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As the Rotor Turns: Wind Power and You

Teachers' Domain , WGBH Educational Foundation

In this hands-on engineering activity, students will build a tabletop wind turbine. Students get acquainted with the basics of wind energy and power production by fabricating and testing various blade designs for table-top windmills constructed from one-inch PVC pipe and balsa wood (or recycled materials). The activity includes lots of good media and Web resources supporting the science content.

Activity takes about three to four 50-minute class periods. Additional materials necessary.

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Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»


Atmospheric Composition
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Wind Energy
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Grade Level

Middle (6-8)
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Activity could easily adapted and modified for high school students.

Energy Literacy

Power is a measure of energy transfer rate.
Other materials addressing:
1.8 Power.
Human use of energy is subject to limits and constraints.
Other materials addressing:
4.2 Human use of energy is subject to limits and constraints.
Different sources of energy and the different ways energy can be transformed, transported and stored each have different benefits and drawbacks.
Other materials addressing:
4.7 Different sources of energy have different benefits and drawbacks.
Earth's weather and climate is mostly driven by energy from the Sun.
Other materials addressing:
2.3 Earth's climate driven by the Sun.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.4 Environment and Society:D) Technology
Other materials addressing:
D) Technology.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

Energy from the sun (and the wind and water energy derived from it) is available indefinitely. Because the transfer of energy from these resources is weak and variable, systems are needed to collect and concentrate the energy.
Explore the map of concepts related to this benchmark

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • Website of Danish Wind Energy that is used in first part of activity is not available, educator will have to teach this science piece using different materials.
  • Educators need to address the origins of wind, wind as a renewable energy resource, and the physics behind wind power generation.
  • Many hardware/home improvement stores are willing to donate much of the materials needed for this activity.

About the Science

  • Well designed hands-on activity where students construct a wind turbine, use experimentation to find an efficient design, and measure the energy produced by the wind.
  • Activity is very engineering-focused and offers little science content. To provide scaffolding around the larger picture science questions, the educator might have to fill with additional materials: What causes wind? What are the pros and cons of wind energy? How much of the energy mix used in the US is wind? How much could it possibly be?
  • Lots of supporting videos and reference materials given.
  • Comments from expert scientist: The plan takes students through the major components of a wind energy conversion system, with the turbine build activity and many resources based on the KidWind organization’s project materials. ( KidWind is a fairly well-known and respected entity for hands-on wind power projects so it should be fine in this lesson plan)

About the Pedagogy

  • Well-designed activity with a lot of pictures on the worksheet that will help with the construction of the wind turbines.
  • Building and testing the wind turbines and the supporting videos will engage students of different learning styles like hands-on, kinesthetic learners who may not perform well on traditional tests.
  • Assessment strategies are strong for the engineering part, but might have to be strengthened for the big picture understanding of wind energy.
  • Students will need support from educator when building the wind turbines.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • Educator will either have to purchase the windmill kit (min $30 per turbine) or gather or purchase the materials (PVC piping, balsa wood, recycled materials).

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