This Solar Cooker Project aligns with NGSS: MS-PS3-3; Energy: Students who demonstrate understanding can apply scientific principles to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer.
This is a fun, engineering-based project that has real-world application and a very tangible set of data to use as competition-incentive for your students to outperform each other! I use this as a project during my Energy unit.
The students are put into groups of 3, each with a specific “job” (project architect, head builder, and lead scientist), and they begin the design process by brainstorming an initial design for a solar cooker using what they already know about how heat behaves. The students’ solar cooker will compete in a competition to raise the internal temperature of a chocolate chip cookie as dramatically as possible (they will be competing for the greatest change in temperature). After an initial brainstorm, the “teams” will begin building their solar cooker using a mix of materials brought in from home (a box of their choice size/shape, potentially mirrors, magnifying glasses, dark paper or fabrics, plastic sheets, etc.) and some provided by the teacher (like hot glue, duct tape, masking tape, clear packaging tape, plastic wrap, aluminum foil, dark construction paper, etc.). I allow one period to discuss the background information, watch the video, and for the groups to brainstorm their design, and two full (40 minute) periods to actually build the solar cooker. Then, one period for the competition.
This project can be done at any time during the school year and at any latitude as in lieu of the sun, we use simple construction lamps (clamp lamps) containing 200-Watt incandescent bulbs to keep the competition fair. As a follow up to the project you could award extra credit for students coming after school to cook something in their cooker using the actual sun!
The winning team in each period is bestowed the EnLIGHTened Engineers award; these students are awarded a candy bar, a label to wear on their shirts, and bragging rights! After competition day, every student must graph his or her group’s data, complete the reflection questions, and turn in these items along with their initial brainstorm and sketch. The team folder keeps everything organized for submission.
This download includes full teacher notes, student project packet, directions, data table, reflection questions, and EnLIGHTened Engineer Award labels. I have also included photos of how I set up for the competition and pictures of students' cookers in action!
Thanks for looking!