Hands-on Activity: Wind Energy
Educational Standards :
Learning Objectives (Return to Contents)
After this activity, students should be able to:
Materials List (Return to Contents)
Each student should have:
Introduction/Motivation (Return to Contents)
Engineers study the processes of the Earth to figure out how we can get energy to light up and heat our homes. Wind is a powerful force that can be used to produce energy. It is a renewable energy source, which means it can be used again and again without ever using it up. Another great thing about wind is that it does not emit any pollutants like fossil fuels emit. So, in essence, wind is Earth friendly!
How do engineers harness the wind? Have you ever seen a windmill? What does it look like? Well, engineers design machines called wind turbines that look a little like a windmill.
You may have seen wind farms or wind turbines in open fields or in bodies of water. They most often resemble tall, white pinwheels on a stick. A turbine has several parts (see Figure 1), the blades are connected to a gear box, which makes it spin faster and is connected to the generator. As the wind blows, the blades of the turbines spin, which turns a generator that creates electricity for our use. A turbine also has a brake in case the wind starts blowing too fast. Water turbines work in a similar way, except they use water instead of wind.
Today, we are going explore a pinwheel to model a wind turbine. We are going to make a part of a wind turbine (the blades). When the blades of a turbine turn in the wind, they make the generator turn, which then creates electricity.
Procedure (Return to Contents)
Before the Activity
With the Students
Making the Turbine
Testing the Wind Turbine/Pinwheel
Attachments (Return to Contents)
Safety Issues (Return to Contents)
Remind students that thumb tacks are sharp, and they should only press their tacks into their pinwheel handles (not into the furniture or, especially, into each other!).
Troubleshooting Tips (Return to Contents)
This activity should be done on a windy/breezy day. If the weather is not cooperating and the day is still, students can blow at their pinwheel, turning it at the different angles.
If their pinwheels do not turn very well, try using store bought pinwheels for the testing portion.
Assessment (Return to Contents)
KWL Chart: Pass out the Wind Energy KWL Chart. Ask students to write down in the "Know" column what they already know about energy created by wind. Hint: Think windmills.
Activity Embedded Assessment
KWL Chart: Have students record what they would like to know about how their wind turbine will work under the "Want to Know" column of the KWL chart. Solicit student responses.
Worksheet: Have students complete the Pinwheel Worksheet (attached).
Post Activity Assessment
KWL Chart: Have students record what they have learned under the "Learned" column of their KWL charts. Would they change anything on their wind turbine if they built it again? Solicit responses, clarify, and record answers on the board.
Communicating Directions: One very important task of engineers is to record their designs so that they may be duplicated. Have students write up the experiment. Be sure they include everything they need and everything they did. They should clearly write down each step in simple sentences — in a logical sequential order — so that others may understand their directions/steps.
Have the student read through their directions exactly as they have written them. (You can also have the students trade their directions with their neighbor and read each other's for understanding.) Do they find any mistakes or vague steps? Can they complete the task from what is written down? Or you can take one or two of the sets of directions as examples and demonstrate them in front of the class. Make sure the students do exactly what they have written down. Often students skip steps when writing down directions and the desired action cannot be completed. This is good for stressing the importance of precise procedures in engineering and science design and experimentation.
Activity Extensions (Return to Contents)
How does the size of a blade on a wind turbine affect its performance? Students can explore this topic by varying the sizes of paper that they use to create their pinwheels. Try creating pinwheels out of three different sized squares and have the class calculate the area of each square of paper before building their wind turbines. With the class, discuss how different sizes perform!
References (Return to Contents)
ContributorsJessica Todd, Melissa Straten, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
Copyright© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Supporting Program (Return to Contents)Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Acknowledgements (Return to Contents)
The contents of this digital library curriculum were developed under a grant from the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE), U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation GK-12 grant no. 0338326. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the Department of Education or National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.