Engineering Design – Wind Turbines

Exploring Renewables through Engineering Design – Wind Turbines

Building teacher capacity is always the number one driver for improving student outcomes. There is plenty of research, best known through the meta-studies of John Hattie, that education authorities across the globe have called upon to inform strategic directions and professional learning at local school levels.

This year I’m team teaching hands-on science with all of our K-6 staff to build capacity. This capacity could be in developing teacher confidence with inquiry-based design and make activities, enhancing science content awareness, or management and organisational strategies that enable a respectful and challenging learning space.

These lessons are over two days timetables a week apart, and importantly, have built in time for teacher reflection at the end of each session. Our leadership team has made a resource commitment to fund casual relief to enable sustained 1:1 reflection time immediately at the completion of the class session.

The essentials of this project are to collaboratively, in teams of two, prototype and make cardboard turbine blades that attach to a dowel and into a hub. The hub is placed onto a small generator and with a desk/floor fan provided with a ‘wind’ supply. If designed well and feathered (angles) correctly, the turbine blades spin and generate a small amount of voltage.

This project uses the ‘Kidwind’ set which is well known in the US where it originated. I purchased additional kits in Australia. More info on the equipment follows below.

I like these examples of design and make activities, as students respond to the physical, tactile process of making. I use the TMI process of Think-Make-Improve and want the students to engage emotionally with the task, and to graft in the process of ‘hard fun’ as Seymour Papert coined it. A paper on ‘Hard Fun’, can be found here.

The wind turbine activity can be backwards mapped into a number of strands and outcomes in the revised NSW K-10 Science Syllabus that will be formally implemented in 2019. The working technologically strand is now more appropriately termed design and production. In terms of content, there is scope to explore material and physical world outcomes across a number of stages and especially stage two and three. This two-page pdf summarises the revised strands and outcomes.

The sessions are run with a stage two (9-10yrs) age group and stage three would also be appropriate. In introducing the challenge and topic I purposely did not want to give too much away in the idea of turbine design. I had the class compare and contrast an image of an old rusty windmill and a modern turbine and discussed possible uses and operation, including the purpose of the spinning blades and possible sources of energy, both in and out, of the turbine.

I then set the challenge of making a working turbine using dowel, cardboard, tape and hub. The first challenge was simply to get the turbine moving. In session two the challenge was to generate a consistent voltage.

Then things got messy; as they should in an inquiry learning space! Lots of talking, reminders on collaboration and communication, the trialling of turbines. Cardboard and tape everywhere and a sense of student energy and focus. Groups came up to test their initial iterations – some were quite efficient and smooth from the outset, others had out of balance hubs with incorrectly spaced blades, while the blade designes themselves ranged from efficient, to too long, narrow, heavy or small.

After a shared reflection and discussion of successes, challenges and misconceptions, because after all the students are scientists, mathematicians and communicators in this learning moment, the students returned to construction.

In week two we connected a multimeter to the generator to measure mV output and this added a sense of competition. Turbines that produced a higher average voltage were well balanced with similar individual blades.

The takeaways from this activity included –

1. a strong sense of student engagement in and with the task

2. a persistence and commitment to achieve engineering design success through many iterations

3. evidence of teamwork, respect and the strong use of scientific metalanguage in group talk.

During teacher reflection time we talked about the structure of the task, teacher talk used and teacher modelled language, student support and how much to give and time management; which to me is one of the biggest challenges for many teachers.

The kit used was the Kidwind Basic available in Australia from  and from Kidwind outside.

While only one base kit is needed I have found it very helpful to buy multiple hubs (1 every 2/3 students) and dowels (up to five each team). This allows each team to have their own hub for the entire process. if students have to share hubs for testing, they become frustrated with having to remove their blades. The time management process is complicated.

Think – Make –  Improve!

Sussex Inlet PS Rocket Club Mission One – reflection

Pop Rockets

Well its been a little over three months since I attended the Honeywell Space Academy for Educators program at the US Space and Rocket Centre in Alabama, a detailed review is a few posts below. One of the highlights was exploring how elementary students can be safely introduced to space exploration and the science behind it through a rocketry based curriculum.

On my return I established an after school rocket club targetted at a small group of eight upper primary students who expressed interest in participating. I was looking to pilot a five week program that stepped students through a range of theory and practical lessons using rocketry as the means of creating, stimulating, encourage interest in science and math related curriculum.

I based my program on the NASA Rockets Educators Guide and the Victorian Space Science and Education Centre’s Rocketry for Kids Resource along with numerous videos including Apollo, Ares and the private SpaceX consortium.

The students stepped through the following sequence;

Week 1 – Rocket history, space links, basic physics, balloon rocket construction, test and redesign, mission patch

Week 2 – Ares Rocket development, SpaceX, design and fly pop rockets (bicarb soda and alka seltzer)

Week 3 -Estes models rockets, flight trajectory, apogee, build Estes Alpha kit rocket

Week 4 – Launch day( what it’s all about!), fly A and B engine models.

Week 5 – Review course, fly C engine rocket and complete mission patch

The kids greatly enjoyed the design and make process and and off course firing the models gave everyone a huge buzz. I’ve considered a bottle rocket component and will include this activity when I can build a suitable safe and reliable launcher.

One of the important features of the investigate, design, make process that is often overlooked  in classrooms due to time is the importance of redesign and retest. It is through this process that critical thinking and analysis takes place and leads to improved design outcomes.

The course will run again next term  with a new group and again I’ll take their feedback and refine. So far, so good and I hope we have gained a few more students heading into high school with an enthusiasm and energy for science and math related study and careers.

Building Alpha Rockets On the launchpad! Launching