The Sun's energy is the basis for all life, starting with photosynthesis in plants eventually moving up through the food web to humans. At Rockdale Elementary, we have been using the sun's energy for a much different purpose in the after school Solar Cooking Club. Students are exploring the usage of the sun's energy to cook food through the construction of model solar ovens and the use of a solar oven kit. Solar ovens use highly reflective surfaces, bent at specific angles, to reflect and concentrate the sun's energy on a certain point. This heats up a covered box where food is placed for cooking. Thus far students have enjoyed learning more about this alternative form of cooking and the mechanics behind it.
We are exploring solar ovens for three reasons. Primarily, solar ovens are a sustainable means of cooking that does not use gas or electricity. With no gas required, solar cooking uses no open flames, making it very safe for students. However, the dishes themselves do heat up, so one must be careful. Secondly, making solar ovens is a simple DIY project, one in which even young children can partake. Finally, students will learn to make simple recipes that they can replicate.
For the first three classes students worked in groups to replicate designs from three options provided to them. Using just cardboard and tin foil, the students will complete an initial model of their chosen design. The designs are categorized based on complexity, with a beginner, intermediate, and advanced design available. We have six groups working on the projects, two per level of design complexity. Here are our three designs with the names of our groups working on them:
The Sunlight Girls
The Cali Girls
The Cool Cookers
The Compost Group
Once these groups have finished their projects, we will assess the effectiveness of each design to determine which is best for cooking. After this assessment, we will take the best design and make a permanent model of it from wood and mirrors.
We have also been working with a pre-made solar cooking kit in order to try cooking using the sun's rays. The class has been observing this cooker and noticed that the cooker only reaches 250 degrees. We concluded that it is the design of this oven that allows it to reach only this temperature. The box where food is placed for cooking is rather small and is only protected by a thin plastic cover. This plastic covering does not trap heat as well a material like glass, which is often used on solar cookers. Despite the short-comings of this solar oven, we recently used it to make a small after school snack of pizza bagels. Yum!
I encourage all of you to try making your own solar oven or buy a kit and experient with cooking using the power of the sun. You will be surprised by how simple yet rewarding it can be!