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Activity Time: 90 minutes


Jen Annoni


This activity provides students with an overview of the concepts involved in designing, building, and flying a small glider. Our ultimate goal is that students discover the logic of flight by experimenting.


  1. Introduce the concept of energy to students. (10 min)
  2. Ask the students to sketch out their wind turbine design. (15 min)
  3. Each team designs and tests their turbine. (45 min)
  4. Discussion on what went well and what didn’t go well with their design (5 min)
  5. Implement changes based on the discussion and test their new design (15 min)

Brief Description:

This activity engages students in the engineering concepts of designing, building, and testing model wind turbines. The first part of this activity is getting the students to think about how they use energy on a daily basis and how energy is produced. We motivate the need for wind energy by briefly talking about fossil fuels and climate change. The next part of this activity involves students dividing into groups of 2 and brainstorming how they might construct their model turbine and what materials they might use. Here, it is important to emphasize the design phase of this project. Their overall objective for this activity is to design a turbine with blades that can spin when placed in front of a fan. After completing their design, the students will build and test their turbines using the materials provided (wooden dowels, clay, popsicle sticks, etc.). Once they have had time to build and test their design, bring the students together to discuss what worked and what did not work. Finally, the students are able to implement their final changes based on their discussion and final tests are conducted with their model turbine. If time permits, a bucket of pennies (or other items) can be attached to the model turbines to determine how much weight the turbine can lift. The students can use this to see how much power their turbine produces.


Related Research

This activity is related to the research on wind turbines at the Eolos Wind Energy Consortium at the University of Minnesota (UMN). Research is being done at UMN to improve the efficiency of turbines and increase their lifetime. Eolos has a 2.5 MW utility-scale turbine (pictured above) that is used to conduct experiments to better understand the interactions between wind turbines and their environment. This activity gives students the opportunity to engineer a model turbine and understand the fundamental physics driving wind energy.