Solar ovens may stimulate student appetite for STEM

For teachers concerned about lagging student enthusiasm for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, perhaps the way to their brains is through their bellies.

Yvonne Bolden of Mann Magnet Middle School learns to build a solar oven during a STEM camp for teachers at UALR.
Yvonne Bolden of Mann Magnet Middle School builds a solar oven during STEM camp at UALR.

A group of fourth through eighth grade science teachers are at the UALR campus learning ways to incorporate engineering designs into their lesson plans to generate enthusiasm for STEM among their students.

They are being trained to implement engineering projects with various science content so that they can strengthen real-world relevance and connection to STEM careers.

On Monday, July 21, the teachers engineered a solar-powered oven made out of pizza boxes.

“This is a great project for teachers and their students because it demonstrates two of the three basic principles of passive solar design working simultaneously to accomplish a goal kids really relate to–making something delicious,” said UALRTeach Assistant Director Michelle Buchanan.

The teachers took content learned from lab work and the engineering design process to improve the basic design of a pizza box solar oven to try to reach a max temperature faster than the control apparatus. They will practice their solar–powered pizza box lessons with students participating in UALR’s Summer Laureate University for Youth, a gifted and talented program at Booker Arts Magnet Elementary School, according to Buchanan.

Solar oven2
STEM teachers enjoy friendly competition as they wait for their solar ovens to warm up.

The Professional Development Institute: Science Education through Engineering Design is supported by a No Child Left Behind grant from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

UALR’s STEM Center – the Arkansas Partnership for STEM Education – is the principle partner, along with UALRTeach, UALR Jodie Mahoney Center for Gifted Education, College of Education and Health Professions, College of Social Sciences and Communication, and the George W. Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology. For more information, contact Keith Harris at 501.569.8149 or email

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