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Lesson Plan: Puffed Wheat

For Teachers Only - Introduction:
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to a milestone in Minnesota history. Students will be provided with source data, online activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about primary source research in general. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but rather serve as examples of what students might find in their own research attempts.

What is puffed wheat?
The invention of the technology that created wheat puffs was a great success for the cereal company that adopted it. Red Wing inventor Alexander Anderson created a "cannon" with which to "puff" grain. The American Cereal Company (which later merged to become Quaker Oats) marketed the product first as a snack food and then as a breakfast cereal to compete with corn flakes, which had just entered the market.

What You Will Need for This Lesson:

  • Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
  • Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
  • If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.

Skills Objectives:
The student will be able to:

  1. access primary sources online for research and study
  2. identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
  3. identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
  4. explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and reliability

Using this Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, lead them through the following sequence (you may wish to use an overhead projector screen):

  1. Go to the Communities web site.
  2. Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. Click on Red Wing.
  4. Click on Puffed Wheat.
  5. Read the introductory material on Puffed Wheat and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a photograph of Alexander Anderson in his laboratory. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this photograph by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions and possible answers about each source.
  7. Once students have studied this photograph and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to another source to explore.
  8. Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
  9. When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).

What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
Below is a listing of each source provided on Puffed Wheat section of the web site and a transcript of the activity questions for each source. (The questions are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button.)

Photo 1
Click on the Photo 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a photograph of Alexander Anderson, the inventor of puffed wheat.

    1.1) What details in this photograph might give you some clues about the occupation of the man pictured?

    Possible Answer:The glass tubes and scales look like things that a scientist might use. The background of the photograph also resembles a laboratory.

    1.2) What information does this photograph NOT provide for the researcher?

    Possible Answer:There is no way to tell for sure who the man is, what invention he is holding, or where and when the photograph was taken.

    1.3) What might we guess about the man's age or social status from the photograph?

    Possible Answer:The man appears to have gray hair, which would suggest that he is past middle age and he appears to be well dressed in a tie and vest.

    1.4) How might we try to learn about the man or his invention if we had no information about the photograph at all?

    Possible Answer:Asking scientists who might recognize him or the invention would be one way to get more information. Someone with knowledge of clothing or eyewear might also be able to give us an idea about when the photograph was taken.

Data 1

Click on the Data 1 button to open the primary source.
This menu was created by the Abbott Hospital to promote healthy eating. It includes puffed rice as a breakfast choice.

    2.1) Since this menu was published in assosication with a hospital, how might that affect a reader's faith in the menu?

    Possible Answer:A reader might consider a hospital cookbook or menu to be more nutritious than a cookbook produced by another group or organization. This cookbook is trying to emphasize the value of a healthy diet.

    2.2) How do the items on this menu compare with what we might consider a healthy diet today? What might explain the differences?

    Possible Answer:In healthy menus today, we are not encouraged to eat as much butter, eggs, and other high calorie and high fat items as this menu suggests. Research done since this menu was published in 1925 shows us that some of these foods, eaten in large quantities, can lead to heart disease and other ailments.

    2.3) What similarities are there between this menu and what is recommended for a healthy diet today?

    Possible Answer:This menu stresses fruits, vegetables and milk as good sources of what it calls "protective foods" that should be eaten every day.

    2.4) This book was published by an organization of retired nurses from the hospital. For what reason might this book have been created?

    Possible Answer:Often cookbooks of this kind were and still are created as fundraisers for charities or community projects. Sometimes cookbooks were compiled as commemorative issues with recipes by people who were involved in the organization and used as a kind of souvenir of their work with the organization.

News 1
Click on the News 1 button to open the primary source.
This article was published to examine the digestibility of breads in the human body. It was published in the Northwestern Miller.

    3.1) Why would it make sense for a newspaper like the Northwestern Miller to publish an article like this in its paper?

    Possible Answer:This article supports the use of flour and flour products for health and well-being. Using positive information about their milling product (flour) can help them sell their product more effectively to their consumers.

    3.2) What can we guess about the article's point of view by knowing the identity of the person who wrote it?

    Possible Answer:This article says it was written by the chief chemist of a milling company, which could suggest to us that the article would be favorable to the milling industry. It would be unlikely that this author would write anything negative about flour and its digestibility.

    3.3) Which kind of flour was considered by this author to be more easily digested and better for you?

    Possible Answer:White flour, although the article suggests that it has less protein than wheat or other kinds of flour.

