Harnessing the wind in Canton, Ohio

Engineering is a critical part of agriculture. Vanessa Board’s 8th grade engineering students from the STEAMM Academy @ Hartford, part of the Canton City School District, saw how this affects our world. As part of a study on energy in the environment, Board shared the picture book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. This true story is about a 14 year boy in a drought-ravaged area of Malawi who pursued his dream of bringing electricity and running water to his poor village. By constructing a wind turbine, he was able to accomplish this!

Board’s students experimented with materials, shapes, sizes, number of blades, angles of blades, etc. to determine the most efficient design for wind turbine power generation. She said, “They needed to collaborate and create the most effective blade system and then test the system at three stations to see how much power they could generate. At one station the students had to calculate the output force, work, and power required to lift a bucket of silver dollar-sized washers. At the second station the wind turbine blades had to draw water from our make-shift well by turning a motor and generating enough power. The final station tested their wind turbine system in the lighting of two separate light bulbs, an LED and a traditional incandescent bulb. This taught them how differently their systems ran due to the amount of energy needed to power each type of bulb.”

After the project was over, the class watched the movie. Board said her students were surprised to learn about the lives of students in Africa. “Not everyone in Malawi was able to attend school—this concept was surprising to them.” The movie also sparked conversations about design and agriculture and how primitive it still is in parts of the world today.

Board said, “The best part is that some of the students want to build a wind turbine here at school, tying it into the agriculture program. We talked about having the greenhouse become completely sustainable with the wind turbine and about using other alternative energy sources like solar panels to keep our growing season going all year long.”

Check out the Water windmill challenge activity on our website! How do engineers build strong support structures? This unit asks students to create a windmill structure using the Engineering Design Process.