What's in that box?


In first grade my teacher, Ms. McDonald, came to class one day armed with a big cardboard box that was so big one of us could have fit inside it. We went quiet as we were all guessing what was inside and what this was all about. Ms. McDonald opened the box and pulled out another box that was white and had a rounded shape. That box turned out to be made of styrofoam, which I couldn’t pronounce yet, and there were actually two of them in the larger box. I did not know what to think yet but my curiosity had me leaning forward to see what came next.
Each side of the classroom was divided and so we went into groups and either group had its own box. Ms. McDonald went to assist the other group and my group had a teacher’s helper (I think they are called TA’s now) to give us the guidance we needed for our project.
We all got handouts and the mysterious box that could be anything was finally unveiled. We were making ovens! Ms. McDonald gave each side a kit with aluminum foil, a corded incandescent light bulb, masking tape and a small metal tray. We lined the inside of the box with foil and did the same to the underside of the lid. The helper cut a hole in the back of the box for the cord to pass through and we mounted the bulb inside with a small slab of clay and then tested it to see if it lit up. It lit up and the reflection upon reflection within the box made us shield our eyes momentarily until the light went back off. We then added the tray after the helper cut a ridge into the side of the box for it to slide inside.
When each group was done we were disappointed because class was already over and we did not get to cook anything. Before we could all go to our cubbies, Ms. McDonald told us: “I want each of you to bring in an apple or a potato tomorrow for us to test out our new ovens.”
The next day, every single one of us had either an apple or potato; we all participated because it was so much fun. We wrapped all of them up in foil and piled them inside our newly made ovens.
We all got our own spoons and butter, cinnamon and raisins and brown sugar. We had a blast (and made a mess) making our own concoctions with the fresh, warm fruits of our labor…literally. Our names were marked on our apples and potatoes on the foil and we were each given back the one we had brought in.
Ms. McDonald gathered us together in a circle and told us about how hot the potatoes and apples in front of us were and that you could tell that by the smoke (it was really steam but we called it smoke) coming off the top. We had to blow and blow and blow to make sure we did not burn our hands or mouths but when we finally cooled them down we were chowing down and no one was talking. I remember I had a potato and I ate the skin even though I did not really like skin that much. I ate it because I had made it myself and it had more value as a result.
The entire lesson was hands-on and that is what made it so effective and memorable. In each step of the process we were included and had a role to play. We worked together and had fun, and we got to eat when our work was done. I learned so much not only about cooking but about science, electronics and design from those two days, even as a 5 year old boy.
What I remember most of all is the feeling I had when I realized this was the first meal I ever cooked and how empowering that was. ‘I can cook’ I thought, ‘this is cool’.
The way I learn is by doing and that is why this lesson is such a good example of showing how I learn. By building an oven I learned many things I just couldn’t have grasped at that age in any other way.