Energy Exploration

Exploring energy with John Jay senior intern

The fifth graders ran onto Katonah Elementary’s upper field and peered into their pizza box solar ovens. Some students smacked high fives when they saw that the chocolate squares inside were already sliding into brightly colored puddles of gummy bear goo. Other students adjusted their solar ovens to be more in direct sunshine.

The experiment was part of an energy unit led by John Jay senior Gavin George in Lynn Garofolo’s class. Gavin is interning for high school physics teacher Frank Noschese; planning for the lesson was part of his work. “I might want to be a physics teacher,” the senior said. He’s heading to Geneseo to study math, physics and philosophy in the fall.

Gavin's youthful energy added a playful aspect to the lesson.  He was also well prepared, organized and focused on conveying key concepts of energy absorption and reflection.

solar ovens made from pizza boxes

The lesson began in the classroom. Gavin showed the students six solar ovens that he had made from pizza boxes. Each had a flap cut out of the lid, which he had lined with aluminum foil. Two of the boxes were also lined with black paper, and two had a transparent piece of plastic cover that fit over the cutout.

Sharing findings

While the chocolate and gummy bears baked, Gavin led students in several other solar experiences including connecting small solar panels to portable fans and observing what impacted its power.

“What do you notice?” Gavin asked the students.

“When solar panels are closer to the sun, they capture more energy,” said Rome.

“Solar panels need to track with the sun’s path,” said Mirabelle.

“These are good findings,” Gavin said.

The lesson closed with one last activity: students dipping marshmallows into the melted chocolate and gummy bear mixture and enjoyed the results of their experiment.