    3.4) How would you find out if white flour (which is supported by this article) was a more profitable product for the milling industry than the other kinds of flour that were not supported by the article? What would the industry have to gain by promoting a flour that was more profitable to make?

    Possible Answer: To find out the profitability of white flour, you might want to check the financial records of a mill, or perhaps other milling newspapers or magazines might compare the profits for each kind of flour. By promoting and encouraging the sale of flour that is more profitable, the milling industry can earn more money.

Document 1
Click on the Document 1 button to open the primary source.
Alexander Anderson wrote this document explaining the puffing process in order to get a patent for his invention.

    4.1) We know that Alexander Anderson is from Red Wing. Why do you think the patent document states his residence as New York?

    Possible Answer: Anderson worked at Columbia University in New York during this time. By checking the date of the document and discovering the dates of Anderson's other work, we could determine at what point in his research this patent application was created.

    4.2) Why do you think there are line numbers in the margins of this document?

    Possible Answer:Patent documents would often get very lengthy, and putting line numbers in the margins would make it easier for others to find important information in the patents. Many government documents include these numbers for easier reference.

    4.3) This application for a patent was filed in February of 1902, but the actual patent (this document) was not completed until August of 1902. Why might it have taken so long?

    Possible Answer:To get a patent, the inventor needs to prove that his or her research is original, which means that they did not take their idea from anyone else and claim it as their own. The Patent Office needs to fill out a series of papers and make sure that the inventor did indeed make the invention and that the descriptions of the invention provided by the creator are accurate and clear. This process can take several months to complete.

    4.4) Why do you think that Anderson was interested in getting a patent for his work?

    Possible Answer:A patent would allow Anderson to be the only person getting credit (and therefore money) for his invention.

Ad 1
Click on the Ad 1 button to open the primary source.
This ad was published to encourage readers to buy puffed rice and puffed wheat.

    5.1) What benefits does the advertisement suggest can be found in puffed rice and puffed wheat?

    Possible Answer:The advertisement states that puffed grains are more digestible and almost as nutritious as cooked cereals.

    5.2) What are the challenges of using an advertisement as a primary source in this case?

    Possible Answer:This advertisement will not say anything about possible problems with puffed cereals. It is trying to get you to buy the product, so its viewpoint is biased. To use it as a source in your research, you need to be able to check its claims against other sources, such as newspaper or magazine articles about the product or consumer or medical reviews.

    5.3) This ad was published in 1930. How is this ad different from many of the cereal ads you see today?

    Possible Answer:This advertisement contains a great deal of text describing how the cereal is made and what its nutritional value might be. In food advertisements today, you rarely see paragraphs of information for the consumer to read when making a decision about a product.

    5.4) Why do you think it was important to the Quaker Oats Company to emphasize its cereal as "virtually as nourishing as hot cooked cereals"?

    Possible Answer:Quaker Oat's claim about the nutritional value in its cereals suggests that many people at the time considered hot cereal to be more healthy and more nourishing than other kinds of cereals. In order to compete with hot cooked cereals, Quaker Oats tried to convince buyers that the new product was just as nutritious.

Document 2
Click on the Document 2 button to open the primary source.
Alexander Anderson and the American Cereal Company set up this concession stand at the St. Louis Exposition of 1904.

    6.1) How much did the American Cereal Company make in gross receipts (total sales) at its concession stand during the Exposition? How much of that money did the American Cereal Company need to give to the Exposition company (net collections) to pay for use of the booth?

    Possible Answer:The American Cereal Company made a total of $8,723.65 at its concession booth selling rice puffs. From this total, $2,226.41 went to the company that ran the fair.

    6.2) The signs on the booth call rice puffs "The New Confection." A confection usually refers to a kind of candy or treat. Why might the American Cereal Company have used this term to describe a cereal? How do you think the product was sold at the fair?

    Possible Answer:When the Exposition was held, rice puffs were a fairly new invention and the American Cereal Company was not yet sure how to market them. At the Exposition they were sold as a food similar to popcorn or candy--a consumer bought a bag of the puffs and ate them as a snack.

    6.3) The man in the center of the photograph is Alexander P. Anderson, the inventor of puffed rice and puffed wheat. How might we be able to identify the other people in the photograph?

    Possible Answer:Without a caption to the photograph, this could be difficult. We could study the company records to find a list of the people who were employed at the booth, or ask those who worked for the company in the past to identify some of the workers. The older a source becomes, the less likely we are to find anyone able to identify the people in the photograph.

