Top
Looking for STEM for One Resources?

Building Windmills in the STEM Lab

Building windmills is something I wanted to try and so, we did!

First, a little story…

Years ago my husband and I built our dream house. At the time, ceiling fans were popular and we decided to place these in many of the rooms. Would you believe three of them are still operating and have been turned off very few times? I am talking 25+ years, ok. Still Turning! More about this later…  

So, just imagine for a second, challenging your students to create something that turns…   Let me clarify…turning by using the wind. And, by that, I mean a fan! I have two different sized fans that we use in the lab when we need to create air movement.

STEM Challenge- Building windmills is a fabulous challenge- check this blog post for tips and ideas to create a working windmill model!

What was I thinking?

When I am inventing a new challenge, the first thing I do is make a list of materials. Often, I build a model myself to see what I might need. Does this always work?

Well, no. I often add materials that I think will work and my test class helps me discover I am wrong! 🙂 Let’s explore my thinking about building wind mills!

I really thought a bobbin would work for building windmills…

It’s time for windy weather, kite flying, spring fever, and March Madness! Why not throw a little STEM Challenge into the mix! This spectacular challenge features building a spinning windmill. Your students will love piecing this structure together and creating a way to make the blades turn.

Since we have completed projects similar to this in the past I knew what the biggest problem was going to be! The turning part. It works very much like the axle of a wheel and I knew how hard that tends to be. So, I tried really hard to think of all kinds of things the kids could use for that center turning mechanism that would also have the blades of the windmill attached to it. In the bottom photo, can you see what the blades are attached to?

It’s a sewing machine bobbin! I really thought these would work great! The center is rather small but that can be a good thing. A straw threaded through the hole in the center and then attached to the windmill seemed like a perfect solution. Except, also look at the photo above. Too much tape! It kept the blades from turning around. 

It’s time for windy weather, kite flying, spring fever, and March Madness! Why not throw a little STEM Challenge into the mix! This spectacular challenge features building a spinning windmill. Your students will love piecing this structure together and creating a way to make the blades turn.

Another item we tried for building windmills was a wooden disc. I had my husband drill a hole through the center and it was large enough for a straw. The discs were also large enough that the blades of the windmill could be easily attached. That was one of the problems the bobbins created! They were not big enough to allow the blades to fit!

And here is where the ceiling fan story fits in again. Kids did talk about ceiling fans as they built these windmills. I heard kids say things like, “Our fan in the house only has five flat parts (blades), so we don’t need fifteen of these!” (Take a look at the photo above with all those thin, tiny blades!)

The blades had to have a fold or scoop or bent part to work! (I thought)

In this challenge, students will be using materials to design a windmill that has turning blades that are powered by the wind. Students will be faced with deciding what to use for the turning mechanism and ensure that it turns well. They will also have to design the blades of the windmill to best catch the wind and turn smoothly.
In this challenge, students will be using materials to design a windmill that has turning blades that are powered by the wind. Students will be faced with deciding what to use for the turning mechanism and ensure that it turns well. They will also have to design the blades of the windmill to best catch the wind and turn smoothly.

The blades were so fun! Kids came up with so many ways to make these. On the left above you see a team that made cone shapes in many colors. It looked fabulous, but it turned out to be heavy. Surprisingly it worked really well! Also, on the left, a team used lightweight copy paper folded to make a scoop that could catch air. We learned very quickly that a flat piece of paper for a blade did not work at all. It had to have a fold, scoop, or shape to it in order to catch the air and turn. Take a look at the one on the right . It was very cute, but the flat paper blades did not work! (I was right about that!)

Again, it was the ceiling fan discussions that led students deciding that flat blades are okay, but they must be angled. Off topic— but if you have ceiling fans, have you ever checked to see how much dust is on the top of the blades? Just take a look. It’s pretty stunning.

In this challenge, students will be using materials to design a windmill that has turning blades that are powered by the wind. Students will be faced with deciding what to use for the turning mechanism and ensure that it turns well. They will also have to design the blades of the windmill to best catch the wind and turn smoothly.

The bright pink one worked really well. The wooden disc in the center had a straw through it that was threaded through a hole in the windmill tube. It went all the way through the tube and was secured on the back, but it was still able to turn. The blades had a little fold in them that caught air.

While part of this team worked on the blade, anther team member drew all those stripes with markers. 🙂

STEM Challenge- Building windmills is a fabulous challenge- check this blog post for tips and ideas to create a working windmill model!
STEM Challenge- Building windmills is a fabulous challenge- check this blog post for tips and ideas to create a working windmill model!

The orange one has nice large blades with a slight bend. However, the base would not support the weight of those blades. The green one has a great axle going through the center of the structure but, sadly, those skinny little blades would not turn at all.

This challenge was part of a series of challenges we creted during the windy month of March and here is a little video we put together with all the projects. (You can see some turning blades!)

You might enjoy more posts about seasonal resources:

STEM Challenge- Building windmills is a fabulous challenge- check this blog post for tips and ideas to create a working windmill model!