Solar Energy: Making a Solar Oven

Solar Energy a Renewable Energy Source

During our unit on Energy, students learned about the different types of renewable and non-renewable energy sources and watched a couple of videos that touched their hearts.  They learned that not everyone around the world have access to electricity and cooking appliances like a stove or an oven.

This video introduces the Kyoto Oven, which we decided will be difficult for us to make because we don’t have the Plexiglas:

Here’s another video about how Solar Ovens are used in Africa:

For their culminating project, they decided to make a solar oven and find out how effective this simple oven was for heating and cooking food.  Students wanted to know, “How much energy can we harvest from the sun?  Is a pizza solar oven something that can be used for practical purposes?  How can we re-purpose our waste into products that can help people who don’t have financial resources?”

Here’s what they did to design, build, and test the Pizza Box Solar Oven:

Step 1:  Use a large pizza box (new or used, but clean it out)

Pizza O

 Step 2:  You’ll need the following items:


Step 3:  With your ruler, measure 1″ from the edge of the box – the sides and front of the box.


Step 4:  After marking the area to be cut, use a box cutter (with the help of an adult) to cut the cover.


Step 5:  Glue aluminum foil on the inside cover and on the bottom of the pizza box.


Step 6:  Tape clear wrap around the opening of the box.  Make sure it’s air tight.


 Step 6: Line the bottom of the pizza box with black construction paper.


 Step 7: Tape a Thermometer to the under side of the clear wrap.


Step 8: Preheat the oven by taking it outside and waiting until the temperature is high enough to cook S’Mores! Yum!


Step 9: Place marshmallows, chocolate candy and/or graham crackers inside the box and wait for it to melt.

IMG_20151113_131440874 IMG_20151113_131354337


  • Students learned that the pizza solar oven can reach temperatures up to 200 degrees on a sunny day.
  • It takes time for the oven to heat up so patience is important.
  • On windy days, make sure your oven is tightly sealed, no air sneaking into the box and cooling it down.
  • The best way to keep the lid up is to tape the ruler or pencil down.
  • Placing the box in the right position makes a difference in how fast the oven will heat up.
  • As long as you’re not wanting to cook something but just want to heat it or melt it, then this oven will do.

Separating MIXTURES

5th Grade Physical Science Lab

What are Mixtures? 

In this inquiry lab, students discover the different ways of separating the mixtures they come across in their daily life.

The lesson begins with students thinking about the question, “What are mixtures?”  In small groups, they list the mixtures they notice in their everyday lives such as salad, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, assorted nuts, chocolate milk, orange juice, lemonade, a bucket of LEGOs, etc.

The scientific definition:  Mixtures are made of two or more elements or compounds that are not chemically combined.  Mixtures can be physically separated into their individual parts.

“How would you separate these mixtures?  What methods would you use?”IMG_20151103_091909110


Students work in small groups of 3 to 4 students and start by closely observing the mixtures under a magnifying glass.  They write down the qualitative properties of the mixtures in their lab notebook–color, size, texture, smell, state of matter and identify the mixture as homogeneous or heterogeneous.  Of course, No tasting!

  • Homogeneous mixture: a mixture that has the same uniform appearance and composition throughout its mass.
  • Heterogeneous mixture: a mixture that consists of visibly different substances or phases.

Qualitative Properties of Sand and Salt – Here are some of the qualitative properties students notice:


  • Fine, grainy, small particles, coarse, sandy brown/khaki granules, white grains, brownish particles, particles sparkle under light, leaves dusty particles on finger
  • It’s a heterogeneous mixture because this dry mixture can be seen with the naked eye and has a uniform appearance.

Qualitative Properties of Rice Chex Trail Mix:


  • Assorted shapes: checkered squares, oval shaped almonds, coated popcorn, sticky, sweet smelling, grains of sugar or salt, etc.
  • What else do you notice?  Add your observations to our comments section.
  • It’s a heterogeneous mixture because this dry mixture can be separated physically.

