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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Solar Oven STEM: Engineering Design Challenge

When I was teaching science my 6th graders would end each year engineering their own solar oven. It was always a big hit. This is a great activity that is certainly not limited to middle school. Anyone with some creativity and building skills can tackle it!

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What is a solar oven?
In many places around the world, solar ovens are used to cook food with the sun. In North America, they are mostly used for camping, solar oven cooking groups and hobbyists. If you have an effective solar oven, you can cook just about anything you'd cook in a regular oven. For this design challenge, I'd recommend cooking something that can be cooked without too much concern over spoilage. S'mores, nachos, English muffin pizzas, etc. are good kid-friendly choices to start out.

The Challenge:
Build a solar oven that effectively "cooks" your desired item. The #1 rule is: do not search for solar oven designs on the internet! Creativity and your own ingenuity will take you far with this one!
DIY solar oven engineering challenge

Possible Materials:
(This list can obviously be tweaked as you see fit, however these materials have been chosen for safety, and age appropriate degree of challenge.)
  • Aluminum foil
  • Cardboard
  • White office paper
  • Tape
  • Packing peanuts
  • Newspaper
  • Black paper
  • Plastic Wrap
  • Glue
  • Scissors
**NO: glass, magnifying glasses or sheet metal**

DIY solar oven design engineering challenge

Science Ideas to Consider:

3 Types of Heat Transfer:

Convection- You've probably heard that "heat rises". Convection is the science term for this phenomena. Convection is the movement of a fluid (air or liquid) where hotter and less dense material rises, and cooler, more dense material sinks. We experience convection when heating our homes, when swimming in a large body of water, and in convection ovens, just to name a few examples.
  • When building your oven, imagine that heat will rise. How can you get the heated air to stay close to what you want to cook?

Conduction- Conduction is when heat is transferred directly from one objects to another when they are touching one another. Some materials conduct heat more easily. A good example is when you leave a metal spoon in a mug of hot cocoa. If it has been a few minutes, you'll notice when you touch the spoon again, it is very hot. It has conducted heat directly from the hot liquid. Conduction is what heats something that you put on the stove. The pan is directly touching the hot stove, therefore its contents are heated up.
  • When you design your oven, will the cooking surface conduct heat?

Thermal Radiation- Thermal radiation does not require direct contact. Heat travels in waves from one source to another through air, or another substance. Heat from the sun is the best example of thermal radiation. The sun is not directly touching what it heats up, the heat travels through the air.
  • This is important to think about when building your oven. Solar energy is your main form of heat. How will you harness it?

Insulation is the opposite of conduction. You use insulation to keep heat from escaping, or to keep heat from conducting too quickly. Insulation is used in the walls of our houses to keep them warm during the winter. We also use oven mitts to insulate our hands from hot dishes that we remove from the oven.
  • Where do you want to keep the heat in your oven? Where do you want to make sure heat can flow easily?
Sunlight can be reflected, or "bounce back" from smooth, shiny surfaces. This can be a way of redirecting light. Light creates heat energy.
  • How can you use reflection to bounce light energy where you want it in your oven?

Designing and Building Your Oven:

1. Start with a blueprint! Draw what you hope to build, and label the materials you will use.

2. Build your oven.

3. Test it out! Place your oven in an area that will get steady sunlight. Keep in mind that houses and trees can cast large shadows when as the sun passes overhead.

4. If your oven didn't work the way you'd like, how can you change it to see if you can make it work better?

5. Test it again!

This is the process professional inventors and engineers use. You're well on your way to becoming an engineer!

If your oven is working great and you are interested in cooking full meals with the sun, you might want to check out these commercial solar ovens from Go Sun Stove. Portable Solar Cooker

Success? Looking for solar oven recipes? Check out these cookbooks.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Over 40 Water and Ice Science Activities to Keep You Cool!

It's hot out there! Time to cool off and do some learning at the same time. Try out some of these water and ice science experiments, STEM challenges and play activities!

Water and Ice Science Experiments:


Try these 8 amazing ice experiments on iGameMom.

Learn how to instantly freeze water- a little science magic from Preschool POWOL Packets.

Explore the effects of salt on ice with this melting experiment from Life with Moore Babies, and then try polar ice fishing with this activity from JDaniel4's Mom!

Your kids will love making edible glowing ice cubes with Go Science Girls.

Maybe this fizzing ice cube activity from The Kindergarten Connection is what you're looking for!

Try this ice temperature experiment at Capri Plus 3.


Explore the concept of density with these activities:

A simple water displacement experiment from Life with Moore Babies.

Explore the surface tension of water with paperclips on Buggy and Buddy.

Investigate the science concept of volume and other water experiments with Inspiration Laboratories.

Can you take the salt out of salt water? Make a solar still with Capri Plus 3, or try this cool desalination experiment from Schooling a Monkey.

What happens when you mix soil, rocks, sand and other Earth materials with water? Find out at Preschool Tool Kit.

Use some fizzy water to make raisins dance right here on Share it! Science News.

Some of my favorite water explorations are sinking and floating experiments! Try these:

Try 7 more fascinating water experiments from iGameMom.

Simple and fun water investigations at JDaniel4's Mom.

Quite literally have a blast building a water rocket at KCedventures.

Investigate Cartesian divers on Buggy and Buddy.

Try this easy and engaging experiment about controlling water flow at JDaniel4's Mom.

Explore weather and convection currents to learn what causes storms with Frogs-and-Fairies.

How do liquids contribute to salt crystallization? Find out with this fun science craft from Go Science Girls.

Measure different forms of water with this easy experiment from JDaniel4's Mom.

Explore a tide pool- right from your own home! Buggy and Buddy

How does water refract light? A fun exploration on Go Science Girls.

Water Conservation and Testing

Learn how to test the quality of a waterway using biology and chemistry here on Share it! Science News.

Try this STEM activity about safe drinking water from STEAM Powered Family.

One of my favorite demonstrations to help children (and adults!) understand why we must conserve water! Share it! Science News

STEM Challenges and Projects

Build an ice cube igloo! Preschool POWOL Packets

Build a pvc waterway to investigate physics! Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes

Why do boats float? 10 ways to build boats with pantry items from Thriving STEM.

Just for Fun: Ice and Water Play Activities

Find all of the great activities included in this post on my Pinterest Board: 

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