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        As the Rotor Turns: Wind Power and You

        An Investigation of Wind Power as an Energy Resource in Pennsylvania

        Lesson Summary


        Engineers of the future, step forth! Students will 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).

        Content Objectives

        Students will know that

        • Wind is an important form of energy because it is clean, safe and perpetually renewable.
        • Modern technology has improved blade design based on already successful technology of aircraft propellers and aircraft wings to increase the efficiency of wind turbines.
        • There are geographic, social and economic constraints affecting the placement and viability of wind farms.

        Process Objectives

        Students will be able to

        • Describe how wind is generated by the uneven solar heating of the earth.
        • Analyze the transformations of energy involved in electricity generation by wind machines.
        • Demonstrate how electricity is generated using a wind power generation device of their own construction and evaluation.
        • Discuss how the design of wind turbine components is related to the power it generates.

        Assessment Strategies

        • Evidence of student understanding based on completion of written handout materials.
        • Participation in classroom and small group discussions.
        • Evaluation of student design and construction of table-top wind turbines.

        Grade Level: 6-8

        Suggested Time

        Three to four (3-4)- 50 minute class periods.


        Part 1:

        Parts 2 and 3:

        • Pennsylvania map (paper or electronic: if electronic, you will need a teacher computer and projection equipment)

        Per Group

        • Kidwind Basic PVC Wind Turbine Kit or comparable resources to build a table top wind machine (detailed list included on page 4 of the student handout )
        • Multimeter
        • Desktop-sized fan
        • Blade materials (variable-student determined)
        • As the Rotor Turns Student Handout PDF Document

        Multimedia Resources

        Bear Creek Wind Farm Tour

        Video Separate from the Tour

        Sequence 1: Wind Turbine Specifications and Construction

        Sequence 2:Capacity Factor

        Additional Resources

        Below are some websites that provide useful information related to this lesson's topic.

        The American Wind Energy Association
        This Web site has a well-written section of FAQ's as well as references to more technical applications of wind energy.

        The National Renewable Energy Laboratory
        This site for the U.S. Department of Energy's lab for renewable energy research and development includes many links to other sites and activities. This lesson's directions for building wind turbines were adapted from this site.

        This site is provided by the Pembina Institute in Canada, which describes itself as a non-profit think tank and activist organization. It features backgrounders on renewable energy and technology, as well as detailed construction plans for renewable energy models, including a complex wind turbine model suitable for high school science projects.

        Wind Power
        This April 5, 2001 segment from THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER discusses business and legislative aspects of the wind power industry.
        The Danish Wind Energy Association has produced an excellent site listing information, activities, and a FAQ. It has a special section entitled, "Wind with Miller" that focuses on explanations and activities for students.

        Renewable Energy Glossary

        The Lesson

        Part I: Filling Our Sails: Where Does Wind Come From? (1-50 minute Class Period, Homework)

        1. Before students begin construction of their table-top wind turbines, allow them to go outdoors and make and record some observations in pairs about the current on page 1 of the

        As the Rotor Turns Student Handout PDF Document

        2. Return students to the classroom to elicit their ideas about how wind is generated.

        3. After hearing a few student responses to the question, “How is wind created?” discuss the formation of wind currents with students using a simulation from The Danish Wind Energy site, under the “Wind” tab or at Penn State Erie’s “Renewable Energy Field Trips”

        4. Allow students to work in small groups to recapitulate their explanation of what is happening in the simulation of wind currents forming and prompt them to make additional notes from their group discussion on page 1 of the student handout or in any lab journals used in your classroom.

        5. Reconvene to wrap-up the class period by sharing and clarifying observations.

        6. Assign reading of “Power in the Wind…A Simple Look” [page 2 in the student handout] for homework.

        Part II: The Power Equation and Wind as an Energy Resource (30 minutes)

        7. Review the power equation included in the reading and explain that engineers designing and developing wind turbines face the same challenges that they will in upcoming class periods as they construct a table-top wind turbine.

        8. Show students a Pennsylvania map and allow them to assist you in finding the Bear Creek site near Wilkes-Barre, PA .

        9. Share the first set of video segments, Wind Turbine Specifications and Construction, of the Bear Creek Wind Farm tour with the class (approx. 6 minutes, in 6 segments).

        Foundation QuickTime Video

        Building the Road QuickTime Video

        Bringing in Parts QuickTime Video

        Specs and Process QuickTime Video

        Blade onto Tower QuickTime Video

        Environmental Concerns QuickTime Video

        10. Gather students’ thoughts on the video and make a list or concept map of student ideas about wind as a renewable resource for producing electricity on the board. Concerns to include may be environmental, political, and economic.

        11. If time allows, break students into groups for wind turbine construction that begins in Part III.

        Part III: The Construction and Evaluation of a Wind Turbine (2-3 50 minute Class Periods)

        12. Put students up to the task of building their own table-top wind turbine by working through Part 3 of the student handout (begins on page 3). This section is materials-intensive and it may be useful to invite students to gather and bring in materials in advance if you are not ordering wind turbine building kits for the lesson.

        13. Before students move on to Steps 4-6 of Part 3, share the second set of Bear Creek video segments, Capacity Factor, to think about wind turbine design and the factors that affect power production (approximately 4 minutes, 4 segments).

        Topography QuickTime Video

        Turbine Production QuickTime Video

        Turbine Type and Specs QuickTime Video

        Power Grid QuickTime Video

        14. Set students free to work through Steps 4 and 5 to get blades on their wind turbines and do some initial testing.

        15. Once all student groups have had an opportunity to make certain that their blades are secure and that their turbine is worthy of producing power, demonstrate the procedure for measuring the power output of a turbine for the class.

        16. Allow teams to proceed through Step 6 of the student handout to calculate the amount of power their individual turbines are producing.

        17. Share out teams’ results and discuss students’ beliefs about how the power output for the wind turbines could be improved.

        18. Allow student teams to decide whether they would like to explore wind speed or blade design and assist them in designing experiments (Step 7) to collect data about their claims. (If you would prefer to have students work through a more structured experiment with their turbines, please see’s curricular materials section for lessons entitled, “Wind Power Curves” and “Wind Blade Design.”)


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