When three teams of Jarvis Middle School sixth graders traveled to Schenectady to compete in the Apr. 18 KidWind Challenge at the GE Renewable Energy Headquarters, they never dreamed that one team would return home with a second-place finish.
With that success, the team of Lily Hall, Lauren Grabski, Hannah Morey, Dyani Fuentes, Emma La Porte, Leandra Steacy, Madelyn Engel, Reese Wellington, and Amara Howard earned a spot in the Apr. 25 Eastern Regional Competition at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA.
Adding to the accomplishment—of the 200 students from 19 schools, the Jarvis teams were among the youngest.
It all began when Jarvis teachers Mike Farber, Colleen Bunce, Joe Geniti and Charles Maxson decided to use the windpower challenge as a project in the sixth grade STREAM program.
“STREAM stands for Science, Technology, Research, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics,” said Mrs. Bunce. “The purpose of this program is to replicate real-life learning experiences that combine multiple disciplines to complete a project.
“In the classroom, students work in groups to tackle a particular challenge; in this case it was to build a model of a working wind turbine. Each student brings something different to the table. One might be strong in math and another proficient in the arts. They combine their talents, share what they know, and learn from each other to solve a problem. These skills will benefit them in the real world.”
“I find it exciting to watch students who often struggle to stay engaged in traditional classes become active participants in their own learning when given project-based opportunities,” according to Mr. Maxson.
Research, design, build, test…repeat
At Jarvis, the teachers presented the basics of the wind turbine—a windmill that drives a generator to produce electricity. They discussed wind farms and the science behind wind energy. The students dove in, researching possible designs and sharing those designs with their classmates.
The next step was for each team to sort through the information and settle on a design they would ultimately build. They created scale drawings of their turbine design, drafted brief papers explaining their choice of design and created a template of their turbine blade. Teachers reviewed their work, and if it met the requirements, sent them on to the next step—building their turbines.
The students constructed their turbines from the school’s limited selection of materials that included balsa wood, cardboard, PVC piping, generators and a variety of gears. If the students wanted other materials, they could bring them from home; their possibilities were endless. Most teams tended to mirror prototypes that the teachers had designed at a KidWind training workshop. A few, however, applied their research to think outside of the box to create something original.
Students first tested their turbines with a simple box fan. Based on those results, they refined and improved their designs. Just prior to the Schenectady competition, Kidwind Senator and event coordinator Ray Pitcher visited Jarvis and set up a real wind tunnel for the ultimate test.
“The wind tunnel allowed the students to see how their design would act in a consistent wind, similar to the wind speed they would encounter at the competition. Factors such as blade strength, durability and balance were tested,” said Mr. Farber.
When the teachers offered each of the groups the opportunity to travel to Schenectady, three teams jumped at the chance. In preparation, each group designed presentations to explain their design and understanding of wind energy.
The morning of the competition finally arrived and students were excited, yet nervous, hopeful their turbines would perform well in the grueling wind tunnel. Not only would the wind turbines be physically tested, the students themselves would have to present their turbines before a panel of judges made up of GE representatives. Students would also need to answer questions posed by various guest judges who wandered from display to display.
“Seeing all the other turbines and ideas on what other kids thought about was interesting,” said Jarvis team member Lily Hall. “I never thought we would even place, so was really surprised when we placed second.”
The students were proud, especially having beat out many teams of older students. Team member Lauren Grabski felt it was very educational and had introduced them to a new set of careers to explore. But her focus was on the upcoming trip.
“I am very nervous about going to the next level,” she said, “We will have to focus on our presentation, because that is where we scored lowest.”
During the competition judges and coaches from other schools were very interested in the Jarvis turbine. “We realized the kids were on to something when judges and coaches from other schools began hovering around their projects,” said Mr. Geniti. “They definitely had one of the more unique designs in the competition.”
View a video of the winning turbine in action.