Students will identify the variety of soybeans uses for human consumption, livestock feed, and industrial products; explain how key historical events affected soybean production in the United States; and create a bioplastic made from soybeans.
Interest Approach — Engagement:
What am I? PowerPoint
Activity 1: Full of Beans
Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car by Peggy Thomas
Full of Beans Timeline handouts (1 page per student)
Colored pencils, markers, etc.
Activity 2: Soybean Plastic
Soybean oil (vegetable oil)
Sandwich-sized resealable bag
Liquid food coloring
Pipette or eye dropper
Tablespoon measuring spoon
Kitchen scale (1 per group)
Soybean Plastic lab sheet
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
lecithin: a generic term used to describe any group of fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues which attract both water and fat substances. It is used for smoothing food textures, emulsifying, homogenizing liquid mixtures, and repelling sticking materials.
legume : a leguminous plant (member of the pea family), especially one grown as a crop
Did you know? (Ag Facts)
The United States leads the world in Soybean production.1
One acre of soybeans can produce 40,000 servings of tofu, 2,500 gallons of soy milk, or 82,368 crayons.1,2
Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota are the top soybean-producing states in the U.S.3
Today, more than 32,000 soybeans are used to make some of the 300 pounds of plastic that go into every Ford vehicle. The seats in Ford vehicles are even filled with soy foam!4
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
Display slide 1 of the What am I? PowerPoint to the class. This photo can be projected on the board or printed out and passed around to groups of students, or both.
Explain to the students that each of these products all contain one common ingredient. Allow students to guess ingredients and share ideas.
Begin playing “What am I?” with the students by reading off each of the clues on the What am I? PowerPoint (slides 2-5).
Allow students to guess ideas and ask questions.
Using the information from the Background Agricultural Connections, introduce soybeans to the students. Have the students determine if they live in a region of the United States that produces soybeans.
Ask the students the following questions to lead a class discussion:
Why are soybeans an important agricultural commodity?
How has U.S. history affected soybean production in United States?
What impacts do soybeans have on consumers?
Explain to the students that they will explore why soybeans are an important commodity, their role in U.S. history, and the impacts soybeans have on consumers.
Activity 1: Full of Beans
Before beginning, ask the students if they know anything about Henry Ford. Allow the students to share thoughts and ideas.
Read the book Full of Beans: Henry Ford Grows a Car by Peggy Thomas.
Pass out a Full of Beans Timeline page to each student or pair of students.
Instruct the students to color and illustrate a photo depicting their assigned date.
When all students have finished their timeline photos, hang each of the pages up in order on a wall in the classroom.
Ask the students to brainstorm which historical events Henry Ford experienced in his lifetime. (The Second Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and Pearl Harbor)
Hang the three historical event captions up below the appropriate year.
1913: The Second Industrial Revolution
1929: The Great Depression begins
1941: The United States enters WWII (Pearl Harbor)
Consider asking students the following questions to lead a class discussion:
What is the difference between The First and Second Industrial Revolutions? (The First Industrial Revolution caused the growth of industries including coal, iron, railroads, and textiles. The Second Industrial Revolution focused on steel production, automobiles, and advances in electricity. Henry Ford introduced the assembly line during The Second Industrial Revolution.)
How did the Great Depression affect Henry Ford and soybeans? (Henry Ford hated waste. He wanted to recycle and reuse everything. Henry discovered that soybeans were very versatile and could create a new market for farmers.)
How did WWII affect the soybean plastic car? (The soybean plastic car was put in storage while Ford Motor Company began building bomber planes. The soybean plastic car’s metal frame may have been used in the war effort.)
What other events in Henry Ford’s life had an impact on him or his career?
Direct the focus back to soybean plastic by asking the following questions:
How can soybean plastic be used today?
Why is soybean plastic considered biodegradable?
What product(s) would students design using soybean plastic?
Activity 2: Soybean Plastic
To introduce the term “bioplastic” to students, write “bioplastic” on the board and break it into two parts. “Bio” means life. “Bioplastic” is plastic that comes from a living thing. Two common bioplastics are corn plastic and soybean plastic.
Ask students to consider other plastic items in the classroom that are not made from bioplastic. Ask the students, "What is this plastic made from?" (Many plastic items are petroleum-based, which is a nonrenewable resource from the earth.) Note: for an introductory activity on renewable and nonrenewable resources, see Activity 2 in the lesson, Corn An A-maizing Plant: Food, Fuel, and Plastic.
Explain to the students that they will be making a bioplastic using materials that come from the soybean plant and renewable resources.
Divide the class into groups of 3-4 students. Provide each student with a copy of the Soybean Plastic lab sheet and a resealable sandwich-sized plastic bag.
Give each group cornstarch, soybean oil, liquid food coloring, water, a pipette or eye dropper, a tablespoon measuring spoon, a kitchen scale, and access to a microwave.
Instruct the students to follow the step-by-step procedures on the lab sheet and answer each of the questions.
Soybean plastic procedures:
Place 1 tablespoon of cornstarch into the plastic bag. (Figure 1)
Add 2 drops of soybean oil. (Figure 2)
Add 1 tablespoon of water. (Figure 3)
Close the bag and knead it with fingers, mixing the contents. (Figure 4)
Add 2 drops of food coloring. (Figure 5)
Seal the bag and mix remaining contents.
Open the bag slightly so it can vent.
Weigh the contents of the bag on a kitchen scale. (Figure 6)
Heat the bag in the microwave for 20-25 seconds. (Figure 7)
Remove the bag from the microwave and let the plastic cool. Caution:The bag and contents will be hot!
Weigh the contents of the bag again. (Figure 8) Compare the weight measurements from before and after microwaving.
Using the Properties of Matter PowerPoint, discuss physical and chemical changes with the students. Ask, "Is soybean plastic a physical or chemical change?" (Chemical)
Discuss the weight of matter when new substances have been formed. Ask the students:
How much does the plastic weigh (in grams) after the changes occurred?
Is this weight close to the starting weight?
Why or why not?
Explain to the students that regardless of the type of change that occurs when heating, cooling, or combining substances, the total weight of matter is conserved. Their bioplastic should weigh very close to the starting weight before it was heated.
Wrap up the bioplastic activity by asking students to consider everyday plastic objects that they use. Consider asking the following questions to promote critical thinking:
What objects can be made with bioplastic? (Disposable items such as packaging, cutlery, and bowls are common. Some companies have even produced bioplastic toys.)
How does plastic and bioplastic affect the environment?
How does bioplastic affect farmers?
Would Henry Ford’s soybean plastic car work in today’s world?
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
Soybeans are a versatile crop used for human consumption, livestock feeds, industrial products, and household products.
The versatility of soybeans for food and industrial products was discovered by Henry Ford as a result of the Great Depression.
Bioplastics are made from biological materials produced on farms.
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!
Use the Soybean Living Necklace kit to familiarize students with the soybean plant. Allow students to plant a living soybean necklace where they can track the growth and development of a germinating soybean seed. This kit is available for purchase from agclassroom.org.
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.
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)
Agriculture and the Environment
Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants, and fuel (e.g., soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals) (T1.3-5.e)