Vernon Learns the Power of Engineering with Wind Turbines
Exploring the process of engineering design, fifth-grade students at James H. Vernon School developed working wind turbines out of repurposed materials and showcased them for family and friends.
The exhibit was the culmination of two months of hard work that left students with a deeper understanding of the design process and the exhilaration of achieving a working product after numerous rounds of trial and error. For weeks, students collaborated, brainstormed, problem-solved, tested, improved their designs and retested them until they finally achieved a turbine that worked to their satisfaction.
“It took a lot to make,” said fifth-grader Jackson Kelly who worked with classmates Madeline Chaves and Samantha Charron to construct a turbine that was mostly made out of cardboard and plastic cups. “We made it from stuff we found at home, but built it in class and in makerspace. We had some problems; we kept changing it, but it was a really fun project. The turbine had to lift 20 grams and we lifted as much as 80 grams.”
The project was led by fifth-grade science teachers Ms. Diana Hauser, Mr. Frank Sommo, and Ms. Suzanne Gentile as well as fifth-grade inclusion teacher Ms. Diana Boucher, and was inspired by the book, Leif Catches the Wind, a story about a boy who lives in Denmark and his cousin Dana who work together to solve a mechanical engineering problem: the fish in Dana’s pond are not getting enough oxygen. This inspires them to create a windmill that will use wind power to oxygenate the water in the pond. Leif and Dana follow the Engineering Design process to design a solution that works. Readers are then asked to design a windmill with the following criteria: draw a blueprint to scale, include a tower height of 19 inches maximum, be able to lift a load of at least 3 grams, 20 cm off the table; and design it with a minimum of three blades.
Designing their wind turbine to resemble a chicken, fifth graders Jane Myers, Nicoletta Sakellis, Henry Briggs and Hanwei (Jeffrey) Sun explained how they worked together on their project.
“First we had the idea of the chickens as a theme for our turbine,” they said. “In real life, the blades of wind turbines are white, but birds and things fly into them because they look invisible. We wanted to connect to real life so one of the blades is a different color so animals could see it.”
In the end, their turbine was able to life 45 grams, and the lessons they learned? “We learned it takes a lot of teamwork, patience and a lot of fails and redesigning,” they said. When we finally got it to work, it felt great; we were so happy. We also learned to never give up.”
Their fifth-grade teachers said projects such as this inspire students to look at the world in new and different ways and help them discover that there is more than one way to solve a problem.
Students Jackson Kelly, Madeline Chaves and Samantha Charron were among the entire fifth-grade class that exhibited their wind turbines for family and friends.
From left, Jane Myers, Nicoletta Sakellis, Henry Briggs and Hanwei (Jeffrey) Sun display their chicken-themed wind turbine.
Students explain their wind turbine projects to visitors, above and below.
From left are Vernon School fifth-grade science teachers Ms. Diana Hauser, Mr. Frank Sommo, Ms.Suzanne Gentile and Ms. Diana Boucher with some of their students’ work.