Solar Cooking Experiments
by PEPY Managing Director, Maryann Bylander
About a month ago Chreb, the junior high school science teacher approached me with a request. There was a lesson she really wanted to do from the ministry’s textbook; about solar power and how heat from the sun can be conducted and transferred. The textbook had a basic experiment to have students create a solar cooker, learning about the power of the sun by cooking their own food using the sun’s heat. This not only helps students understand solar power, but also is a tangible project which makes learning fun and engaging. There were several experiments in her textbook, but they all required materials she didn’t have. Usually she simply skipped over the action-learning parts of her curriculum that required any outside tools.
This time, she was persistent, and came to the principal and then to us. She carefully explained her proposal, including the lesson plan, what materials she would need, and the additional resources she had found from a local NGO, including worksheets on solar power, energy, and solar cooking "recipes". She asked PEPY to support the experiment, buying the aluminum foil, black spray paint, and basic materials to make the cookers. In return, she would train the other teachers on how to make the cookers and how to teach the lesson. She would also arrange for other secondary school teachers in the area to come and borrow the cookers for their classes as well. Last week all three 7th grade classes successfully cooked eggs, bananas, and rice—-creating the cookers themselves and then seeing firsthand how solar power can be harnessed. Its the first real science experiment the kids and teachers have done in class and as you can imagine, they were fascinated with the results.
Its frustrating that there are so many teachers in positions like Chreb—with bright ideas for engaging classes, wanting to make the most of the ministry’s curriculum, excited about making learning both fun and valuable, incapable of supporting the 20 dollars it takes to buy materials to do so. At Chanleas Dai, we’re supporting the resources teachers need and want to make their classrooms effective today. Outside of Chanleas Dai, the fight is much harder, but its one we join nonetheless. We participate in the NGO Education Partnership (NEP) and join working groups on primary school development and policy, hoping to influence the government to provide more financial support to schools, and be more transparent in the budgeting process. We think its important to do both—develop local capacity and do our part to advocate for changes on the national level. In the meantime, while we join the voices pushing for structural change, we put our efforts into Chanleas Dai. Last week 100 7th graders saw some of the magic of science and for today, that’s a start.