Gatewood is embracing a unique outdoor learning opportunity: next fall, HEF is funding the construction of a permanent dome oven from straw bales, sand, clay, and bricks. The oven, 5’ tall and 3’ in diameter, will begin as a hands-on Engineering Learning Project for student teams guided by a professional craftsman, and then live on as a weekly teaching tool, accessible to the entire school for many years to come. Younger students will be “buddied” with older students to participate together and learn about the various cultures that use this type of oven, as well as the science behind thermal insulation.
By October, the oven will be complete and ready for cooking autumn vegetables harvested from the school garden. Students will also learn to make bread, with pizza-making a tasty goal. The oven will be started up on a weekly or biweekly basis, for use by multiple classes on the same day. Quarterly, the school will use the oven and its bounty to enhance family engagement nights. Annually, students will be invited to help with the fun and simple job of re-plastering the oven. This project offers students the opportunity to learn through doing, and in the long-term, connects the school with its wider community.
The earthen oven is a safe, tried and true cooking device. It absorbs heat from the fire, which radiates back onto the food as it cooks; the inside gets very hot but the outside remains gently warm. Although this will be one of the first of these ovens in Minnesota, schools in California have built and used them for some time. A small wooden pergola will also be constructed to protect the oven from the elements.