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Students cook lunch in homemade ovens

ASHLAND — Gray Lunn and Jeff Hamik, both 13, cooked bread and pizza in an insulated shoe box Tuesday on Ashland Middle School's outdoor basketball courts.

Nearby, seventh-grade students Bonnie Levick and Hannah Bellinson tended chocolate-chip cookies baking in another solar oven, also constructed from a shoe box.

Other students crouched over their own solar ovens, all made with recyclable materials, cooking hot dogs, quesadillas and nachos.

At noon at the middle school, it was 74 degrees outside. But inside the students' ovens, temperatures reached as high as 260 degrees.

Science teachers Kristi Healy and Lynn Kunstman used the solar oven project to teach 335 seventh- and eighth-grade students about engineering, sustainable energy and world affairs.

"This is a great project, and there's food and what kid wouldn't like that?" said Assistant Principal Ken Kigel. "You can see from the students' reactions that it's something they enjoy. They're engaged."

This is the fourth time students at the school have made solar ovens, but the teachers made the project more intricate this year to meet a new state education standard that requires students to learn about engineering design.

"This time we had them do reconstruction two different times," Healy said. "They really enjoyed making changes and improving their designs. And, as you can see, everyone does different work. This shows the range of their creativity."

The completed ovens sitting on the blacktop Tuesday were shaped not only like shoe boxes, but also like funnels, satellites and flowers. Working in teams of two, the students had to design their own ovens, create prototypes and test them.

After working on the ovens for about two weeks, the students studied their effectiveness at cooking food Tuesday. They set up the ovens at about 8:30 a.m. and came back throughout the day to record temperature changes and observations. When the food was cooked, sometime in the afternoon for most students, they ate it and wrote down their observations.

"It wasn't good but that's because the food we had isn't good anyway," said Kelsey Gida, 14, who cooked frozen pizza bagels with her partner MeeLa Parliament, 13. "But they're cooked really well. The crust is brown and when we put them in here this morning, they were frozen."

The students constructed their ovens with found boxes, metal bowls and other containers. They insulated the containers with household items such as tissue paper and then covered them in aluminum foil to help absorb sunlight.

In addition to teaching the students about science and sustainability, Healy and Kunstman wanted to show them how solar ovens help people in developing countries. They showed their students a video clip of Sudanese women who use the ovens instead of having to venture out of their refugee camp to gather firewood — where they often risk being attacked and raped.

"Everything we've been doing today, even something as simple as a solar oven, does make a difference in the world," Healy said.

Gray said knowing how to make a solar oven would also come in handy if any of his fellow students were ever stranded without a fuel source.

"If you were stranded somewhere, it would help a lot," he said. "If you could find some reflective material, you could make a solar oven, because material that can be used for insulation is everywhere in the jungle or on islands, or pretty much any place."

Highly effective solar ovens can even boil water, Gray said.

Twelve-year-old Emma Hassell's oven reached 260 degrees at 12:30 p.m., the hottest temperature recorded by students.

She made her "satellite-shaped" oven with a metal bowl and lots of foil. Inside, her chocolate chip cookies were looking less gooey by the minute.

"This is awesome," she said. "I can't wait to eat them."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

MeeLa Parliament wasnít a big fan of the frozen pizza bagels she and her partner cooked Tuesday at Ashland Middle School, but the pair said the solar oven they constructed worked well in heating the food. Julia Moore / Daily Tidings - Julia Moore