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STEM ready

Wind Energy

Driving or Multi-dimensional Question:

How can we, as Environmental Resource Engineers, design an apparatus that successfully converts potential energy into kinetic energy by analyzing the natural resources and climate of a particular environment? How can we, as Environmental Resource Engineers, assess kinetic and potential energy sources to design a prototype that powers the Tennessee Valley with clean energy?

Unit Summary:

Students will analyze and explore the various sources of energy including kinetic, elastic potential and gravitational potential. Then they will design a wind turbine that successfully converts wind into energy. Along the way they will also addresses political concerns about the expansion of wind turbines in Tennessee.


Science Standards:

PSCI.PS3 Energy
1) Identify and give examples of the various forms of energy (kinetic, gravitational potential, elastic potential) and solve mathematical problems regarding the work-energy theorem and power. 
3) Design, build and refine a device within design constraints that has a series of simple machines to transfer energy and/or do mechanical work. 
4) Collect data and present your findings regarding the law of conservation of energy and the efficiency, mechanical advantage and power of the refined device. 

5) Investigate the relationships among kinetic, potential and total energy within a closed system (the law of conservation of energy).

Math Standards:

6SPB.5 Summarize numerical data sets in relation to their context.

ELA and Other Standards:

6RL.KID.1 Analyze what a text says and draw logical inferences, cite textual references and cite textual evidence to support conclusion.

6L.KL.3 When writing and speaking, vary sentence patterns for meaning, reader interest and style.

Daily Activities

For more information on this lesson please see the Lesson Resources below

ActivitiesDescriptionResources and Materials
Activity One

Roller Coaster Review:
Review the PBS “Energy in a Roller Coaster” simulation to review the difference between potential and kinetic energy (5th grade standard) and lead students through aligned discussion questions on website.

Bucket Test:
Introduce difference between gravitational potential energy and elastic potential energy through demonstrations. Cover bucket in plastic wrap and ask students to identify variables that impact ability of object to break the plastic wrap (height of drop and mass of object). Test variables.

Rubber Band Test:
Using a rubber band, ask students to identify distance that pencil could be launched across room and predict which variables could impact distance (elasticity of rubber band, size of pencil). Test variables. Ask students to record observations and answer questions about which variables impact elastic and gravitational energy.

Inventive Exercise:
Ask students to design another classroom experiment that could test the gravitational and elastic energy.

Exit Ticket:
Exit ticket asking students to identify real-world scenarios about elastic or gravitational potential energy.

Roller Coaster Website:

Bucket Test Materials:
• Plastic wrap
• Bucket
• Various objects of different masses (perhaps ping pong ball, tennis ball and baseball)
• Rubber bands of various elasticity
• Pencils of different lengths
• Student worksheet with identified questions.
• Student science notebook
• Exit ticket (attached)

Activity Two

Destroy the Castle:
In small groups, students design a mock trebuchet as described in PBS' “Destroy the Castle.” Students explore the “How the Trebuchet Works” section to analyze the impact of various variables on trebuchet success. Students answer questions about the impact of each variable on elastic potential energy.

Students work in teams to draw a prototype of a piece of equipment that can “Destroy a Castle” by using gravitational potential energy.

Destroy the Castle Website:

Activity Three

Short Essay:
Show students TVA Currents of Change Renewable Energy Video and ask them to write a short essay about why renewable energy sources are so important to Tennessee’s economy.

Have students read the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's “How do Wind Turbines Work?” and show video at the end of the article. Ask students to defend the statement: “Wind turbines are examples of kinetic energy”

Critical Thinking:
Ask students to review “Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy” Tennessee profile. Ask students why they think there is such a low percentage of energy generated by wind in our state.

Online Research:
Ask students to research arguments for and against growing wind energy sources in Tennessee. Ask students to track reasons politicians support or do not support growing more wind turbines in Tennessee.

Currents of Change Video:

How Do Wind Turbines Work?

Wind Energy in Tennessee:

Sample Articles to Google:
• Crab Orchard Wind Farm—Are We Considering All the Costs?
• 100M Wind Farm Suspended in Tennessee Following Moratorium
• Tennessee Valley Authority Should Get into Wind Power

Activity Four

Wind Turbine Prototype:
After analyzing political pros and cons for developing more wind turbines in Tennessee, students design and test a prototype that generates kinetic wind energy, but also addresses the concerns brought up by Tennessee politicians.

Materials found on page 6 of Wind Turbine Blade Design Engineering Design Process Planning document will allow students to record how each step of project aligns with steps of the Engineering Design Process.
Activity Five

Students work on designing, testing and improving prototype of wind turbine

Editorial Writing:
Students write short editorial explaining why turbine design is effective and addresses concerns of Tennessee politicians.

Test Day

Wind Turbine Test:
Students test their wind turbines using fans in a flexible space in school.

Addressing Concerns:
Students demonstrate and explain how turbine designs address concerns of Tennessee politicians. Invite local engineers, TVA employees, Chamber of Commerce members or local congressional representatives to attend the final event.



Business PartnerContribution to Learning ExperienceContact Information

KCI Technologies


Students can review “Project Profiles” and “Case Studies” to analyze how major engineering firm analyzes local resources to design solutions for

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy


Invite staff to Skype with students or invite members to final Wind Turbine Test



Invite staff to Skype with students or invite to final Wind Turbine Test Day. 

Capstone Presentation:

Students will design and test a prototype of a wind turbine that effectively converts wind into energy and addresses the political concerns of Tennessee's representatives about developing more wind turbines in the state. Students will test these prototypes in front of STEM professionals.