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Not Your Momma’s Oven: Using Solar Ovens to Teach About Heat Transfer

By Stacey Burt on November 17, 2009

Teaching students about the greenhouse effect is fun when paired with the construction of solar ovens. Using a pizza box, students made solar ovens to cook s’mores and study the transfer of heat. Check out the links and information that follows to get your students cooking with solar energy.

I love using solar ovens to teach students about radiant energy and the greenhouse effect. We actually build the solar ovens during math class and take the opportunity to review area, volume, surface area, and perimeter during the construction phase of the project. Because there is a lot of measuring required, it makes sense to integrate this activity with your math lesson.

Upon completion of the solar oven, students then take their supplies (s’mores stuff) outside to complete the science experiment. Students create hypotheses on numerous variables including; how hot the oven will get (they can reach temperatures of up to 275 degrees Fahrenheit), how long it will take for the chocolate to melt, how the angle of the flap affects the performance of the oven, etc.

We used Vernier temperature probes with our handheld LabQuest units to record the change in temperature in real time. Students could watch the change as it occurred using these devices. I highly recommend both of them. I love completing this lab this time of year. Students are often convinced that due to the fact that it is so chilly, the solar ovens couldn’t possibly be effective. It leaves a great impression on the students when they reflect back on the greenhouse effect.

Listed below are links to resources for solar oven construction:

Great for extending the study of solar energy. Available from the Scholastic Store:

Keep in mind that materials are not expensive and parents are often more than willing to donate the food items needed for this experiment. I have never had a problem finding a local pizza restaurant to donate the pizza boxes. Afterward we send the donor a letter of appreciation with a picture of the solar ovens that were made from their generous donation.

Have a wonderful week and have fun with this project.

Cheers,

Stacey