It was pushing 100 degrees alongside the black asphalt parking lot at Sycamore Academy of Science and Cultural Arts in Wildomar, and the blazing midday heat was made even hotter as marshmallows successfully went up in flames on the sidewalk nearby.
More than 30 sixth-graders at the charter school were testing their hypotheses on solar power Sept. 20 using the fluffy white treats and handmade “solar roasters” that were constructed using simple cardboard boxes lined with tin foil and a hole cut out on one side to accommodate an inexpensive magnifying glass.
Sixth-grader Joshua Romero explained that the students were tasked with roasting marshmallows inside their solar ovens: “The foil inside conducts heat. The magnifying glass on one section captures the sun’s rays that are directed at the marshmallow inside.”
Varying sizes of solar roasters were constructed by the students, and each little oven was outfitted with a different-sized magnifying glass.
Before the marshmallow trials began, the students broke into small groups, where they journaled their predictions. After the fiery experiment, the kids documented their findings.
According to Julie Miranda, the Sycamore Academy teacher and school sciences coordinator who led the project, the experiment was part of physical sciences education and this year’s focus during the first trimester has been alternative energy sources.
Sixth-grader James Kesterson said the experiment was relevant “because one third of energy used to power the earth will come from solar, hydro, and/or wind by 2050,” and he thinks the move away from fossil fuel is prudent.
“Smog is slowly eating away at the ozone layer and that can’t be good,” Joshua added.
Sycamore Academy Principal Barbara Hale said last week’s project is an example of the school’s day-in, day-out education model. Sycamore’s emphasis, she explained, is hands-on collaboration, research and reflection.
“We don’t just pull out the textbooks,” Hale continued. “We teach how to think critically. This is what we do throughout the grade levels [K-6].”
Evelyn Goodwin, another Sycamore sixth-grader with aspirations of becoming a marine biologist, took part in the marshmallow trials. She said so far this year she’s learned that a healthy environment is critical to survival, noting that the sun is an important player in the balance game.
“If the trees and plants don’t get the right amount of energy, we don’t have enough to eat,” she said. “The plants will die, the animals will die, and the hunters will die.”