Students learn about wind energy by making a pinwheel to model a wind turbine. Just like engineers, they decide where and how their turbine works best by testing it in different areas of the playground.
Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.
All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standard Network (ASN), a project of JES & Co. (www.jesandco.org).
In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.
Click on the standard groupings to explore this hierarchy as it applies to this document.
- Colorado: Math
- Represent and interpret data. (Grade 5)  ...show
- Colorado: Science
- c. Describe the energy transformation that takes place in electrical circuits where light, heat, sound, and magnetic effects are produced (Grade 4)  ...show
- d. Use multiple resources - including print, electronic, and human - to locate information about different sources of renewable and nonrenewable energy (Grade 4)  ...show
- Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Math
- 3. Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems. For example, find the width of a rectangular room given the area of the flooring and the length, by viewing the area formula as a multiplication equation with an unknown factor. (Grade 4)  ...show
- International Technology and Engineering Educators Association: Technology
- C. Energy comes in different forms. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Next Generation Science Standards: Science
- Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. (Grades 3 - 5)  ...show
- Understand different sources of energy and that wind is a renewable energy source.
- Understand how a wind turbine works.
- Understand how engineers work to monitor wind and design technology to capitalize on wind energy.
- Understand how to use angles and which angles are best for wind turbines.
Before the Activity
With the Students
- 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.
- Discuss with students the ways in which we get energy. (Answers: the Sun, the wind, water, fossil fuels and nuclear power plants)
- Explain to students that they will be exploring a pinwheel to model a wind turbine. Ask the students if they have ever seen a wind turbine (tell them they are similar to windmills).
- Explain to students what a wind turbine is, how it works and why we use it. Tell them that they will be making part of a wind turbine (the blades). Explain to students that when the blades turn in the wind, they make the generator turn, which then creates electricity.
- Pass out the materials to build the wind turbine/pinwheel. Students should work individually (or may work in pairs if desired).
- For the pinwheel handle, students may use a pencil or glue (or tape) two Popsicle®/craft sticks together end to end. If using Popsicle®/craft sticks, set aside to dry.
- Pass out the Pinwheel Template. Students should follow the directions listed in the Instructions.
- If time permits, students can color their pinwheels. Explain that they will be folding the corners over, so both sides of the paper will be seen.
- Have students poke their straight pin through all four corners of the paper (in order of lowest to highest number) and then through the center of the paper (position #5). Then, affix the paper blades — with the straight pin poked into the #5 position on the blades — to the eraser of the pencil or to one end of the Popsicle®/craft sticks.
- Discuss with the students that engineers must test everything they build to determine how well it works. Now the students will test the conditions in which their wind turbine will work the best. Discuss the factors that effect how well the turbine works. (Answers: the strength of the wind, direction of the wind and actual construction quality of the wind turbine.) Ask them where they think the wind is the strongest. (Answer: low to the ground or high up) Ask the students in what direction they should point their pinwheel. (Answer: into the wind, at an angle to the wind or away from the wind)
- 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. (They can use the questions discussed above.)
- Pass out a Pinwheel Worksheet to each student.
- Take the students outside with their pinwheels and worksheets, and have the students face their pinwheels into the wind. What happens? (The pinwheels should turn.) What happens if the students turn their pinwheels at different angles to the wind? Have them turn 90 degrees and 180 degrees. Have students record their findings on their worksheets.
- Have students test the pinwheel low to the ground, then try somewhere higher (a hill near the school or a playground structure), and record their findings.
- Regroup and have students complete the remaining worksheet questions.
- Next, have them 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? Can they think of anything that would improve the design of their wind turbines? Solicit responses, clarify, and record answers on the board.
- Remind students that 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 so that others may understand their directions/steps.
Activity Embedded Assessment
Post Activity Assessment
Jessica Todd, Melissa Straten, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Janet Yowell
© 2004 by Regents of the University of Colorado.
Integrated Teaching and Learning Program, College of Engineering, University of Colorado Boulder
Last modified: February 4, 2016