    6.4) What do you think might be in the "cage" in the middle of the booth? Why would the American Cereal Company include this in their display?

    Possible Answer: The machinery inside the cage was probably the machinery that would make the puffed rice to sell at the Exposition. The company may have decided to puff it at the fair because the cereal was easier to ship unpuffed--it took up less space and couldn't get crushed as easily. Also, puffing it at the booth would ensure a fresh product and satisfy the interest of visitors who wanted to see how the product was created.

Thought Questions for online Exploration:
During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.

  1. Alexander Anderson's puffed rice was sold at a booth at the Universal Exposition in 1904 as a new product. How do you think a concession stand like the one in this section of the site would promote a new product successfully? What other things would the company have to do to ensure that visitors to the Exposition didn't forget about the product when they went home?

  2. We have the statistics about the money the American Cereal Company took in during the Exposition. These numbers tell us that the company collected $8,723.65 on the rice puffs, and paid the Exposition $2,226.41 to have the concession. What expenses are not shown on this report? How might we find out what those expenses were and what the actual profit from the concession stand had been?

  3. Many of the arguments for puffing wheat suggest that it is more digestible when it has been heated and exploded into a "puffed" form. How do you think the American Cereal Company (which became Quaker Oats) was able to prove this? What other sources on the site support that claim? Where might we find sources that would disagree?

  4. Anderson got a patent for his process in 1902. How would a patent be helpful for an inventor like Anderson? What did he have to prove in order to get the patent?

After your students have completed these questions, you may either collect them to be graded and discussed later or go over them in class as a discussion outline. When you downloaded the file with these questions you also downloaded a teacher's key for your use.

Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes Puffed Wheat
You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to Puffed Wheat in Minnesota. Below are possible activities and discussion starters to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about Puffed Wheat does not give us a comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.

Possible Themes:
Invention and Business
Food and Science

Theme One:
Invention and Business

The student will be able to:

  1. Describe and evaluate the role of inventions and inventors in the growth of business
Class Discussion:
Allow students time to discuss the following questions in small groups or as a class.

  • What inventions of the last 10 or 20 years have created new businesses and new jobs for workers? How have these inventions changed the way you live your daily life? How do you think these same inventions will change in the future?

  • What role do you think an inventor plays once his or her invention has been patented and marketed? How much control would you like as an inventor over how your creation is used or sold?
Optional activities:
  • Ask students to choose an industry to research. Within that industry, ask students to choose an invention or technology that has made that industry more efficient and more profitable over time (e.g. the soft drink industry and aluminum cans)? What are the pros and cons to the technology? What other effects can that technology have on our community and world (e.g. producing greater numbers of a product that may be harmful to the environment)? How can technology be both a good and a bad thing at the same time?

  • Have students invent a product and develop a marketing plan for it. How will they sell their product? Who will be their target audience? What will the product cost to produce? What will the advertisements for the product look like? How will the product make life easier or better for those who buy it? Have students present their products to the class in oral reports.

  • Ask students to research failed inventions or strange patents (there are books and web sites that describe some of these). Have students each choose one and redesign the invention so that it would have a better chance for success. Have students describe and present information about the original invention and show how they improved it.

  • Take a field trip to a technology or industry museum to see how technology has changed over time. Ask students to be aware of changes in technology even today by looking at the newspaper for articles about new inventions.

Theme Two:
Food and Science:

The student will be able to:

  1. Explain and examine the role of science in the food industry
Class Discussion:
In small groups, have students discuss the following questions. You may wish to provide these questions on an overhead transparency or supply a handout for student reference.

  • Use a cereal or other food product box and describe its ingredients to the students. What are the ingredients in the product? How are they packaged for freshness? How well can these ingredients be preserved? What knowledge is needed to create a safe food product for our grocery stores?

Optional activities:

  • Have students create a menu of healthy meals with the nutritional knowledge that we have today. How does this menu compare to the menu presented on the web site? What information has changed our ideas about what kinds of food are healthy?

  • Invite a local nutritionist to class to give students advice about healthy eating.

  • Take a field trip to a food-processing or packaging plant to see the specialized equipment that is used for preserving, cooking, and packaging foods for sale. Discuss FDA regulations and their requirements and why they might be necessary.

  • Ask students to collect food advertisements from magazines and newspapers. What claims are these ads making about the nutritional value of their products? What parts of these ads are accurate and what parts seem misleading? How can you tell which products are marketed toward kids from the advertisements alone?

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