Solar Oven Experiment #1593


In my precalculus class my students learn about parabolic functions and their project-based assessment is to create a parabolic solar cooker to cook hotdogs. They need to be as accurate as possible to place the hot dog at their focus point and then we measure the hot dog temperature and compare it to a controlled hot dog that is not in a solar cooker. This would be a great extension to compare a parabolic solar cooker with a rectangular solar cooker to see which would heat up more.


In a summer camp it would be great. We host a STEM camp for girls entering 5th-8th grade and this would be a very fun activity for them.


I also did the sunglasses experiment…
Well that was EXTREMELY disappointing!
I used a pair of very expensive Ray-Bans, a cheap funky pair I bought with my daughter at a teen clothing store, and a free carnival pair given as marketing SWAG.
It didn’t matter how long or short I waited to take the reading, weather I changed the angle of the glasses or moved from a spot with direct sunlight to shade.


Had to wait all week, but finally had a perfect sunny 70 degree day here in Arkansas! This was a great lesson that I cannot wait to use with my 4th grade STEM class. Since it is Saturday, my own twin 6th grade sons got to help with this. We melted a small bowl of cheddar cheese in our solar oven. They loved it. We had a bit of a discrepancy in what our actual thermometer showed and what was showing on the LED display board. The display is showing about 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. Is this normal?

Where does this lesson fit in with your curriculum? It fits perfectly into my 4th grade STEM curriculum. Our standards: 4-PS3-2 Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents; 4-PS3-4 Apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another; 4-ETS1-1 Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost; 4-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet
the criteria and constraints of the problem; 4-ETS1-3 Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Which part or parts of the lesson would your students need extra support in order to be successful?
As always with this age of students, just extra support to helping them think through problems on their own and working together in small groups.

If you were to teach this lesson to your class, describe your role during the class. What does a successful teacher actively do during this lesson? My role would be what it always is in my STEM class which is to be a facilitator and supporter of my students, and always make sure they are being safe! I challenge them to work through problems they have within groups.

If you were to teach this lesson to your class, describe your student’s role during the class. What does “student success” look like? Student success in my room is students working collaboratively and safely while learning. I also find it successful when they share their learning with their homeroom teacher and parents.

(Also realized my phone camera was on “live” and did not capture the display board correctly. At this time it showed 150.2 degrees F.)


I also would like to use Vermier probes to monitor temp to compare. I’m not sure I had an accurate reading.


Great picture thanks for sharing! The sensor that we use for ambient temperature reading is the TMP102 and the accuracy should be ±0.5°C. Not exactly sure what is giving us such a large discrepancy. This tiny chip is on the top(the side with writing and the IR sensor round metal sensor) of the board. When I look at the picture I don’t see anything in your setup and in relation to conduction, convection or radiation that would give a that large a difference? Possibly the sensor boards darker color absorbing more heat than the white thermometer?


Thank you for bringing this to my attention! The Sunglasses Experiment code had the OLED display with precision of 0. This caused all the useful variation in values to always be rounded to 1.
I have updated the code to now show 4 digits to the right of the decimal.

Sorry for the error and time lost. Reporting this really helped, many others in the co-hort would have encountering when this lesson when it comes up week 4. Thank you!


I have done solar cookers before in my physics class and for a variety of reasons was disappointed. One of them was that many of the students had done a version of the project in 5th grade and could not seem to move past what they have done back than. I wonder if I used the the sensor if I could engage more students in a different way. I was also wondering about re coding to calibrate the sensor when it seems off. Seems like a challenge in both math and coding.


Well, the weather here hasn’t been cooperative for solar ovens this week. We have had cloud cover and/or rain most of the week. I put the sensors together and played with it a bit inside and really love the idea of using this to measure the temperature of a solar oven. At the beginning of the school year we study how variables that affect the melting of matter. We always do an investigation involving melting dark, milk, and white chocolate. Using these sensors, and maybe even the solar oven idea, I can really take that investigation to the next level next year!


This is a great activity that I really enjoyed and would fit in well with my curriculum. Building solar ovens would be a great activity when we discuss thermal energy. Students could work in groups or make their own individually. It would be interesting to see what would happen if you showed students a basic design and then gave them the materials to come up with their own. You could have students test to see which design got the hottest temperature and then compare them.

One of the major obstacles I ran into was was the weather. It was really cloudy and really cold this week so it was difficult to get into direct sunlight. However, after struggling with the weather I tried this with heat lamp and it still worked. That would be a quick and easy change to do with students if the weather was not cooperating.


Totally understand this time of year for some areas is not optimal for solar cook’in. It’s snowing here in Utah right now. Great that you setup the sensor, ran the program & reviewed the lesson. That is perfectly fine for this PD credit for this week. What an excellent idea to melt dark, milk, and white chocolate, thanks for sharing!!


