow the procedure for creating their own biobased product. Answer questions and assist where needed.
- Allow students to examine their biobased product. Ask the students:
- How could this product be used?
- How does the product you made compare to how George Washington Carver and Henry Ford used biobased products in the automobile industry?
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation:
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Science is used to make farming more versatile and able to meet our needs. Science is used in the development of a method for making plastic out of soybeans.
- Renewable resources are valuable in preserving our natural resources for the future.
- Soybeans are an example of a renewable resource. Farmers grow soybeans which can be used to make plastic instead of using petroleum, which is a non-renewable resource.
We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!
Investigate and research engineering careers related to the agricultural and automotive industries.
Invite a local soybean producer to visit your classroom and share information about growing and raising crops for food and other uses.
View the video Farm to Car to explore the ways in which Ford Motor Company is continuing Henry Ford's legacy by using plant-based plastics in their products.
Read Issue 5 of Ag Today titled Agriculture in Society. This reader can be printed or accessed digitally. Students will learn the term sustainability and what that means to farmers who need to produce 60% more food with the same amount of land in order to feed a growing world population. Learn what byproducts are and how they are used, how food packaging has decreased waste, and how farmers use technology such as various tools, robots, and hand-held devices to improve their efficiency.
Suggested Companion Resources
- A Picture Book of George Washington Carver (Book)
- A Weed Is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver (Book)
- George Washington Carver for Kids: His Life and Discoveries, with 21 Activities (Book)
- George Washington Carver: Agriculture Pioneer (Book)
- Soybeans in the Story of Agriculture (Book)
- Grains and Legumes of the World (Kit)
- Packing Peanuts (Kit)
- Planet Zorcon (Kit)
- Field to Film Career Snapshots (Multimedia)
- You're Hired! (Multimedia)
- Ag Today (Booklets & Readers)
- Biotechnology Ag Mag (Booklets & Readers)
- Into the Outdoors: Farm Science (Website)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Culture, Society, Economy & Geography
- Explain how agricultural events and inventions affect how Americans live today (e.g., Eli Whitney - cotton gin; Cyrus McCormick - reaper; Virtanen - silo; Pasteur - pasteurization; John Deere - moldboard plow) (T5.3-5.c)
Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy
- Distinguish between renewable and non-renewable resources used in the production of food, feed, fuel, fiber and shelter (T2.3-5.b)
Science, Technology, Engineering & Math
- Provide examples of science being applied in farming for food, clothing, and shelter products (T4.3-5.d)
Education Content Standards
K-4 History Standard 8A:The development of technological innovations, the major scientists and inventors associated with them and their social and economic effects.
Objective 6Identify and describe the significant achievements of important scientists and inventors.
NCSS 3: People, Places, and Environments
Objective 7Benefits and problems resulting from the discovery and use of resources.
NCSS 8: Science, Technology, and Society
Objective 5That science often leads to new technology in areas such as communication and transportation, and results in change over time.
5-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
5-ESS3-1Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.
Common Core Connections
Reading: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.