Wind Turbine Blade Design Part 1: Define the Problem & Research Solutions

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SWBAT define the criteria and constraints of designing wind turbine blades.

Big Idea

In this first lesson of a unit on wind turbine blade design, students are presented with the problem of designing wind turbine blades that will produce the optimal amount of electricity.

Getting Started

This is the first part of a four-part engineering mini unit exploring wind energy. In this first activity you introduce your students to the problem statement and provide them with background reading, discussion, brainstorming, and some light research.

I would budget at least two weeks to complete all four activities. Students need plenty of time to plan, design, construct, test, communicate, and rebuild their prototypes.

If this is your first time doing in engineering project with your students, familiarize yourself with the steps of the engineering design process and review them as you progress through the lessons.

Week 1:

Day 1-2

  • Review of Energy and energy conversion
  • Energy usage and how wind power can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels (Class Exploration)
  • How can wind be used to generate electricity? (Class Exploration)
  • How will we measure the electrical output of our turbines? (Class Exploration)

Day 3-5

  • How can wind be used to generate electricity? -  
  • Introduce Wind Turbine Blade Competition (refer to “Energy From the Wind “ link 
  •  Begin utilizing Engineering Design Cycle to research, design and build turbines.

Week 2:

  • Continue utilizing Engineering Design Cycle to test, evaluate and improve turbine designs
  • Leave time for Design Review/Assessment

Essential Questions:

  1. What’s the most efficient way to design wind turbines in order to maximize the production of electrical energy?
  2. How feasible is wind power as a source of electricity?
  3. What is the role of wind energy in meeting our energy demands?


  • Air has no mass
  • Electricity comes “from the wall” and is free
  • Bigger is better (bigger blades/more blades, steeper angles, more glue)
  • Your first idea is the best
  • One test will tell you what you need to know
  • Wind power is the only or best solution to our energy demand

Formative Assessment Questions:

  • What is wind?
  • How do engineers design things?
  • Where does wind come from?
  • How do we get electricity from wind?

Teachers should have some background knowledge on energy, energy consumption in the US, renewable and non-renewable energy sources, causes of wind, wind farms, engineering design process, electrical circuits, calculating electrical power, measuring wind speed, calculating power in the wind.

Science Materials Needed:

  • KID WIND Turbine kits
  • 3-speed 20” Box Fans
  • Materials to build with (card board, foam core, Blue Core ¼” thick Dow protection board 3 Insulation, available at most Lowes’s Stores)
  • Wood dowels (1/4”)
  • Tape, cutting mats, utility knives, mini-mitre box and saws, glue guns, glue, sand paper

 Science Tools Used:

Multimeters, tachometers, digital protractors, anemometer, metric ruler

Downloadable Lessons from The NEED Project 

Additional Reading 

Science Buddies: The Engineering Design Process

Engineering is Elementary: The Engineering Design Process

Teach Engineering: The Engineering Design Process


10 minutes

These lessons begin on the heels of a unit on energy and global energy demand with an emphasis on looking towards the future of renewable energy and sustainable design. In that regard, one form of renewable energy that we can focus on is wind energy. While wind energy has seen significant growth since the 1980s, it has slowed down somewhat in the last few years. Nevertheless, it is still a good platform from which to teach students about looking for solutions to problems facing our global community, namely our over dependence on fossil fuels.

If you have not taught the engineering design process before you may want to begin with what the purpose of engineering is (to find solutions to problems) and how it differs from going through a science focused protocol. 

I start by telling students we will begin a multiweek engineering projects where they will be designing and testing solutions to a problem. This leads us then to defining the problem statement, the first step in the engineering design process.

I present my students with the problem statement, "What's the most efficient way to design wind turbines in order to maximize the production of electrical energy?” 

I then continue explaining to my students the timeline and how we will structure our time in class over the next few weeks. Use the Wind Turbines Overview at this point. 

They begin with time to research the problem and brainstorm possible solutions followed by communicating these findings and deciding on a starting point for their designs. Then they take on the task of communicating through drawing following specific orthographic drawing protocols. Once they have their drawings approved they propose the types of materials they would like to work with and are presented with a budget. I let them know that they must keep their design within the constraints of the budget.

I have done this unit many times without using a design budget and found that students are a little more reckless with their use of materials and have less of an eye toward sustainability when they have an unlimited access to supplies. You may elect to not use the budget if you so choose.


40 minutes

Give students the Wind Turbine Design Brief and go over each of the pages with them. Tell them to record their ideas including brainstorms, sketches and notes on this document.

Students may then use the remainder of this class time to research ideas, take notes in their design journals, and discuss any questions they may have regarding their designs.

Assign the reading Wind Energy Basics for homework the night before this lesson. Students will use the information on these pages to begin their brainstorm of ideas an write down their understandings of blade aerodynamics, information they will use when planning their designs. 

Provide computers with internet access for students to research ideas and brainstorm designs with their design teams. 

In the video below I talk about starting the engineering design process. 


15 minutes

Once students have brainstormed and drawn some preliminary sketches I have them schedule time to conference one-on-one with the me. This can be done while other students are still researching and preparing their draft ideas.

Provide each student with the following guidelines for self assessment:

In your journals did you record of the following:

  1. What materials do you think will be best? Why?
  2. What designs are you considering?
  3. Rationales for using or eliminating the designs.
  4. How are you using physics help guide your design?


When I sit down with students to conference I listen to their ideas, ask them where they did the research, have them consider the constraints and if the designs are feasible. If you have not done this project before, keep in mind the size of the fans you are using, the materials available, time constraints, and so forth as students have some wild ideas that can’t be met with the constraints of the project. 

Here is a sample of two turbine ideas from one student: