Energy Encounters: Green Engineers

Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Article
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.



This article provides suggestions for implementing the Engineering is Elementary (EiE) solar oven curriculum in the context of the Next Generation Science Standards. The authors share one teacher’s experience as she guides her class through the process of creating a solar oven using the EiE curriculum created by the Museum of Science, Boston.

Students are introduced to the real-world problems created when cooking with wood: it is labor intensive and has a significant impact on the environment. Students then discuss these issues in the context of green engineering practices. Students investigate how engineers go about solving problems while assessing environmental impacts. This is followed by an investigation of insulators. The final portion of the lesson challenges students to develop solutions to the problem of how to insulate solar ovens, using the results from their insulation investigation.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 4
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

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 is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
These lessons allow students to explore how light energy from the sun can heat the air in an oven, and how insulators affect the transfer of energy. Instead of the teacher providing the insulation materials, the students might brainstorm their own ideas for insulators. They could then describe their reasons for choosing those materials. The lessons, as written, suggest that students consider only insulation for the oven in order to make it more efficient. Additional challenges may be introduced, such as changing the box shape or colors.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students compare the results of their insulation solutions and use those results to improve their designs.

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 could be extended to include discussion of what happens when light interacts with various components of the oven. (Transparent plastic allows light to go through. Light heats the air in the oven.)

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
While the focus of the lessons is to prevent energy transfer by insulating the solar ovens, the teacher could easily guide students to observe the path the energy takes. The sunlight is transferred to the reflective foil, through the transparent plastic, and then it heats the air in the box. The heat is transferred into the surrounding air as the oven cools. If students create labeled diagrams to show energy transfer, the diagrams could be used as a formative assessment.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This article highlights the many connections between the Engineering is Elementary solar oven curriculum and the Next Generation Science Standards. Elements of the science and engineering practices, disciplinary core ideas, and crosscutting concepts work together to support students in designing solutions to a real-world problem. The lessons build on prior learning in a coherent storyline. To enhance the real-world connections, students could try to cook something, such as flatbread pizzas, in their ovens.

  • Instructional Supports: Introducing the lesson through the eyes of a girl in Botswana who is trying to cook a meal provides an engaging hook and a real-world connection. The hands-on nature of the lessons makes them accessible to most students. Collaboration within and among student groups is encouraged to support creative thinking. For students needing a greater challenge, more variables could be introduced, such as box shape and color, or students could investigate other uses of solar energy. While the EiE curriculum provides valuable information, lessons in the article may be implemented without purchasing the whole unit. For more information on this unit, visit This video shows the EiE lessons in action: Directions for teachers to build the EiE solar oven are shown in this video: For teachers and students who are looking for a greater challenge, this website has a variety of models of ovens that could be compared and improved: 

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The article includes many references to informal formative assessment of student learning. The Engineering is Elementary curriculum includes some written assessments of student understanding of the engineering design process, however it is more important for the teacher to assess whether students are able to use the process to solve the problem. Were they able to apply their learning about thermal insulators to design and revise their ovens? A written assessment might include an explanation of the various ways that energy was transferred into and out of the oven.

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