POWER ON: Students create solar ovens at STEM camp

Published 4:00 am Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sweat rolled down the children’s faces at the Boys and Girls Club Wednesday morning as they checked their thermometers. But they weren’t checking the temperature of the air on the hot summer day.

They were checking the internal temperature of ovens they had made themselves earlier that morning as part of the Powering Up with STEM program, a partnership between Power South, South Alabama Electric Co-op, Troy University, NASA’s John Weis and the Boys and Girls Club of Pike and Surrounding Counties. Troy’s Department of Teacher Education professors, instructors and teacher candidates lead six two-day summer camps focused on STEM and energy education to children in grades 2 through 5.

The ovens were ingenious – pizza boxes recycled to be tailor-made to use the sun’s power to cook the food item inside, in this case s’mores.

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To create the ovens, the students carved out a flap on the top of the box and covered it with tin foil to reflect the sun’s rays. They then covered the opening in the top of the box with clear plastic wrap to ensure the heat was trapped inside.

Finally, they supported the reflective flap with dowell rods to direct the rays directly to the food.

“STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and essentially what we’re trying to do with this project is infuse those concepts with these students, more specifically the integrative nature of STEM,” said Fred Figliano, associate chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Troy. “We look at how the four disciplines work together in solving problems, real-world design-type problems.”

Figliano said the hands-on design process gets the kids to have fun and focus on real problem-solving and not just reading about the concepts in books.

“This has truly been a win-win for everybody involved,” said Ruth Busby, chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Troy. “Studies show that a lot of students miss their learning during the summer when they’re out of school so we wanted to bridge that gap for them. We also wanted to provide our teacher candidates an opportunity to have a field experience for their teaching experiences.”

Busby said a focus was placed on building relationships with the students.

“We feel there’s a strong correlation between the relationship you have with the student and their amount of learning.”

Jessica Moran, a lecturer in the Department of Teacher Education, said the specific solar oven project was chosen in part due to the sponsorship of the power-related businesses and because of the interest from the students.

“”One of their favorite projects was the UV beads that change colors in the sunlight, so we went with solar power as our STEM project,” Moran said. “The kids really enjoy it, and they’re not threatened by the math or science. The ultimate goal is to be lifelong learners and find something they’re interested in.” ­­

And to top it off, everyone enjoyed the s’mores.