Chocolate Chip Cookies Fresh Out of the Solar Oven

NWF   |   May 4, 2018

Many students celebrated Earth Day this year outside in the sun, learning about wildlife habitats, local species, or, in the case of one classroom in New Jersey, about clean energy solutions to climate change. Holland Township Elementary students in Milford, NJ joined outdoor activities by using the sun’s energy to bake their first batch of cookies in their newly constructed solar oven. Earth Day marked an important week last April as schools nationwide joined the estimated 1 billion people in over 192 countries that participate in the global celebration of environmental education. In the past 45 years there has been a shift in education to include and advance sustainability and science, technology and engineering and math (STEM) in climate education. Elementary Enrichment Teacher, Stephanie Bacskai ensures Holland Township students are part of this movement.  

Polytech High School Resource officer Tom Stoner delivered the solar oven to the Holland Township outdoor learning area in front of the Geodome for all students to see. He talked to Mrs. Nugent’s first graders about the reflectors and how the simple switch works the repurposed fans to help with convection. Photo: Stephanie Bacskai

Bacskai is a proponent and leader of STEM-focused environmental education, in 2017 she was recognized for her work as an environmental educator by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “STEM curriculum provides students with the opportunity to engage in design process thinking and design process thinking embraces the idea that you’re always trying to achieve a solution to a problem,” said Bacskai. “Sustainability has to be written into STEM education now because of the larger natural science problems that are occurring.” 

All 60 of Bacskai’s fourth grade students are familiar with innovative problem-solving by working on projects like the solar oven that was designed and built in collaboration with Polytech High School 12th grade students. The fourth graders at Holland Township met with Polytech students to discuss the project timeline, make conference calls, discuss exact measurements and make adjustments to the solar oven model. The solar oven was a community effort that local businesses donated supplies and money to including Rossi Chevrolet Buick GMC dealership as part of the Eco-Green Program. The Eco-Green Program is a STEM education partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and General Motors (GM). The Eco-Green program brings together schools with local GM employees, suppliers and dealers to support student-driven sustainability projects and expose students to STEM careers.

Bacskai feels the partnership has helped students understand the power and concept of teamwork by providing an opportunity for them to engage with their mentors at Rossi Chevrolet. Bacskai’s fourth grade students have reflected this collaboration with the Polytech High School students, who constructed the solar oven, which the fourth graders demonstrated and explained to the rest of the Holland Township Elementary students during public displays. To celebrate Earth Day 2018, fourth graders baked the kindergarten students cookies at lunch and recess. They recorded the temperatures of the oven – it rose above 200 degrees Fahrenheit within twenty minutes!

For Earth Day 2018, Bacskai’s fourth graders baked the kindergarten students cookies at lunch and recess. The sunshine not only provided a beautiful day to be outside, but powered the solar oven in order to reach temperatures above 200 degrees Fahrenheit within twenty minutes. Photo: Stephanie Bacskai

Bacskai empowers her students by allowing them to take ownership of the green innovation projects they do as a class. “They are able to handle materials in a way that is not just an art class project or holiday craft they’re doing, they’re actually working with materials and making a connection to natural resources.”

Aside from encouraging students to enter STEM careers, students are also growing professional leadership skills by engaging with the community. Five of Bacskai’s students were featured on a local radio show called, N2 the Garden last October 2017 and are planning on going on air a second time this spring to talk about the solar oven.

The solar oven will continue to be a learning resource for the school. Bacskai’s class doesn’t plan on stopping with cookies: Next up on the Holland Township solar powered lunch menu is mini pizzas and roasted vegetables!

To learn more about the Eco-Green program, please contact DowdJ@nwf.org.

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