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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»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 11 Cross Cutting Concepts, 8 Science and Engineering Practices


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.

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

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Cross Cutting Concepts: 11

Systems and System Models, Energy and Matter, Structure and Function, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect, Scale, Proportion and Quantity

MS-C1.2: Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural and human designed systems

MS-C1.4:Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

MS-C3.1:Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small.

MS-C3.4:Scientific relationships can be represented through the use of algebraic expressions and equations.

MS-C4:Systems and System Models

MS-C5.2: Within a natural or designed system, the transfer of energy drives the motion and/or cycling of matter.

MS-C5.3:Energy may take different forms (e.g. energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion).

MS-C5.4:The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system.

MS-C6.2:Structures can be designed to serve particular functions by taking into account properties of different materials, and how materials can be shaped and used.

MS-C7.2: Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part.

Science and Engineering Practices: 8

Developing and Using Models, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions, Engaging in Argument from Evidence, Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, Asking Questions and Defining Problems

MS-P1.8:Define a design problem that can be solved through the development of an object, tool, process or system and includes multiple criteria and constraints, including scientific knowledge that may limit possible solutions.

MS-P2.2:Develop or modify a model— based on evidence – to match what happens if a variable or component of a system is changed.

MS-P3.5:Collect data about the performance of a proposed object, tool, process or system under a range of conditions.

MS-P4.8:Analyze data to define an optimal operational range for a proposed object, tool, process or system that best meets criteria for success.

MS-P5.5:Use digital tools and/or mathematical concepts and arguments to test and compare proposed solutions to an engineering design problem.

MS-P6.8:Optimize performance of a design by prioritizing criteria, making tradeoffs, testing, revising, and re- testing.

MS-P7.5:Evaluate competing design solutions based on jointly developed and agreed-upon design criteria.

MS-P8.5:Communicate scientific and/or technical information (e.g. about a proposed object, tool, process, system) in writing and/or through oral presentations.

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