Qualitative Properties of Gravel, Pebbles and Sand:  It’s your turn. What qualitative properties can you name?   Is it a heterogeneous mixture or a homogeneous mixture?


Qualitative Properties of Sand and Metal:  Let’s sharpen your observation skills.  Now, look at this closely.  How would you describe its qualitative properties?  Is it a heterogeneous mixture or a homogeneous mixture?


Tools and Materials used to Separate Mixtures:

Students made a list of materials they need to separate the mixtures.  I provide them with as many materials I can find in my cabinets.  Unfortunately, I could not give them the burner or pot they requested.

Coffee filters and water


Screens, funnel, strainers, and tweezers


Paper towel and magnets


Separating Mixtures: How many different methods can you think of to separate mixtures?

Separating Rice Chex Trail Mix: Use a tweezer or fingers – Hand separation

To separate the Rice Chex Trail Mix, they use a paper towel and tweezers or their hands to separate it into individual parts:


Student explaining how he’s sorting Rice Chex Trail Mix

Separating gravel, pebbles and sand: Use Screens, sieves, or strainers to sift out particles

Students use the screens, sieves, and strainers to separate the materials into its finer parts.  They cleverly use two or three screens to separate the smallest particles—sand.


Student explaining how he managed to separate gravel, pebbles and sand into its individual parts.

Separating Sand and Salt: Evaporation – Allowing liquid to dry by vaporization

Several students wanted to separate the salt from the sand by adding water to the mixture and dissolving the salt.  Then, separating the water from the sand and boiling the water until the water evaporated and leaving the salt behind.  Unfortunately, I did not have a burner or pot so I asked them to think of another way they could separate the salt from the sand.

To get the same result as a burner, students placed the salty water container on the windowsill until all of the water evaporated leaving the salt behind.


 Can you see the white salt grains?

Sand and Metal: Use a magnet – Magnetic attraction



After separating the metal from the sand, students wanted to find out how much metal was contained in the sand.  They pulled out a scale to find out how many grams of sand and metal they had.  Students were surprised to discover that the magnet did a pretty efficient job of removing the metal particles from the sand.


Video Tutorial Page

Miss a lesson or a class?  

New to Ms. Yoli Gonzales’s Blog is the Video Tutorial Page.  The Video Tutorial Page will contain videos of lessons from our visiting Engineers or lessons that have taken place in the classroom. I encourage you to watch the videos as many times as necessary and invite parents to share the link with your child when they are absent so they can catch up with the lessons they may have missed.  To stay up-to-date with the videos on our channel, please click subscribe and you will get notified when a new video is posted.

We are very fortunate to have Rick Peterson, a retired HP Engineer, volunteer his time teaching students about basic engineering practices. Here’s a peek of a lesson on Levers and using Pneumatics (this is what you will find under the Video Tutorial Page):


2nd Grade Physical Science Lab: Solids and Liquids

In this lab, students in 2nd grade investigated the following concepts:

  • Different kinds of materials can be classified by their observable properties
  • Test and record various items for its strength, flexibility, hardness, texture, and absorbency
  • Design and construct a structure using a variety of materials

Observing, Describing and Testing

Students first looked at a variety of solid objects and described their qualitative properties: color, size, shape, etc.

To test and record a solid’s strength and absorbency, students first wrote an hypothesis and tested whether the solid would sink or float in water.



Designing, Constructing, Testing and Recording Observations

What materials hold water best?  Then, they thought about materials they could test to see how much mass it could take before it sank.  The first material tested was wax paper.  Students thought that the wax on the paper would protect it from water and cause it to float.  They discovered that making a boat out of wax paper was a bit of a challenge because the paper did not hold its shape. IMG_20151016_110350010

How much mass will your boat hold?

