Lesson Nine: Energy Design Challenge

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Grade Level:

4th Grade


Two 60-minute class periods


Suggested Teacher Preparation:

  • Collect newspapers for building blades. Cut newspapers in various sized sheets. The small sheet should be at least a 10-inch square. Possible dimensions for the medium and large sheets could be squares of 18-inch and 24-inch respectively.
  • Preview video/audio resources.
  • Prior to the lesson, the teacher will build a model wind turbine, following the attached instruction sheet.
    TEACHER NOTE: The purpose of the lesson is for students to use the design process to improve an existing technology. Because of that and a desire to not have students spending their time trying to create a functional turbine, the teacher is providing them with a basic design structure to build off of. Although, it is okay for the teacher’s model to not work perfectly!

Activity Type:

Engineering Challenge

Purpose Statement (content Focus & Enduring Understanding/Knowledge/Skills and connection to the unit and pro and preceding lessons):

Students will understand scientists and engineers go through a design process to improve upon existing technology or create new, innovative solutions to problems.

Explanation of how the activity enables students to answer the overarching question:

By completing the design process, students will understand the potential for technology to improve our ability to steward Wyoming’s resources.

Essential Question:

How can we be stewards of Wyoming’s minerals and energy to benefit current and future generations?

Supporting Questions:

How are minerals and energy developed, used, and cared for?


Science: 4-PS3-4, 3-5-ETS1-1 (both explicitly taught)
Science: 3-5-ETS1-2, 3-5-ETS1-3 (both practiced/encountered) Social Studies: SS5.3.3 (explicitly taught)
Math: 4.NBT.4, 4.G.1 (both practiced/encountered)
CVE: CV5.3.2 (explicitly taught)


  • Turbine- a machine for producing continuous power using a wheel or rotor that is caused to spin by pressure from water, steam, or air
  • Engineer- a person who designs, builds, or maintains engines, machines, or public works

Instructional Procedure/Steps:

This activity can be completed individually, in partners, or in groups. Please use your professional judgment and knowledge of your classroom dynamics to determine which grouping method best suits your classroom needs.

Part One:
    1. Show the video. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
    2. Discuss with students how William used the engineering process. Points that should come out in the discussion are:
      • He saw a problem in his community and brainstormed ways to solve it.
      • He researched, tried different models, and revised his design numerous times.
    3. Say: “Today, you will work on modifying a wind turbine design to improve it.”
    4. Read the introductory text with students.
      • Remind students every energy resource has its benefits and challenges.
      • In table groups, students will identify challenges identified within the text.
      • In the planning process, students will factor in these challenges to improve their turbine design.
    5. Show students the wind turbine model you created before the lesson. Place the turbine in front of the fan so students can see how the wind turns the blades. Discuss with students how the scaled model relates to a full-scale wind turbine.
    6. Give each student,pair,or group a copy of the Student Journal.
      • Explain the budget/materials sheet to students.
        • Each student, partner, or group will begin with a $1,000 budget. Each material item or tool will cost a set amount. Students will track the amount spent as they work, being sure to stay within their set budget.
        • Teacher may need to model how to fill this out.
      • Review the Recorder Sheet with students. Explain that they will be responsible for recording their process and thinking on this sheet as they redesign.
      • Draw attention to the Instruction Guide for building the turbine. Read through the instructions and answer any questions students have.
    7. Release students to begin the planning phase of their design.
      • At this point, students will answer the first five questions on their recorder sheet.
      • If necessary, as the students are determining their design, the teacher can scaffold this work by asking students to identify one of the challenges they named with their table group. Then list possible improvements they could make to remediate that challenge. The teacher can then support the student in identifying one of the improvements to integrate into their turbine design.
      • Before students can move on to the testing phase of the design challenge, the teacher should ensure that they have determined some measurable success criteria (question 5 on the recording sheet).
Part Two

Allow about 30 minutes for steps 1 through 4, so there is time to discuss the process at the end.

      1. Remind the students of the purpose for this engineering challenge. Say:
        “You will redesign the model based on your answers to the first five questions listed on the recorder sheet from the previous class period.”
      2. Students will use the instruction sheet as a guide to build their turbine. Make sure students know that they can modify or change any variable or aspect of the base model in their own design.
      3. When students complete the turbine construction, they will test their new design to measure the effect of the changes they made based on the criteria they defined in question 5 of the recording sheet. They can compare their results to the teacher’s control model.
      4. Students will reflect on the process by completing the remaining questions on the recorder sheet.
      5. Discuss the process. Ask:
        • What were your results?
        • What did you find engaging?
        • What challenges did you experience?
        • What were some of your successes?
        • If you had more time and/or unlimited resources, what might you like to try?
      6. Say:”Scientists engage in the same type of process that you did in the creation and design of the wind turbine.” Discuss how scientists might have different approaches when trying to improve our use and production of energy. Possible points are:
      7. Ask students to brainstorm some of the issues currently facing our state, nation, and world. Share examples of how scientists are working to solve those issues, and allow students to share ideas as well. Emphasize that students are our future and that, like William, they are empowered to solve problems and create positive change in our world!

Possible extension activities:

Have a scientist or engineer come in to talk about how science has been used to advance technology related to mineral and energy development.
Ask students to brainstorm ideas for wind turbine reclamation.


Assessment of student understanding that scientists use the engineering process to improve upon existing designs or create new solutions to existing problems will occur through ending discussions on day two.


      1. Skoolbo: Junior Inventors. (2016, February 23). Wicked Windmills-Make your paper windmills!-The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (captioned). Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://juniorinventors.com/blog/2016/02/23/wicked-windmills-make- your-paper-windmills/
      2. The Daily Conversation. (2014, September 10). Top 10 Energy Sources of the Future. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uStFvcz9Or4
      3. Kota Territory (ABC) News. (2016, May 2). Wyoming to test carbon capture technologies. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.kotatv.com/content/news/Wyoming-to-test-carbon-capture- technologies-377585801.html
      4. The NEED Project. (2016). Elementary Energy Info Book: Wind (Publication). Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.need.org/files/curriculum/guides/Elementary%20Energy%20Infobook.pdf
      5. Technological Solutions, Inc.-TSI:Ducksters.(2017). The Environment: Wind Energy. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.ducksters.com/science/environment/wind_power.php
      6. Instruction sheet is adapted from Lovejoy,J. Things to Make and Do. (2008). Make a Windmill. Retrieved July 10, 2017 from http://www.things-to-make-and-do.co.uk/paper-and-card-projects/windmill/windmill.html