This lesson is designed for physical science, earth science, or environmental science classrooms, grades 9-12. Middle school science teachers may also find this lesson helpful.
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
Related National Standards
Standard 9: Understands the sources and properties of energy
Standard 10: Understands forces and motion
Level IV, Benchmark 1
Level IV, Benchmark 8
Nature of Science
Standard 12: Understands the nature of scientific inquiry
Level IV, Benchmark 2
Level IV, Benchmark 5
Standard 13: Understands the scientific enterprise
Level IV, Benchmark 6 Knows that creativity, imagination, and a good knowledge base are all required in the work of science and engineering
Estimated Time to Complete Lesson
One to three 90-minute block periods, depending upon which parts of the lesson you do in class and which are done at home
Parts Two and Three
Each classroom will need:
Each student group will need:
Wind is caused by atmospheric pressure changes that occur because the sun heats air in some areas more than others. For more information on how wind forms, including some helpful graphics illustrating how air pressure differences start the wind blowing, see USA TODAY's Weather Basics section on Understanding Winds (http://www.usatoday.com/weather/wwind0.htm).
The power of wind energy can be harnessed to generate electricity. To make electricity, the shaft of a wind turbine is connected to an electrical generator at the top of the turbine's pole or tower. The generator converts the mechanical energy of the spinning turbine shaft to electricity and sends that energy down the tower along wires to a power grid or energy storage area. See the NOW Web site's close-up of a wind turbine for additional detail on how they work. The Related Resources section of this lesson plan also lists Web sites rich with information on wind turbines and wind energy in general.
This lesson plan outlines an inquiry-based activity that helps students discover the basics of wind power technology by building and refining a wind turbine. In addition, students examine the concept of renewable energy, identify the benefits and drawbacks of wind power, and compare its costs and impact on the environment with other energy sources.
Assumed Student Prior Knowledge
Part One: What Is Wind Power and How Can It Be Used?
1. Have the students brainstorm a list of ways we can generate electricity. List student ideas where the class can see them. Then, ask students to examine the list and decide:
3. Next, show the approximately 8-minute long in-depth NOW with BILL MOYERS story on wind power. To focus student viewing, ask students to watch for answers to the following questions:
Part Two: Building a Wind Turbine
1. Explain to students that they will work together to build a simple wind-powered turbine. Let them know that groups that design the most effective wind turbines will receive a prize.
2. Divide students into groups of three or four. Try to make each group as homogenous as possible, pairing strong students with weaker ones.
3. Distribute the Wind Machine Instructions handout to students. For more ideas, you may also wish to provide students with some of the Web sites listed in the Related Resources section of this lesson plan. Be sure each group also has the basic materials needed to construct their wind turbines. Remind students that they are limited to the use of those materials.
4. Once groups complete the initial construction of their turbines, they should experiment with variables to produce what they expect to be the best turbine. Variables can include changing length and width of blades, using different weights of cardboard for the blades, using different angles for the blades, even changing the number of blades used.
5. Allow about 90 minutes for the construction of this device. You will need to vary the time based on the abilities of your students. Students should be allowed to do preliminary testing as they design. If time is limited, assign the construction for outside of class and allow for preliminary testing at the beginning of the next class.
Part Three: Testing the Designs
1. Determine which group has constructed the most effective wind turbine by testing each machine and noting which one produces the greatest number of volts. During the testing, students should use goggles.
2. To test, set each turbine 30 cm from an artificial wind source, such as a fan or hair dryer. Turn on the wind source and measure the voltage produced. Each turbine should have three trials so that an average voltage can be calculated.
3. You can also measure which turbine requires the least amount of wind for start up by testing the turbines at various distances from the wind source.
4. Award prizes to winners for both competitions.
Students should be asked to write a one or two page report on the process of building and refining their wind turbines, including their subsequent conclusions. Evaluation of the report should be based on completeness, depth of understanding, and correct use of terminology. Consider awarding bonus points to those students with prize-winning designs.
2. Students may wish to extend this lesson by producing other models of wind turbines, possibly for a science fair. A Savonius, or vertical, wind turbine can be built with plastic water bottles by following the detailed instructions at the Renewable Energy Web site (http://www.re-energy.ca/pdf/cp1.pdf). You can also download free plans for building wind turbines at the PicoTurbine Web site (http://www.picoturbine.com/projectlist.htm).
3. For elementary students, the turbines can be built in advance with the exception of the blades. Students can then vary the shape and weight of blades more easily and with a minimum of difficulty. Such a project would be a good opportunity to have older and younger students working together.
4. Students can research the applications of wind power technology in various countries around the world. Such research could be an excellent way to include ESOL students and their culture in the classroom. (NOTE: NOW's Web site provides a graphic showing and comparing the use of wind power in the U.S. and Europe.)
Below are some sites that provide useful information related to this lesson's topic.
The American Wind Energy Association
Energy Quest: Energy Education from the California Energy Commission
Investigating Wind Energy
Lecture Notes: Physics 162
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory
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