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Engineering the perfect cookie

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North Oldham students build solar ovens

By Laura Hagan

So far groups of seniors in a class at North Oldham High School have made Spaghetti-O’s, chicken noodle soup and oatmeal scotchie cookies.

But it’s not a cooking class.

Pete Williams’ engineering concepts class has spent part of the school year planning, researching, constructing and then cooking with solar ovens. The ovens are the first project of many slated for Williams class this year that may seem daunting at first.

For about eight weeks, the students - all seniors who’ve taken a pre-requisite physics course for the class - researched the best tools and materials to make an oven that could cook several different types of foods using no electricity, only the heat from the sun.

Armed with aluminum foil, aluminum duct sheets, plexiglass, wood, PVC pipe and the freedom to construct the ovens whichever way they wanted, students got to work, and the results, Williams said, have been great.

Friday, the class made cookies in their ovens and Williams and classroom aide Alec Papovich served as taste-testers for the finished product.

Williams said the criteria for the ovens included making them mobile and practical, with a vent and the ability to tilt to a 60-degree angle. The students will be quizzed on the physics of the project and the idea, Williams said, is to give them an opportunity for some hands on experience before they move on to college.

For some of the students, that means moving on to continue engineering studies. Steven Verhalen said he plans to study engineering in college and is looking forward to the rest of the projects the class will take on this year.

Abby Oliver, a member of Verhalen’s group for the oven project, said going in, she thought constructing the ovens would be hard. But after a month of constructing the oven and several temperature measurements throughout the class period Friday, she and her group believed they’d accomplished their goal – making edible cookies with only the heat from the sun.

With temperatures beginning to drop as the seasons change, Williams said the oven project is subject to weather – if it’s cloudy or there are shadows in the way of the oven, the temperature drops.

After they oven project is completed, students will write a report on how it went and what they’d do differently if they could. But there’s still more to cook. This week, the class plans to use the ovens to roast cocktail weenies.

And once the ovens are done, it’s on to another unique engineering project – building windmills.

Next semester? Concrete canoes and cardboard boats that students will test on Harmony Lake.

It’s a way to teach physics with practical applications, Williams said. But for now, they’re learning and getting to snack during class.

Papovich, who judged each group’s cookies said he looked at a few different things when determining which group’s oven had worked best. He considered the texture and how long it took to cook them. If the cookies didn’t fall apart when he bit into them, that earned some points.

“I’m trying not to be biased though,” he said.

E-mail us about this story at: lhagan@oldhamera.com.