Jul. 28, 2011

Engineering the Earth: Exploring Wind Energy

by Girlstart

Wind is one important source of alternative energy. In this activity, kids create their own wind turbine and attach it to a Hot Wheels Car. Then they can use a fan to power the turbines so their cars can move!

Wind is a great alternate to fuel since fuel pollutes the air and is nonrenewable. Because wind is a renewable energy source, we will never run out! However, as the girls at Girlstart discovered from testing their own cars, there are some cons to powering a car with wind. The wind doesn’t always blow and when it does it may not always blow in the direction you need your car to go. You can view the full lesson on Girlstart’s Web site at

• Identify and classify Earth’s renewable resources, including air, plants, water, and animals; and nonrenewable resources, including coal, oil, and natural gas; and the importance of conservation.
• Identify alternative energy resources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biofuels.
• Differentiate among forms of energy, including mechanical, sound, electrical, light, and heat/thermal.
• Explore the uses of energy, including mechanical, light, thermal, electrical, and sound energy.

Key Concepts and Vocabulary:
Turbine - any of various types of machines in which the kinetic energy of a moving fluid (steam, water, or air) is converted into mechanical energy my causing a bladed rotor to rotate

Mechanical energy - energy used to create motion

Renewable Resource - resources that nature produces over and over

• Engineer’s Journal
• Heavy duty paper plates – at least 9’ (at least 1 per group)
• Straws
• Pencils
• Jumbo paperclips
• Duct tape
• Clear tape
• Xacto knife (for teacher use only)
• Washers (option 2 of the Elaboration activity)
• Blank pieces of cardstock
• Stopwatch (1 per group)
• Toy cars –Hot Wheels (an assortment for each group to choose from)
Turbine Template*– copied on cardstock (at least 2 per group)
Exploring Wind Energy Results (1 per student to tape in Engineer’s Journal – optional)
Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind Energy cards* (1 set per student)
Wind Turbines on a Wind Farm posters* (1 per group)

*templates and cards available as part of the full lesson on our Web site at

• Copy Exploring Wind Energy Results for each student.
• Copy and cut out Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind Energy cards for each student. Place in plastic bags to pass out to students.
• Make color copies of the Wind Turbines on a Wind Farm posters for each group.
• Copy turbine template on cardstock. Cut out turbines. Draw four lines through the center to divide the circle into 8 equal sections. Make cuts along each line, being sure to stop at the center circle. Cut along the slits in the center of the turbine. Punch a hole large enough for a straw to fit through.

Wind Energy Engineers design wind farm collector systems and analyze operations of wind farms. They create models to determine layouts of wind farm roads, structures, and equipment. Wind energy engineers also ensure that wind farms are constructed properly and have little impact on the environment.

1. Place a toy car on a flat surface. Ask students to suggest ways to make it move without touching it. Ideas may include attaching a motor or knocking something into it. Ask:
If this were a real car, what would give it power? Gasoline (fossil fuels)
Are there some other alternative resources we could use that are renewable? Students may be most familiar with solar energy.
2. Explain that students will be using wind to power a toy car.

1. Organize students into groups of two. Students will create a wind turbine car that uses wind energy to move forward.
2. Let each group select a vehicle from a box of toy cars. Guide students through the process of creating a wind turbine car. Each student can create and test their own turbine using the group’s car.
3. Give each group a straw. Cut the straw to make it 10 cm long.
4. Give each group a turbine circle. Students will draw four lines through the center that divide the circle into eight equal pieces. (Skip this step if done prior to the lesson.)
5. Students will make cuts along the lines being sure to stop at the center circle.
6. Students then fold the outer corner of each blade inward to create a flap that is perpendicular to the blade. Fold all blades in the same way.
7. Students will gently push the straw through the back of the hole in the circle with the folded blades facing away. Leave about 1 cm of straw sticking through the opposite side. Tape the circle to the straw to secure it in place.
8. Straighten a paperclip and place the straw over the paperclip.
9. Set the car on a flat, smooth surface. Use a heavy duty paper plate to fan the turbine on the back of the toy car. Students will need to adjust the angle of the paper clip and the strength of their fanning to make the car move forward. Give students time to successfully propel their cars forward and to improve the speed and the accuracy of the direction.

1. Ask each group to demonstrate moving their car. Discuss any differences between each group.
2. What other work can wind energy help us do? Wind can provide energy for sailing and flying kites.
3. What does air need in order to move and create wind? Wind is air in motion and a form of solar energy. Winds are caused by uneven heating of the Earth’s atmosphere by the sun.
4. What do engineers build to generate electricity with wind? Engineers design and build wind turbines. Show the examples of wind turbines using the Wind Turbines on a Wind Farm posters.
5. Where might you see wind turbines? Wind speed varies throughout the United States and from season to season. Wind plant owners must plan very carefully where they build wind farms. Good sites for wind farms include the tops of smooth, rounded hills, open plains or shorelines, and mountain gaps that produce wind funneling.
6. How might you improve the speed and distance your car travels? Answers will vary.

1. Give each group a set of Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind Energy cards. Students will consider the facts that are advantages and disadvantages of generating and using wind energy.
Option1: Students will read each of their cards and discuss and share their ideas. Students sort the cards into one of the two categories.
Option 2: The teacher will read each card to the class as the students follow along in their groups. Students sort the cards into one of the two categories.
2. Discuss students’ answers as a class, and discuss their ideas about what they have learned.
3. Discuss whether students think people should rely more on wind energy based on what they now know.

Energy Kids: Wind

How Wind Turbines Work

Download a pdf of this lesson plan >>

Girlstart is an award-winning Austin-based non-profit organization dedicated to empowering girls in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

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