Designing a Wind Turbine (Part 2)

2 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT conduct research in an effort to determine the best design for a wind turbine blade.

Big Idea

Content is king! Armed with answers to their own questions about wind turbines and content questions, students begin to learn the physics of wind blade design.


3 minutes

Part 2 of Designing a Wind Turbine is distinguishable because students are developing design solutions. My strategy, Using Conceptual Modeling to understand science content, is used as students draw preliminary wind turbine blades. My next strategy, Uncovering Science Concepts using Research, is used as students write and find the answers to their own research questions.  I have written the lesson for students to conduct their own research. An easy modification is to use text books and other sources to help students understand how a wind turbine works. 

An important part of Part 2 is the Research Questions Section. This is the section in which I stop the design process and teach a science lesson. I say to the students, "I have a great lesson that will help you understand how wind turbines work." I teach my Bernoulli's Principle Lesson as an accompanying lesson to the design process. 

Design Solutions

5 minutes

I begin the lesson by asking students to draw what they think a wind air foil should look like. This is a preliminary design. Students draw in their engineering notebooks. When a student says, "I have no idea!" I ask, "Have you ever seen the big wind mills?" Most of my students have driven around Northern Illinois where there are several wind farms. "Yes!" I explain that the correct word is a wind turbine not a wind mill. A mill will crush corn and wheat to make flour. A turbine generates electricity.

By explaining the vocabulary, my students have a better understanding of  what to draw. I have previously taught a lesson called Exploring the Law of Conservation of Energy. If a student does not remember how electricity is generated, I have a small hand crank generator. My students have seen the generator throughout the year and I use it as a learning reference for review.  

Next, I use a sharing strategy called Six Stations. I assign students to six different stations throughout the room to share the preliminary drawings of their wind blades. My intention is to share ideas to promote creativity. Sharing ideas helps build confidence because the students can look at one another's design to see that they are on the right track. There are typically 5 students per group. Each student gets one minute to show their drawings.  I give students the opportunity to go back to their desks and change their preliminary Turbine Blade Designs. My intention is to emphasize that designs can be changed at any time during the design process. 

Research Questions

10 minutes

After the preliminary drawings, I ask students where they had troubles. "Why was this hard for you?" Students explain that they don't know how to design turbines so it was hard. They just drew what they have seen. I say, "Great! Let's think about what we need to know to design a wind turbine."

I use a think-pair-share strategy for the next part of the lesson. My intention is to give students think time as well as partner discussion time. By themselves, students write down questions they have about wind turbine design. Then they pick a shoulder partner and share questions. Finally they share with the entire table. Students write down one another's questions in their notebooks. 

To generate a list of class questions, I made a shared document in Google Docs called Wind Turbine Questions. I share the document with one person at each table. Table groups go to their computers and type in all of their questions. 

Many of the student questions are the same. When all groups have added their questions, as a class we examine the questions. We delete repetitive questions and re-word questions for clarity. Many of the questions are not related to design. I teach the difference between an interesting question and a design question. For example the question, "Can skyscrapers have wind turbines?" is a great question but we are not designing a building. I ask, "How can we re-word the question to get the information we need?" Students respond, "How tall should the wind turbine be?" 

At this point I become an expert. I say, "There are some science principles you will need to know to design the best solution." My students have had Newton's Laws of Motion but it doesn't hurt to give them a nudge in that direction. I ask, "Is the turbine in motion? Will we need to remember Newton's Laws of Motion?" I add, "You will need to know about Bernoulli's Principle." My strategy is to include my content standard in the questions. 

By allowing the students to find the information themselves, the student response to the learning is exciting. As they are researching, I walk around the room, reading answers. Much of what they find out I have never seen before and it is also exciting for me to learn. 

The questions generated before the class examination are vastly different than the questions decided upon to research. There is a marked difference between Wind Turbine Blade Before and After questions.

After all the questions have been generated, I say, "I have a great lesson that will help your learn about how wind turbines work!" I stop the design process lesson and teach my Bernoulli's Principle Lesson.

Conducting Research

45 minutes

At this point I change groups. My strategy is to challenge existing group dynamics. I don't want the same student group to get into a rut. Sometimes they all depend upon one student to answer the questions or do the work. I want to mess with the groupings to avoid group complacency.

In the new groups, the students pick one person to make a new document with all the questions on it. The new document will not be shared with the whole class, it will only be shared within the group. As the new document is being made, I print off all of the questions and students glue the questions in their notebooks. Despite my reluctance to use paper, I have found the pacing of the lesson is worth it. 

I explain that teams are going to divvy up questions. My purpose is to allow each student to contribute to the learning. In addition, it is authentic for engineers to work as a team. I train my students to be dependent upon one another. 

My strategy for research is Make Your Own References. My intention is for the student to drive their own learning by finding information independently of my teaching. I explain that they will be making a document to use as a reference.  I explain, "You may include images or movies that help you learn the answers as long as the images are labeled and explained." My strategy is to use visual imagery to promote understanding. 

As students begin their research, I wander to the groups to read what they are doing. I am conducting formative assessment and checking for understanding. It is very fun to see their sites and to learn with the students. The student begins to transfer to the role of the teacher. As I wander, I can also see great sites and give advice to others who are looking for the same information. As they research, I am available for content questions. The students will often call me over to share interesting information. 

It is critical to note that my purpose is not summary writing, checking for understanding, assessment. The purpose is to give the students an opportunity to find sources that they can use in the activity.  I explain, "Take notes or cut and paste answers on the research answer document and record the URL."

This document will be used as a reference. Students will be able to go back to the answers as they need the information. I am coaching them through the design process. This strategy gives the students time to research and collect information. At this point I don't know what information will be useful, I coach them through getting useful information.  Later in the lesson, students will be given the opportunity to return to this document to look for citations and quotes as they write their design defenses. 

Students go to their own computers to conduct the research and answer the questions. I walk around the room seeking misconceptions. I will use the misconceptions as ancillary lessons after the research is completed. 

The most common questions I have to field involve Bernoulli's Principle. After all the research is done, I conduct my Bernoulli's Principle lesson. My strategy is Authentic Learning. Students will need to understand the science behind wind turbines. They have encountered difficulty and I'm there to help them understand how Bernoulli's principle can help them make a better design. 

Check out the student answers to the Wind Research Answers