Cooking with the Sun: Comparing Yummy Solar Cooker Designs

Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.


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Most Recent Review

5 Great Lesson for Kids In School or Out

This looks like such a fun lesson. I have done something similar to this lesson in a day camp for kids. I read through the lesson and there are so many great things in it. I love the design challenge of letting the kids design their own oven! Awesome!


In this lesson students build and then compare four different solar cookers. They measure the temperature of water in the cooker and graph changes over time. There are many possible variations of this lesson, so the teacher will have to determine how much support will be needed to enable students to successfully create an oven. For a greater challenge, encourage students to design their own ovens. For greater scaffolding choose just one design, and only investigate the variable of insulation. Lesson ideas for testing insulation can be found here: It is likely that the lesson will take significantly longer than the estimated two class periods, especially if students research and create their own designs.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • Middle School
  • Grade 4
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

4-PS3-4 Apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another.

Clarification Statement: Examples of devices could include electric circuits that convert electrical energy into motion energy of a vehicle, light, or sound; and, a passive solar heater that converts light into heat. Examples of constraints could include the materials, cost, or time to design the device.

Assessment Boundary: Devices should be limited to those that convert motion energy to electric energy or use stored energy to cause motion or produce light or sound.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson as written has students explore the effectiveness of different solar oven designs that use the sun to heat their oven. To more fully address the performance expectation, students should first explore the scientific ideas behind solar radiation and its transfer of energy to the Earth's surface via sunlight. Students would then have to apply their understanding of sunlight to the design of their solar cookers. Such investigations may include testing the effects of covering or uncovering the oven, using transparent or opaque materials, using materials of different colors, or testing conductors and insulators of heat. The more that student scientific understanding and student design play a role in the device tested, the more this lesson will meet the Performance Expectation.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The lesson as written does not require students to design their own devices. To better meet the Performance Expectation and this practice students should evaluate one another's own design solutions and determine which design features result in better performance before improving their designs to incorporate new understanding. The lesson plan's tips section suggests using a shorter jar of water for the cone collector. The same size container should be used for all ovens, so that this variable will remain controlled and the student solutions can be better compared.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The lesson vocabulary as written focuses on heat transfer. The concepts of convection, conduction, and radiation, which are included in this lesson, go beyond grade 4 expectations. Teachers should focus on having a broader discussion and definition of energy transfer from the sun and explore different ways in which the sun's energy is observed transferring into other types of energy to better meet the Disciplinary Core Idea.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
It would be helpful to include lessons on conductors and insulators of heat in this unit before constructing the solar cooker.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson plan provides opportunities for students to explore the phenomenon of energy transfer, which is included in both the crosscutting concepts and the disciplinary core Ideas, through engineering design of a solar cooker.

  • Instructional Supports: The procedure is very detailed and includes illustrations. There are several suggestions for extensions and recommendations for scaling. Supports should be added to help students understand the scientific concepts. Students should be given opportunities to investigate and compare the properties of the materials they will be using. The teacher may want to set up stations or lessons to compare temperature under different conditions to test the effects of color, insulation, transparency, and surface area. For a greater challenge, students could research and develop their own designs. To create a stronger real-world connection, students may investigate uses of solar cookers in various locations, such as this story from Kenya:

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson uses class discussion to assess student progress. Any of the discussion questions could be used as writing prompt for more formal assessment during or after instruction. There is also a worksheet for students to collect data. As an additional assessment, students could be asked to analyze the data from different designs and develop improvements to their designs based on the data.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This lesson does not include a technologically interactive component.