Cookies teach campers about energy

It's nothing new for a 4-H member to learn to bake a cookie, but making cookies without any electrical appliances? Now, that's a new skill!

It’s nothing new for a 4-H member to learn to bake a cookie, but making cookies without any electrical appliances? Now, that’s a new skill! At 4-H Camp Alberta, held at Michigan Tech’s Ford Forestry Center, just south of L’Anse, Michigan, the 2009 theme was “Keepin’ It Green,” and activities focused on all things earth-friendly. From July 13 to 15, with the help of a reused cereal box, some tinfoil, glue and scissors, 45 youth from Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties explored the idea of energy, where it comes from and how we use it.

Initially, campers learned how the sun was the main source for all the energy on the earth and that energy from the sun has been stored up for millions of years in the forms of non-renewable oil and coal. To understand the impact of using these non-renewable fuels, each camper received a chocolate chip cookie and was asked to “mine out” the chocolate “coal” using a toothpick. Campers feverishly mined out the chocolate chips and piled up their chocolate energy. Before they could eat the chocolate, they had to put the earth – or in this case, the cookie – back just like they found it, minus the energy-rich chocolate coal. What the campers found out was that mining or drilling out non-renewable energy can be devastating to the planet and can also make crumbs out of a pretty yummy cookie.

After seeing the damage done to the chocolate chip cookie, campers understood the value of using more renewable resources, such as hydro- and wind-power, and that all of these are tied to the sun. Examining sunny spots using a radiometer helped the kids determine that solar energy is easiest to obtain outside on sunny days.

Campers were fortunate that they had about two hours of afternoon sun to help heat their solar ovens, so they used their building time wisely and began working on converting cereal boxes into ovens. They insulated the boxes with dark-colored paper to hold heat, and then lined all the flat areas inside the box and a large flap cut from the box with shiny aluminum foil to reflect sunlight. Though it might seem like building the oven was a lot of work, the campers enjoyed every minute. Ben Lienonen, a nine-year-old from Atlantic Mine, exclaimed to a friend, “This is so fun!” as he glued his solar panel together.

Finally, campers put their ovens to work. After placing chocolate chips in small aluminum bowls and covering the lid with plastic wrap to create a greenhouse effect, campers carefully chose sunny spots on the lawn to catch the most light. After about ten minutes, the campers’ ovens had melted three bags of chocolate chips, enough to make oatmeal cookies for the entire camp, without using one-cent’s worth of coal, oil or nuclear power! Before camp, only three campers had ever seen a solar panel, but thanks to 4-H camp, 45 more youth now understand that harnessing solar power isn’t just science – it’s fun and tastes great!

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