I like the idea of re coding and calibration! A possible added twist to the classic solar lab students may have done when younger could be to structure the solar oven activity into a contest where students teams attempt to hit a target (maybe 150F) temperature the fastest. Giving student teams autonomy in design of the solar oven, setup, pointing.


This would be great for heat transfer. We are working on energy now - so I may be able to do something where I have students compete at the end of the quarter for some extra credit. I know our chemistry and physical science teachers do a bit more with heat energy and solar than I do. Possibly add a little unit at the end of this one to have students have a little fun with the idea. It works well in the winter in Florida because it is generally sunny and not raining at this time of the year.
Does anyone do a solar oven competition at their school with their classes? I am curious if you have them build them and bring them in and then compete at school. We do have a block period that runs 90 minutes - so they may be able to heat or cook something simple in that amount of time.


Being a STEAM school, just the engineering and building of the Solar Oven was a great opportunity for my scholars. I had my Girls in GEAR after school club help to construct the Solar Oven. (That is why it turned out to be purple. LOL!) As was mentioned above, it was definitely a challenge with weather. Cloudy, snow flurries and cold were my obstacles. Today was finally a good afternoon with the sun shining, but the temps were in the 40s (Fahrenheit). I decided to put Peeps (leftover from Halloween in my pantry) in the Solar Oven to see what would happen. It took about 45 minutes for the temperature to rise to 40 degrees. The Peeps were definitely starting to expand and warm when we ate them. This would be a great elementary engineering lesson for the building of the oven, great coding for the Arduino part, and most of all, a GREAT lesson in PATIENCE! It was fun to participate and the coding was a fun added bonus to this already DELICIOUS science experiment!


Probably the best looking solar oven I’ve seen so far! Great idea with the Peeps!


Really enjoyed this project and very excited to use it as a follow-on to the unit I am currently using with my fourth graders! They are running experiments on flooring materials and window materials in order to design and construct solar homes (a kit purchased from STEM in Action for grades 3-5), and this will be a wonderful way to reward their hard work if we build solar ovens to cook smores! I had read about constructing solar ovens last summer, and thought that would be a fun project, but when my district purchased the solar home kit, I put it on the “back burner” (LOL!) because I was more interested in the homes as a STEM project. Now, however, I am super excited to do this after we finish the houses!

Today was the first sunny day all week, so I headed out to see how well my oven worked. In less than 10 minutes, the ambient temp had gone higher the 40 degrees. So, I tried putting a marshmallow inside (it was harder than a rock - so didn’t have very high expectations!). Unfortunately, by the time I put it in, I was starting to lose peak sunlight and run out of time, but I could tell that had I started earlier in the day, the marshmallow would eventually have softened.

So, to get to the questions: Students in Elementary always need support in STEM projects. Younger students are learning how to work collaboratively, assign job roles, and monitor time.

As the educator, my role in this project will also be to share information about solar ovens, provide materials for collaborative student groups to construct an oven, and facilitate testing of their ovens using the sensor. Then, students will be invited to cook a smore in their oven (might have to be during the next class session - I only have them in my classroom for 55 minutes at a time).

Student success will be when they can demonstrate a rise in temperature inside their oven using the sensor. However, in my classroom, we consider any legitimate attempt a success, because students learn from failure and the next attempt is always better.

This lesson fits perfectly at the end of the 4th grade Solar House Design project which I mentioned earlier, as we work on transfer of energy.


I really enjoyed reading your responses. I also feel like this would work well with my fourth grade STEM students. I only have them for 55 minutes, once per week, so would need to view this as a muti-week project when we cover transfer of energy.

I am not required to take “grades” in my class, simply to act as a facilitator, encourager, and leader for students to learn to work collaboratively through the engineering design process.

Sounds like you and I have very similar roles!


@ArdusaExplorer-9158 Apparently we are in monsoon season! We could definitely do it with change of state and work it in to our Mission to Mars Activities (build an emergency solar oven to use on Mars)


In Tennessee, we have forgone snow this year in favor of rain. (boo) We are apparently in a monsoon season with 2 inches or more predicted in the next 48 hours. I played with the sensors and got everything to working from inside. Our 4th grade teaches heat transfer, and they do solar ovens at the end of the year. I could still do it in 5th grade, building on their knowledge and experiences, and using the sensors would put a new spin on it, as well as incorporate it into our Mission to Mars STEM experiences (emergency solar oven). Each student would have a role and report their findings to each other and the class.


What a great idea! We will have to keep this in mind for next year! (and even the end of this year!)