The Hot Box

I explored and customized the WISE project Solar Radiation and Solar Ovens.  This is a retrospective activity for me, because our class did a Solar Thermal Heating project this year that is the same concept, with a different use case.  I wish I had known about the WISE project data base—the interactives make excellent use of simulations, visualizations, and feedback!  I customized the WISE project to fit our Solar Thermal Heating unit.  We used a constructivist approach.
We started by watching a short video of a Navajo girl who grew up with her grandparent off the grid in rural Arizona.  They use wood for heating in the winter and as an engineering student, she wanted to do something to help her family so she designed, built, and installed a passive solar thermal unit on their adobe house.  The kids found it really inspiring, and strongly connected with the real-world application of science, which is highly motivating (Fernades, 2014).  The girls in the class also thought it was pretty cool that the girl in the video was an engineering rock star.  Our goal to build a solar thermal unit was clear, and the students were all pretty certain that they were up to the task.  Hattie (2007) suggests that this is key to reducing the gap in affective processes, like effort and engagement.
In small groups, students shared what they thought engineering was as a career.  Later in the week, a City of Vancouver engineer gave us a tour of the solar thermal heating units at the local swimming pool.  He also told them about his career as an engineer.  Students wrote a reflective paragraph on their perception of engineering as a career.  Although I did not see this at the time, this is one example of Scaffolded Knowledge Integration in action.  Many of the WISE project slides mirror what we did, but in a much slicker way.  In groups of three, students researched, designed, presented, and built solar thermal units.  This makes thinking visible, makes science accessible, and helps students learn from one another; three of the four tenets of Linn et al (2003).  Team members agreed on group roles and responsibilities.  They were responsible for designing a test for the units and there were many misconceptions about the difference between heat and temperature.  At this point, and many others, the instructors (including myself) were responsible for providing cognitive feedback cues (Hattie, 2007) that addressed the faulty interpretations.  Eventually, they collaboratively chose to measure the temperature difference between intake and outtake air.  Once the basic units had been tested, they went back to the books to see if they could design additional efficiencies.  Some chose to silver the outside (for radiation losses), other teams built reflecting “wings” to capture more incident radiation.  One group installed a fan to increase the flow of air through the unit.  This “Beta Model” iteration design is key for students to learn to critique, compare, revise, and rethink (Linn et al, 2003).

Fernandes, S., Mesquita, D., Flores, M. A., & Lima, R. M. (2014). Engaging students in learning: findings from a study of project-led education. European Journal of Engineering Education, 39(1), 55-67.

Hattie, H. & Timperly, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.

Linn, M., Clark, D., & Slotta, J. (2003). Wise design for knowledge integration. Science Education, 87(4), 517-538.


  1. Hi Michael, I do agree that real-world application of science can motivate and inspire students in many ways. We often neglected to capture students’ imagination through learning and help them connect what they learn in the classroom with the world around them. When students comprehend how to apply what they learned in the classroom the possibilities of the applications are endless from solving small issues in the community to the world. Also, students can realize that there are multiple ideas and approaches to solving complex problems with more than one solution possible through the design process of the real-world application,

    1. Hello YooYoung,

      The more than one solution possible is one of my favorite things about authentic problem solving! It is a rich opportunity for asking students to defend their choices with scientific and/or mathematical reasoning, as well as consensus building, and developing the basic elements of a fair trial.

      Have you seen this video by Eric Mazur: Why You Can Pass A Test and Still Fail”?
      It is a great piece on authentic problem solving and how it might be assessed.


  2. Hi Michael

    I like the fact that you brought into the classroom a City of Vancouver engineer. I used to take my science students on tours of their local electrical substation.

    I wonder why Vancouver schools do not use solar panels on their roofs? Would solar panels even work in Vancouver? I found this video that was created by a lower mainland roofing company.

    A good next step might be to have the students look into why there are not more solar panels on homes and businesses– especially in States such as Arizona.


    1. Hello Chris,

      PV Solar is definitely the best alt-energy solution in Vancouver’s climate, but it is still not very good. Wind is not very good either. With my STEM 11/12 we do a full energy audit to establish a tipping point for affordability for PV Solar. It is quite fun, and requires a lot of pretty basic estimations and “ratio” based math. The students find this harder than studying logarithms. To my knowledge, heat loss prevention (proper insulation tech) is more cost effective in Canada than a “free energy” capture methodology.


  3. As you mention collaboration is a huge factor in helping students learn from one another. I have found that generally students will learn more from each other when given a structured lesson than they do with any direct teaching method I have used. As you grow the size of the group more complex issues such as leadership, conflict resolution and flexibility start to play into the competencies you can assess.

    1. “I have found that generally students will learn more from each other when given a structured lesson than they do with any direct teaching method I have used.”

      This is the entire basis for our STEM program’s approach and touches on many of the ideas of Papert and Vygotsky. When it works it is awesome, but as you mention, it is key to keep it properly scaffolded. As Hattie (2007) mentions in his work on effective feedback, students have a hard time learning if the task is just that little bit too difficult. We saw that a bit in one of our projects with the STEM 9 students. We introduced Arduino coding/robotics and it wasn’t properly structured. Total disaster.

      Hattie, H. & Timperly, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.

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