Solar S’mores? Yes, Please!




Everyone appreciates a beautiful sunset or sunset. It’s hard not to love the picture-perfect colors, and  with social media being so prominent, it’s hard not to document it in it’s full beauty.

But any scientist knows that there is much more to the sun beyond its gorgeous rise and set.

Without the sun, there would be no life on Earth. The sun provides plants the energy to make sugar for growth, and consumers take advantage of this sugar to use for energy. By high school, students are familiar with the process of photosynthesis: Plants take CO2  and water and use energy from the sun to make glucose and Oxygen.

6CO+ 6H2O ——> C6H12O+ 6O2

So that’s how plants use energy from the sun… can we use energy from the sun?

YES. The sun does so much more than provide energy for plants, but in biology, we tend to get caught up on that awesome thing called photosynthesis, and we don’t talk about much else. The sun can warm our houses on a  spring day. The sun can boost our serotonin levels, making us feel happier. It can dry our clothes and heat our water. It gives us vitamin D, which helps to reduce our risk of some cancers. We can use solar cells to convert the sun’s energy to electricity. And now, in your class, students can use energy from the sun to build an oven.

Energy on Earth: It Starts with the Sun

Engage: 3-2-1 Bridge

  • Ask students to write 3 words, 2 questions, and 1 metaphor that come to mind when they hear the word “Sun.”
  • Present the video “The importance of the sun to life on earth” to students. The whole video doesn’t have to be played, but it does have some interesting facts about the sun scattered through the video.
  • Ask students to write 3 words, 2 questions, and 1 metaphor that come to mind after seeing the video.
  • Ask students “bridge” between their two responses- what changed? What stayed the same? How did their questions change?
    • This activity activates prior knowledge, and encourages students to ask questions and consider the sun in a different perspective from their everyday interaction

Explore: Circle of Viewpoints

  • Have students take on the role of an organism or object, whether it be a tree, algae, bacterium, lake, etc. What role does the sun play in their life? Is it important? Why or why not?
    • This has students explore the role that the sun plays in other organisms’ lives.

Explain: Putting the “How” to the “What.”

  • “Energy” can be quite an elusive term. What makes energy energy? How is energy transported? Have students discuss the differences between potential and kinetic energy. What kind of energy do different organisms get from the sun? What kind of energy do consumers get from the food that they eat?
  • As a Life Science Educator, this would be a good place to introduce the cellular function of photosynthesis
    • It is important to stay away from lecture as much as possible. How many definitions can students generate through discussion? It may be helpful to organize a JigsawII or Co-op Co-op activity for students.

Elaborate: Building a Solar Oven

  • Divide students into teams of 4 with the following roles:
    1. Project Manager- In charge of communicating between the group and the teacher
    2. Logistics Officer- In charge of getting the right materials, on time, and on budget
    3. Engineer- In charge of making sure that the team follows all rules/guidelines/constraints
    4. Scientist- In charge of recording data and making sure all team members have the right information.
  • Present the students with the STEM challenge of designing and building a solar oven with the given materials:
    • Aluminum foil
    • Construction paper (different colors so that students can have options)
    • Boxes of different sizes (can have groups bring in/build their own boxes)
    • Duct tape
    • Clear plastic containers/ cellophane wrap
    • Glue, scissors, tools, etc.
    • Paper plates
  • You may also choose to give the students constraints. For example, you can limit the dimensions of their oven, the amount of each material available to them, or you can develop a “money” system by pricing the materials and giving each group a budget.
  • Once students have built their solar ovens, take them outside to test their ovens by heating s’mores. Which oven cooked the s’more the fastest? Which oven reached the highest temperature? Which cooked the most evenly? What form of energy was used to bake the s’more?To go beyond, you may give the students the option to cook other foods- eggs and bacon, chicken, etc.
  • Students should get data from their Scientists, Logistics Officer, and Engineer and write a report. What worked? What didn’t work? How would they improve their oven? What questions do they have? In this report, students may also complete a self-evaluation, and write any concerns they had about their role, or any other role in their team.

Evaluate: Headlines

  • Have students create a headline that summarizes this unit and explains the “big idea.”
  • Have students share the headline in their teams of four. As a team, have them agree on a headline. Some may create a new headline that incorporates two students’ ideas, or the team may agree on one main idea.
    • This activity allows you to see what students got out of the activity, and what sticks out to them in the unit.
    • An alternative assignment would be a “Twitter Summary”- How would they summarize the unit in 160 characters or less?

Moving forward from this lesson plan, As a Life Science Educator, I would consider discussing cellular respiration and ATP- how cells take energy from sugars made from energy provided by the sun to create energy the cell can use. Other disciplines can modify this lesson to fit their content; Energy transfer and conservation is a cross-cutting concept for Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.



  1. Shay,
    Thank you so much for your feedback!
    I plan on testing the ovens by taking a day to go outside and use the sun, so this lesson would need to occur early in the school year or late towards summer. Students want to go outside, and there is no harm in fresh air, so I would like to use the opportunity to get students outside. Obviously, there would have to be some rain day planning, and this activity is very dependent on the weather, so it can be modified by using lamps instead.

  2. Meghan,
    I really loved this lesson plan! I like how you have students reflect on the building process itself by saying what worked and what did not. I think each of your Es flowed really well together. I also think that it is great that you kind of moved away from a straight life science topic and went into a more cross cutting lesson for this. I think the video you chose for the engage was great and I agree that you don’t necessarily have to play the whole thing. My question is how would you test the ovens? Would you take them outside and test with the real sun or would you use lamps?

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