Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Solar Ovens + PASCO + iPad= Real Science!

A week ago, I gave my fifth grade scientists an optional challenge. To show understanding of thermal energy principles that we had been covering in class, they could complete 1 of 4 assignments:

  • Create a poster
  • Create a comic strip
  • Evaluate their home in relation to thermal energy
  • Create a Solar Oven

The results that I got with the solar ovens were interesting. The first day that students could bring in ovens, I only had about 10 out of 114 students choose the oven option. I was surprised because I thought more students would bite on this. However, I immediately set up our lab for collection of data for the 10 ovens.

We used a large work light, an iPad hooked up to a projector, the SPARKvue HD app, a meter stick, the largest wooden protractor known to mankind, and the chalkboard. Students also had their notebooks rolling.

I asked the students to help determine the controlled variable in our tests. Keeping in mind that the one tested (manipulated) variable would be the solar oven, students had to try to keep every other variable the same. What a great activity! 

Students decided on these controlled variables:
  • Testing time=5 minutes (300 seconds)
  • Distance from light=45 cm
  • Angle from light= 45 degrees
  • Same light source each time
  • Same thermometer and data collection software each time

With each test, students sketched out the design of the oven (hopefully with labels), the starting/finish temperatures, and the final results.

A student was responsible for running the SPARKvue software which is so easy to use and learn! I just had to model the app use 1 time as the iPad was connected to the projector, and soon enough the kids were rocking it out!

*Disclaimer- I did my research with the app, even building a YouTube playlist for myself to work with! Click here to access the videos. I also met with a teacher representative from PASCO at the NSTA conference to talk about the use!

You can NOT imagine the awesome conversations that developed in each classes:
  • Controlling variables to ensure accurate data
  • Insulators vs. conductors
  • Reflection of light
  • Angles
  • Calculating difference in temperature change
  • Safety (as I scorched my hand on the light)
  • Conduction, convection, radiation
  • Heat capacity
  • Real World application
  • DESIGN and ENGINEERING principles
  • And more...

The students were soon taking control of the investigation. I was merely the person responsible for turning the light on/off (because it gets PRETTY hot). Taking photos, screen shots of the data, and discussing the various designs, these kids had an amazing 2 days of testing. 

Oh...we do have a Science OAA test next Thursday. Are we preparing for that? Damn right! Talking the talk, blending the content, pulling forward great visuals to integrate with vocabulary. I can't imagine a better way to get ready for a science test than DOING science. And, if the test doesn't match up with this type of science...their loss. They will not have an accurate picture of my scientists. But, as I discussed with my fifth graders...SCIENCE RARELY COMES IN A MULTIPLE CHOICE FORMAT!

Since our initial 2 days, we have had about 20 more oven brought in for testing, several initial designs have been improved for follow up testing, and students will soon begin building lab reports. There are many comparisons and data sharing that can occur now. They will have a choice in the format for that...
  • Keynote presentation
  • Pages lab form
  • iMovie video

Follow-up post on that!


  1. Love seeing this awesome science! Great work, Leah!

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