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As the Rotor Turns: Wind Power and You

Teachers' Domain , WGBH Educational Foundation

In this hands-on engineering activity, students 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.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

Grade Level

Activity could easily adapted and modified for high school students.

Energy Literacy

This Activity builds on the following concepts of Energy Literacy.

Click a topic below for supporting information, teaching ideas, and sample activities.

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

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

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

  • Danish Wind Industry's Coriolis Force link does not work, but the Industry Association's website is available here: http://windpower.org/en/
  • Educators may want to address the origins of wind, wind as a renewable energy resource, and the physics behind wind power generation.
  • Hardware/home improvement stores may be willing to donate some 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, which is helpful for those teaching with the Next Generation Science Standards.
  • 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? These energy statistics are changing rapidly, so be sure to seek up-to-date information.
  • 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

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