Wax Paper Boats

Weight Distribution:  Placing too much mass (1 gram cubes) in the middle of the wax paper caused the paper to sink with the weight.  When the wax paper was pulled out of the water, students noticed that the water penetrated the thin layer of wax and shred the wax paper.



Hypothesis or Prediction

Students predicted that how you distribute the mass would affect whether the wax paper boat would sink or float. They discovered that the wax paper held up longer when the weight was evenly distributed.  Students learned that although the wax paper boat did not sink, the longer the wax paper boat stayed in the water, the water eventually broke down the wax causing the wax paper boat to sink.


Aluminum Foil Boats

Next, students decided to use aluminum foil to build a boat.  A few students hypothesized that the aluminum foil was too thick and heavy for it to float.  Other students argued that although the aluminum foil appeared to be thick and heavy, it could float if you created a boat with a large surface area.  Students tested a variety of shapes and found that square-shaped boats and pentagon-shaped boats made the best boats because they could hold more mass and did not sink.



This pentagon-shaped boat held the most mass…over 100 grams!


The students concluded that the aluminum boats held the most weight and had less probability of sinking.


Lab Notebook: ELA in Science

Throughout this lab, students tested their hypothesis and wrote down their observations.





5th & 6th Grade Physical Science Lab: Structure and Properties of Matter

For this lab, students explored the following objectives:

Matter is made of particles too small to be seen.

  • Develop a model to describe that matter is made of particles too small to be seen
  • Identify and categorize the properties of matter

Gum Drop Atoms & Molecules

Concept Map that keeps track of our unit of study.  The concept map expands as more concepts are talked about and investigated.


For this lab, students explore the Structure and Properties of Matter.  They first begin by reflecting on what they already know about matter.

  • IMG_20151029_052015[1]

Example of Student’s Reflection “What is Matter?”

After students shared what they already knew about matter, the class created a list of “Big Ideas” on chart paper.

  • EVERYTHING is made of matter.
  • Matter is EVERYTHING that takes up space and has mass.
  • Matter is built from particles too small to be seen—elements and atoms.
  • Atoms are the building blocks of all the material on Earth.
  • The materials and products we use in our daily lives come from the investigations that scientists and chemists have done to understand the characteristics, structure and properties of matter.

Students often wonder how scientists have come to know and understand what elements and atoms are like; especially when these particles are too small to seen with the naked eye.  To help students understand the size of an atom, I show them the following video:


Example of students notes while watching the video

After watching the video, students naturally want to learn more about Elements, Atoms, and Molecules.  From looking at the Periodic Table, students discover:


  • Our world is made from 90+ naturally occurring elements.
  • There about 118 elements listed on the Periodic Table.
  • The Periodic Table is arranged according to each element’s atomic structure.
  • Elements are substances that cannot be broken down into simpler substances.
  • An atom is made up of a nucleus of neutrons (no charge) and positively charged protons.  Circling the nucleus are negatively charged electrons. Every element’s atom has a specific number of protons.

Students work in small table groups and begin to create a model of  how elements, molecules and compounds are formed.  They identify the elements that make up compounds like water, methane, table salt, and ammonia.

After creating a model of the atoms, students sort atoms into: elements, molecules and compounds.


To demonstrate their understanding of what they are learning about the Structure of Matter, some groups create an instructional poster. Some groups created an instructional video using Powtoons.








My Favorite Apps & Websites

Here are some of the tested websites and applications we use in our classroom and highly recommend for teachers, students and parents:


I use this to save my favorite videos and websites. It’s a simple way to organize things you find on the web and would like to use in the future.  I create tabs for each content area, paste my favorite sites and access it whenever I want it.  


This is a wonderful way to use videos and assess your students’ understanding of the content of the video.  EdPuzzle removes ads on a video and make it easy for teachers to differentiate instruction and keep a record of their students’ progress.


