Allen-Stevenson Middle School boys in grades 4 to 6 participated in the School’s second annual STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math) Day on June 5, 2013. The challenge, one with real world applications, was for teams of four to design and build a wind turbine using a small inexpensive electric generator that would be used to create as much voltage as possible. With no prior knowledge of the challenge, the teams began with a short brainstorming period during which they also received a paper bag containing the only materials they were allowed to use: paper towel tubes, toilet paper tubes, old CDs and DVDs, craft sticks, paper drink cups, paper bowls, card stock paper, masking tape, corks, rubber bands, dowels, dowel sleeves, Velcro, Styrofoam plates, and a small electric generator. Given a total time period of 120 minutes, the teams had to work together efficiently to create their turbines.
One teacher/facilitator was available for every 2 to 3 groups. Even the facilitators had to problem solve. Suddenly realizing that the boys needed to find a way to connect broken pieces of wire to the generators, they spoke to the Allen-Stevenson Maintenance Staff, who kindly leapt into action with a soldering iron.
To test the success of the design, each team brought their completed turbine to a table in the front of the room, which was set up with a high-speed fan used to simulate wind power. This fan was hooked up to a digital multimeter, which was used to measure the voltage produced by the turbine. Every team was successful in registering some level of current, with the most powerful turbines reaching over 2,000 millivolts!