Turbine Project

Every year, we’ve gotten the opportunity to spend three-four days with Whitney Young High school in Ms. Dudzik’s Physics class, and to work on the Turbine Project with them. We’ve since branched out to Northside Prep and Urban Prep as well. This project allowed us to show students how to use the Design, Build, Test model for a real-world problem, harnessing the power of the wind. The goal was to produce a wind turbine that would harness the power of the wind (measured in volts) on three settings: high, medium, and low. The team with the most volts wins.

We divided up the students into teams and gave them a plastic bag with three important materials: Balsa wood, cardboard, and a water bottle. Students were then allowed to decide among themselves which material(s) would hold up the strongest against the wind. We gave the students a bartering period of 5 minutes where they had the opportunity to trade unwanted materials with the other teams in the room. This period drove home the point about real-world design: materials aren’t limitless, and sometimes you have to make the best product you can out of what is already available. That in itself was a challenge for students. Designs had to be revamped, and more thought had to be put into the project.

After students spent two days working on their models, we spent the last day testing each group’s design and allowing students to present. Students had to tell us how their design met the criteria for the challenge, and how their design correlated with the results of the test. The students really enjoyed testing their design: with a little class rivalry, what could have been into a basic testing turned into active competition. Students engaged in the Design, Build, Test process again and again during the course of the last two day, hoping that their team’s corrected designs could beat the rest.