My students enjoy posting their work, pictures and videos on Padlet.  It’s a great way for students to record what projects they are working on in class and a wonderful tool for me to use as an assessment.  There are so many other uses to Padlet that I have yet to explore.  Education World has a great write up on the advantages to using Padlet – click on the link:

Class Dojo:

Need a way to positively motivate students? I use Class Dojo as a classroom management tool.  When kids walk into the classroom, I start the timer and help them keep track of the amount of time it takes them to settle down.  When I give the class an assignment, I tell them how much time they will have to complete it and have Class Dojo keep track of the time.  As students work independently or in a small group, I let them know how they are doing by giving them “reward” points –“On task” “Problem-solver” “Teamwork”.  It’s amazing how this simple tool keeps them focused and motivated!  I haven’t used this part of Class Dojo, but this apps can send parents a progress report on their child’s behavior in the classroom.   Teachers can also share information between classes.


My students love using this free app and creating animated videos and presentations online.  Students use PowToons to create a “How to..” video or write short informational stories on a particular content they have learn.  It’s a fun, entertaining and informative way to get students excited about what they are learning!


instaGrok is a wonderful search engine that generates a web of related videos, images, articles, and terms based on a student’s or teacher’s query. Students can also use instaGrok to evaluate sources and to quiz themselves on specific topics.  I use InstaGrok to help me think of things I might have forgotten when planning a lesson.  I type in my content and it gives me lots of ideas related to my content and suggestions on where I can find them.  Super tool!


Kahoot! is a user-friendly tool for designing in-class questionnaires and quizzes. A user designs a quiz, survey, or questionnaire to test the knowledge of his or her audience. Audience members can answer questions using a variety of devices. The quizzes and questionnaires, referred to as “Kahoots,” are designed to promote a game-like atmosphere in the learning environment.

Common Sense Education:

A great place for teachers, students and parents to get resources on digital citizenship, rating on books, movies and popular apps, etc.  They have a comprehensive digital citizen video library for teachers and parents to share with students and children.

4th Grade Physical Science Lab: Energy–Electricity and Electrical Circuits

Flip a switch and the light turns on! Click on your mp 3 player and listen to your favorite songs.  Turn on the fan on a hot sunny day and cool air fills up the room.  What caused all of these things to work on demand?  Electricity!

During this lab, students were able to:

  • Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by light, heat, and electric currents.
  • Make a complete circuit by producing electricity using different sources
  • Determine which materials conduct or insulate electricity

During this investigation, students learn about the mysteries of energy—electrical energy—and how this dangerous yet useful phenomena has transformed our lives.  Their investigations begin with finding the answer to the question, “How do you light a bulb?”  Students are given a variety of components—D-cell battery (energy source), a battery holder, two wires, a bulb and bulb holder—to investigate.  After looking over the components, students form a team and work together to find a solution to the problem.


Look!  You can light the bulb using one wire!


You can light a bulb using two wires!

One wire? That’s impossible! Not so.  Students discovered that there are three important questions to consider when deciding whether electricity will flow and light up a bulb:

Three important questions:

  1. Is there an energy source? Yes, the circuit has a D-Cell for its energy source
  2. Is there a complete pathway? In order for electricity to flow, there must be a complete pathway—from the negative end to the positive end of the D-cell battery.
  3. Does the pathway include the correct contact points? Are all of the contact points touching–from the D-cell, to the base of the bulb and the side casing of the bulb (this is where the filament gets heated)?

Now look closely at the picture using one wire again and you will see that all three questions have been answered–Yes!

Move It! Move it! Energy on the Move!

In this lab, students are introduced to a switch and a motor. Their tasks was to make a circuit that they can turn on and off. They discover that like lighting a bulb, a motor will not work work unless the three questions above have been considered.  They understand that a bright light and a spinning motor are evidence that energy has been converted into electricity.


