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Solar Sizzler

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Solar sizzlers

Group projects building solar cookers or collectors provide arena for learning about energy sources and transformation. Gathering data for comparison and analysis exercises students’ graphing skills and thinking.

A lesson plan for grade 5 and 8: Information Skills, Mathematics, and Science


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Learning outcomes

Through research, experimentation, and analysis of radiant solar energy forming useful heat energy, students will learn some principles of energy interaction, transformation, and storage.

Teacher planning


12 hours


Student Materials

  • Various corrugated cardboard boxes
  • Newspapers
  • Various commercial insulation materials (fiberglass, styrofoam, etc.)
  • Various natural insulation materials (pine needles, straw, etc.)
  • Masking tape
  • Clear tape
  • Clear plastic wrap
  • Aluminum wrap
  • Aluminum pie pans
  • Thin wood strips
  • 1 or 2 gallons of water — room temperature
  • Easily flexible wire or sturdy twist ties
  • Scissors
  • Glue

Adult Supervised or Optional Materials

  • Cutting tools
  • Gloves and Safety glasses
  • Plexiglass
  • Spray paint — flat black or silver (or various colors if chosen for experimentation)


  • Thermometers — with remote sensors if possible
  • Timer
  • Calculators
  • Spreadsheet and chart/graph-making software
  • Internet accessible computers
  • Online or electronic encyclopedia


Students should be previously capable of:

  • measuring accurately
  • collecting data and graphing
  • determining range, mean, median, and mode
  • searching the internet using key words
  • employing spreadsheet software to create a chart/graph


  1. Student groups using the internet and encyclopedia research solar collection. Employ key words such as “solar oven,” “solar cooking,” “solar cooker,” and “solar collection.”
  2. Each group identifies 3 or more sites which in their process of discovery best instruct how to build a solar oven or solar collector.
  3. Each group discusses the usefulness and quality of the selected sites.
  4. Each student individually writes an evaluation of the selected sites and identifies the most valuable site with persuasive explanations.
  5. While meeting in groups, individuals share their papers, discuss, and reach a group consensus leading toward the group’s project design.
  6. Each group creates and submits plans of the project design to the instructor. The plans should include materials, a drawing with measurement specifications, and step-by-step details. (Instructor surveys plans and returns them with any suggested adaptations.)
  7. The identifying and collecting of materials may be done by groups, or may be a class activity involving volunteer effort and hometime effort.
  8. Following and, as necessary, adapting project design plans, groups construct solar cookers/collectors using materials brought to class. Instructor may limit size of the project. (Measure your doorways first!)
  9. When all group projects are built, group members display and orally report about their solar device. They should report on their sources involved in generating their plan, their own discussions and ideas leading to concensus, and the materials and steps used in construction.
  10. Groups make theoretical predictions of the outcomes of placing their solar collectors containing 200 ml of water into sunlight for 50 minutes.


Fellow educator, before the next step please be careful to warn and caution students of the potential hazard associated with concentrated or reflected rays of sunlight. The eye’s retina easily may be permanently damaged, even though there is no pain. While placing the solar ovens in sunlight and checking temperatures, exercise caution. This is one reason for possibly obtaining thermometers with remote probes.

  1. On a sunny day, all groups place solar collectors into bright sunlight with equal conditions, each one with a container bearing 200 ml of room-temperature water from the same source. With a thermometer in the water, students observe and record on a data sheet the temperature initially and at 5-minute intervals for 50 minutes. (Note: Some solar collectors having a window covering will have condensation appear inside the window, making the reading of temperature more difficult. Students may have to peek under the edge of the window to read temperature. The use of thermometers with remote probes may be helpful.)
  2. Following the experiment, reproduce the data of all groups, supplying every group the results of all.
  3. Each group uses a computer with spreadsheet software to display the data and to calculate the mean of the projects’ temperatures recorded after 10, 30, and 50 minute intervals.
  4. Using data at the intervals of 10 minutes, 30 minutes, and 50 minutes, each group finds/calculates the median and mode of the temperatures at each of those stated intervals. Each group then:
    • discusses and writes paragraphs comparing their own group’s data with the class mean and median at each of the 10-, 30-, and 50-minute intervals;
    • finds/calculates the range of temperature of each group, then finds/calculates the class mean of the temperature ranges;
    • compares and writes about its group project’s temperature range in relation to the class mean of temperature ranges.
  5. Using a computer and spreadsheet application, each group creates a single chart/graph displaying with multiple colors the results of all solar collectors.
  6. Using 2 or more presenters, each group shares its chart/graph and reports orally to the class about the composed paragraphs. (Personally, I like to involve every student in oral presentation.)
  7. Class discusses outcomes, focusing on reasons that theoretically might justify the varied outcomes for the varied solar collectors. Class discusses and identifies materials/construction techniques well suited for solar cookers/collectors. Class discusses societal benefits of solar cookers/collectors in the real world (even third world).
  8. As an additional follow up interest activity, solar cookers could be used to try cooking a simple food, such as canned biscuits. Through prior research, some in the class will already have found that many solar cookers require about twice the cooking time of a conventional oven. (Be aware that some toxic matter/gases could pass from paints or materials into the food. You may wish to prepare your students for this as an experiment rather than as a snack! Our class’s biscuits cooked in about one hour to a golden brown.)


Teacher daily evaluates skills of group interaction, cooperation, and focusing on task. Teacher evaluates spreadsheets and graphs, statistical analysis of data, and evaluative compositions. Teacher evaluates evident listening skills and higher order thinking skills observed in class presentations and discussions.

Supplemental information



  • Concerning the ATTACHMENTS: With regrets I must share that the many variations of formats used in different computers may cause some difficulty in attempting to download, save, and use the attachments. Try these steps: First, select an attachment. Second, save the attachment to hard drive. Third, after finishing your browsing of LEARN NC, later try to open the saved file by choosing the format of the specific attachment. The “.rtf” at the end of the worksheet file name stands for “Rich Text Format.” “Excel 5.0″ was used in saving the spreadsheet ending with “.xls.” If you are unable to obtain the documents successfully, do not worry. You can easily create your own data collection document for recording temperatures during outdoor trials. The other document is a sample of a spreadsheet of the data collected by my class.
  • If a class wishes to create an interesting class science fair experiment, this can be easily adapted to focus on one item: whether a reflective or a flat black interior in a solar oven produces the greatest heat. Just build 2 virtually identical ovens, with only the experimental factor different!
  • Teachers are encouraged to adapt these ideas into a form which matches locally available technology resources, interests of students, and available time.
  • The author makes no claim of personal authorship of this idea; similar projects have occurred at almost every school. In this lesson plan, the author has simply taken time to link together some of the SCOS objectives, ideas for suggested activities, exciting and informative use of computers and internet communications, and lots of hands-on fun for growing young minds!

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