Parabolic Solar Cookers

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I am excited for our final project in Algebra II…parabolic solar cookers! After we did an in class investigation of the four different types of conics with play-doh, evaluated the standard equations, and explored the graphs of each, I wondered if there was one more way I could help my students deepen their understanding of conics. So, while sitting on the couch at home with my husband and searching online, I found this (http://www.education.com/science-fair/article/solar-hot-dog-cooker/) and excitedly told him, “I’m going to make this happen!!” The next day at school, I talked with my dean about the logistics of creating solar cookers and ways to help scaffold the lesson.

The summary of the project and the student materials that I revised from the website are below (some wording and pictures are directly from the website above…so please credit that source if using this.) The directions are quite lengthy, but very step-by-step, so I suggest breaking this up into at least 3-5 days with groups of 2-4 students.

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Summary: To begin the project, students spent a class day researching and answering questions about solar cookers. With the help of an actual solar energy engineer (see his website and work here: energyae.com) generating some ideas, the questions helped students buy in to the project (he also sent me some videos to show students real life parabolic solar panels…if you have Dropbox, check them out here: https://www.dropbox.com/home/SolarMrsTaplin). The next day, students found three points to create a parabolic curve based on the dimensions of their shoe box (two top corner points and one center origin point). From these, students calculated the equation and plotted other points to create a nice, accurate curve. Next, students calculated the focal point, which we talked about the reasoning as to why this is the spot they should place their food at to cook. Lastly, students covered their curves in poster board and foil for the reflective surface and fashioned holders for the focal point.

A few groups still need to finish, but they are coming along very nicely! It has been raining/cloudy for about a week straight now, so please do a little anti-rain dance for us and hope for some sun so we can test out these cookers before the school year ends!! I will post after we get to and show the results!solar 5

Student Materials: (link to word doc: solar cooker proj or click on thumbnails below for images)

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Update: We finally had some sunny weather and got to go out to cook. We left the solar cookers out for about 45 minutes. The marshmallows didn’t melt the way we predicted, but having thermometers out with us proved that it definitely got hotter at the focal point. Most had an initial temperature of 90-92 degrees F, and after about 20 minutes, the temperature rose to about 105. The final temperature recorded was about 120 degrees F at the focal point of most solar cookers. Although they were a little bummed that the marshmallows didn’t melt completely, we talked about the fact that if it were 120 degrees F outside, they would not want to be outside themselves. So, that helped put it in perspective and see that it worked. Next year, I think we should try cooking a darker food substance…maybe chocolate, and we could do fondue 🙂