Solar Power! The Sun, a Renewable Energy Source

For this investigation, students take their materials outside and work with a different energy source, a solar cell.  They work together to determine the conditions needed to produce electricity using energy from the sun to operate a motor. Solarmotor1[1]

Solar Energy Discoveries:

  1. Solar cells need the sun’s energy to convert energy into electricity.
  2. The amount of energy that is converted into electricity depends on weather conditions and the  number of solar cells being used.  The more direct sunlight, the faster energy is converted into electricity and will cause the motor to move.
  3. When it’s overcast, the solar cell struggles to convert energy into electricity and causes the motor to move slowly or not at all.
  4. When placing the solar cell (panel) in the sunlight, the position and angle of the solar panel influences how much sunlight it gathers.
  5. Solar energy (energy from the sun) is always there–renewable– and a great way to generate electricity.
  6. Solar energy is cleaner for our environment.

Save Sam! A Team Building Activity

In my classroom, students are frequently placed in heterogeneous groups where they work as a team to accomplish a project.  The challenge of placing students in the right team is always a difficult task.  At the beginning of the year (and throughout the year),  I plan team building activities to help students develop “Habits of the Mind” and make working with peers who come from different cultural, social, educational and economic backgrounds less stressful.

This year I selected a fun team building activity that quickly gets students to empathize with the story’s character and find a solution to save him.    The activity not only incorporates the Scientific and Engineering Design Process but it gives students a chance to practice their collaborative and leadership skills.

SAVE SAM – Upper Elementary Lab

This is Sam looking desperately for someone to rescue him.  All summer long Sam went out on his boat to sunbathe.  Unfortunately, Sam did not listen to the weather man and went out on his boat during inclement weather conditions. A huge gust of wind and wave toppled his boat over, leaving his life vest under the boat.  In the midst of all of the commotion, he managed to wiggle himself quickly on top of the belly of the boat.  Poor Sam can’t swim and needs your help!



Constraints:  Unfortunately, the only thing left to help Sam are four paper clips.  Since Sam has no hands, team members are not allowed to touch Sam, the boat, or life vest with their hands. The goal for this activity is to work together as a team and use the Scientific and Engineering Design Process to develop a plan to rescue Sam.   The team must place the life vest around Sam so he can safely get back to shore.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, I borrowed the worksheet from:


Below is an example of a completed worksheet:




The photos and video shows how well the students worked as a team and how creative they were in Saving Sam.






Yeah! Life vest is on! Can you see the smile on Sam’s face? He’s one happy worm!

Bubble Gum Lab: Practicing the Scientific Method

Every teacher begins the school year thinking about an activity that will immediately engage students, and at the same time, fulfill content requirements.  This year I found the perfect activity to help students learn and use the Scientific Method–The Bubble Gum Lab!

doublebubbleBazooka-Original-Bubble-Gum-113gEngage: I began by telling students that over the summer I had a party at my house and a couple of my friends brought over two bags of gum.  Since I don’t enjoy chewing gum (“What? Who doesn’t like chewing gum?” they shout in unison), I wondered if my students could come up with a lab experiment to test the two brands of gum.  With much excitement and enthusiasm, students started sharing their ideas.  

Purpose:  To quell their excitement, I gently cautioned students to think of an experiment that would pass the Scientific Method test.  I give students a quick reminder of why scientists use the Scientific Method (see below) and further warned students that the experiment must also be testable and provide evidence that their hypothesis is true or not.

Scientific Method

The class spent time going through their list of suggestions and identified two testable ideas they’d like to try: Find out which brand makes the biggest bubble or which brand has more elasticity.  Students were then allowed time to discuss and justify the pros and cons of both labs (my way of adding CCSS into the lesson).  The class finally decided to test which brand makes the largest bubble. (Yippy!  That’s what I was hoping for!)


Observation:  Before students dive into their experiment, I ask them to closely look at the two different brands of gum and write down its qualitative properties–color, smell, texture, and state of matter–in their science notebook.  As students talk about what they observe, there is a discussion about what’s the difference between observations and inferences. Students conclude that observations means using the five senses whereas inferences means using what is observed and a person’s prior experience and background knowledge; which may not necessarily be a true observation.  

