My school is already out for the summer, but our last week of school my students designed and built their own solar ovens! It is something that I have done for the past few years, and it has become something that the students look forward to all year. This is a great STEM, end of the year activity, or summer activity (for those of you with little ones still at home and a long summer ahead). =)
Benefits of Designing and Building Solar Ovens
- Scientific Method: I treat this project just like all experiments in my classroom. I have the students write a short report using the scientific method. The great thing about this project is that the students really get into the “Conclusion” section of the report, which is usually their least favorite part. In this section, the kids write about what they could have done to make their solar ovens more effective. The students like this because most of them want to build another oven right away! Science Buddies have a great website with a visual about the Scientific Method. It also includes tons of resources if your kids are going to be doing full-blown science fair projects.
- Cooperative Learning: Depending on my class size, I put the kids into groups of 2-3 students. Since there are endless ways to design this project, the kids really have to learn to listen to each other’s ideas and compromise on the design. It also forces the kids to explain why a particular design would work.
- Student Engagement: My students love doing this project- and not just because we cook s’mores! The students love being able to design their own ovens. They really take ownership of the project. I have never had students not be fully engaged in this project.
- Problem Solving Skills: In a perfect world, the wind would never blow your flawless solar oven. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world! In the real world, the kids run into issues with their oven’s design. This forces them to use critical thinking skills and brainstorm possible solutions.
Steps to Building a Solar Oven
This section is probably misnamed. I don’t actually tell my students how to build a solar oven. The first year I did this project, I had planned on having the whole class construct a specific model of solar oven (using a pizza box). However, right before we started the project, my coworker suggested that I just let the kids design their own. That’s exactly what I did, and it turned out great! Here is what I typically do:
- Briefly overview the sun as an energy source with the students. Solarschools.net has some great resources (including some other related projects such as how to make a solar water heater and how to make your own greenhouse).
- Explain the available materials and how each of them work:
- Tin Foil: Reflects the sun’s rays
- Black Construction Paper: Absorbs the sun’s heat (If your kids are wondering why, check out this explanation of wavelengths.)
- Cellophane Wrap: Allows light and heat into the oven, but traps it inside (This is similar to how a greenhouse works.)
- Allow your students to sketch a design of their solar oven. I tell my students to carefully choose what type of box they will use because this will greatly affect their design.
- Have the students bring in a box to school and build the oven. I often have kids bring in extra supplies, such as magnifying glasses, to add to their ovens.
- Have the groups test their ovens by cooking s’mores!
- Have each group reflect on the success of their oven. They should also brainstorm ways to make their design even better.
Building solar ovens is a versatile project that can be very beneficial as a STEM activity or as a way to introduce the scientific method. Or perhaps you just want to entertain your own kids this summer with nothing more than items from your recycle bin. Either way, I think your kids will love it!
Any ideas on how else you could incorporate this project into your curriculum? Leave me a comment and let me know!