Hypothesis:  In this part of the lab, students think about their hypothesis–what they would like to test.  I suggest using an “If….then…” statement.  As individual students share their hypothesis with the class, I record it on a chart.    During our whole group share time, the class talks about what makes a good hypothesis.  Students often struggle with writing a good hypothesis and need lots of practice developing this skill.  Below are examples of what they came up with during our brainstorming session.


Bubble Gum Blowing Tips:  To help students who have little or no experience blowing bubble gum bubbles, I ask them to read and watch the following sites:


Procedure:  I provided students with the perimeters for carrying out the investigation:

  1. Create a team of 2 to 3 students.
  2. Decide who will chew brand A and brand B.
  3. The person-chewing brand A will chew a piece of gum for 3 minutes.
  4. After 3 minutes, they will have three attempts to blow a bubble.
  5. The person designated to measure the bubble will first use a string to measure the diameter of the bubble.  Then, lay the string on a meter stick to measure the distance in centimeters (cm).
  6. Record the three attempts on a data table. To find the average bubble size for brand A, add the three distances and divide by 3)
  7. Write the average (quotient) in the data chart.
  8. Repeat steps 1 – 7 with the brand B gum.


Investigation:  No need to explain how much fun students had blowing and measuring their bubbles!






The class concluded that although the data collected from the 24 students doing the investigation suggest that Double Bubble makes larger bubbles they felt that it was too small of a sample size to make a public claim. Students felt that there should be at least 100 – 200 students participating in the investigation before they could safely say which brand is better.  The data below supports their concerns:

Double Bubble              cm Bazooka                        cm
























266/24 = 11.08 cm average size

























250/24 =10.42 cm average size

Students felt that the .66 cm difference between the two brands was too close to call.  If given another opportunity, students suggested slightly modifying the investigation and addressing some of the issues they encountered during the lab:

  • need more students participating in the investigation – at least 100 to 200 students
  • a few students had little or no experience blowing bubbles
  • time constraints made it stressful
  • bubbles burst before it could be measured
  • need a more accurate system to measuring the bubbles
  • three minutes is not enough time to get all of the sugar out of the gum (it was suggested that the less sugar the bigger the bubbles)

At the end of the investigation, students reviewed the Scientific Method and reflected on their individual and team’s participation.

Meet Edison – The Cutest Little but Mighty Robot!

Here’s another new addition to our STEM lab this year – Edison – a super affordable and programmable robot!  With Edison, students will learn to engage in inquiry and project-based learning and learn programming skills that are essential for the 21st Century.


To find out more about this cute, little robot, click on the link:

What can Edison DO?

Students enjoy working with Edison because it’s so easy to use.  Just unpack the box, add batteries and follow the step-by-step lesson plan.  Students work independently or in a small group and are amazed with the many different things they can program Edison to do.  For example, students can program Edison to:

  • Sense light
  • Detect obstacles
  • Track lines
  • Sense sound
  • Communicate using infrared light
  • Produce sound – beeps and musical tunes
  • Respond to clapping or loud sounds
  • Drive around a track or obstacle course
  • Sumo wrestle
  • Use any TV or DVD remote

Edison Meets LEGO!

The best thing about Edison is that it’s LEGO compatible!  Students enjoy dressing Edison up with the most interesting LEGO designs!


One of our teams entered this in the Meet Edison + LEGO Competition.

They designed “EdSoccer” a robot that is built to play soccer and always make the GOOOOOAL!


Here’s EdSoccer’s Competition – (This is another team’s entry) – Meet EdSpider



In this competition, students had to use LEGO’s Compact Tracked Loader (set 42032) and design a robot using the parts from the kit.  We won’t know the results until the competition window closes in June.  The winning design gets 10 free Edison. Tell us what you think about these designs in the comment section.