Wind Turbine STEM/Digital Fabrication Challenge – SCOPES-DF

Lesson Details

Age Ranges
HS-PS2-5, HS-PS3-3, Fab-Safety.1, Fab-Modeling.1, Fab-Fabrication.1, Fab-Design.1, Fab-Design.2

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Brian Purvis
Brian Purvis
Brian is the former Manager of Instruction for the GE Brilliant Career Lab, a curriculum centered mobile FAB Lab that served Boston area public high schools.  Previously he led the Gilbert Innovation Hub, where he leveraged his 18 years as… Read More


Enhance your subject area content and career connections by using digital fabrication to design and make blades for a wind turbine.

What You'll Need

Teacher Preparation for the lesson  



Facility needs: Internet access, space for activity setup (there will be wind and noise produced by the fans), electrical outlets for fans and computers, classroom setup for small group collaboration, laser cutter from the Brilliant Career Lab

Prerequisite Skills: Knowledge of Problem/Project Based Learning highly recommended (time needs to be devoted for classroom logistics before the start of this lesson for optimal impact. Knowledge of PBL builds the infrastructure for small group work, open ended challenges, inquiry and materials distribution into practice.)

Assumptions of the module: Collaboration between the Brilliant Career Lab Instructor and a classroom teacher, 55 minute class periods, internet access)

Classroom Context:



The Instructions

Preparation and Prototyping

Day 1


Quick Summary:

The Brilliant Career Lab Instructor demonstrates the small wind turbine in action and casts the vision for the week by telling students that they will be working together to build the best wind turbines over the next four days.



Process (Detailed):

The BCL Instructor welcomes students to class and demonstrates the construction and operation of a desktop wind turbine. Be careful to utilize blades that work, but are not optimal so that students can copy your design but have immediate opportunity to iterate. It often helps to tell students the setup is not optimal and encourages them to do something else. (5 minutes)

The BCL Instructor engages students by challenging them to make their own working wind turbines in preparation for a series of contests on the last two days of the lesson. Students are informed that the first two days are allowing them to gather information and techniques that will help them when they start building their final product on day three. Students are encouraged to use the next hour of class time to draw connections to their prior knowledge, brainstorm ideas for their final product, and ask questions that could inform their designs. (2 minutes)

The BCL Instructor shows “GE In the Wild: How to Harness the Power of Wind at 300 KPH” video incorporating wind turbine blade making and testing. This video establishes both content and career connections between the challenge and real world opportunities in mechanical engineering. (6 minutes)


Quick Summary

Students will make and test their blade designs with the wind turbine stations iterating for higher blade spinning speed.


A supply of 12 dowel rods per group

A supply of chipboard, cardstock, balsa or other material for constructing blades.

One turbine station per 2-3 groups.

One box fan per turbine station

Student notebooks for documenting findings

At least 40 minutes

Process (Detailed)

The classroom teacher separates the class into groups of 2-3 students.

The BCL Instructor makes available a supply of dowel rods and blade making materials for groups to access.

The BCL Instructor challenges students to create blades from the provided supplies and attach them to dowel rods. The BCL Instructor demonstrates to students how to connect the dowel rods to the wind turbine for testing and encourages them use this time to try as many different configurations as possible.

Students iterate blade designs and test them for greatest visual turning speed. Since students will have to reuse their dowel rods for each iteration, they should document the blade designs in their science notebook and discuss ways to rate the varying designs for the speed of the blades. This will be important when they begin planning their final designs. Students should be encouraged to learn from other groups, but also to take what they have learned and use it to iterate better ideas.

The BCL Instructor circulates to converse with student groups about their design decisions. The Classroom Teacher circulates to talk with students about connections between the activity and prior content knowledge.  Teacher conversations with students should not center on solutions, but center on inquiry.(Example: If this lesson occurs in a science classroom, the Teacher might make curricular connections about the lesson in relation to energy transformations, electricity, renewable resources, force, etc. In a language arts class the Teacher might be connecting the activity to the symbolism of a windmill in Don Quixote. For a geography or social studies class the teacher might be asking questions about what parts of the world have benefited from harnessing wind energy in their development.)

With 5 minutes left in class the classroom teacher should lead the routine for cleanup and resetting the materials for other classes. This routine will be reused each day at the end of class.





Connecting to Curricular Concepts

Day 2


Quick Summary

The Brilliant Career Lab Instructor will provide direct instruction around the use of Google Draw to create digital blade designs while the Classroom Teacher will demonstrate how prior and new classroom content is connected to the activity. This is an excellent time for the BCL Instructor to make tutorials available on the turbine and Google Draw. This is an excellent time for the Classroom Teacher to provide students with supplemental documents on the content knowledge that underpins the activity.


40 minutes

Computers with internet access

Projector and screen

Process (Detailed)

Show the video (8 minutes) “GE In the Wild: How GE Uses Wind To Help Power Nearly One Million German Homes”

The classroom teacher creates content connections which relate to the classroom subject area and topic (Due to the fact that this lesson can be used in a variety of academic settings, the academic content will vary with how the Classroom Teacher intends to make correlations. A list of ideas is included under Essential Skills at the top of this lesson plan, as well as under the Day 2 Explore section.) (No more than 15 minutes)

The BCL instructor demonstrates the use of Google Draw and distributes a link for the online tutorial (Note the tutorial is written for general use of Google Draw when creating files for a laser cutter and students should replace the demonstrated project with their own turbine blade design) (No more than 15 minutes)

Students use their practical knowledge of turbine blade design from the previous day to create digital SVG files of the new blade for testing.

The Brilliant Career Lab Instructor circulates to support understanding of Google Draw. The Classroom Teacher circulates to support integration of content into blade design.

Extend/Elaborate – Teacher introduces the Challenge, Students solve the Challenge

Quick Summary:  The Brilliant Career Lab instructor introduces the three challenges.


15 minutes

Projector and screen

Computers with internet

USB drives (These are optional. Google Draw files can be shared directly with the BCL Instructor and Classroom Teacher.)

Laser cutter

Wind Turbine Stations

Process (Detailed)

The BCL instructor shows the “Engineering Design Taco Party” video and inform students that the process will be instrumental to completing the challenges. (4 minutes)

The BCL Instructor introduces the following challenges for blade designs and the wind turbine kits (10 minutes):


The Brilliant Career Lab Instructor demonstrates how to modify the turbine setup for each challenge. (pictures attached)

(Students do not have to attempt the challenges in order, but they are listed in order of general difficulty for scaffolding purposes.)

Student groups continue to create their digital blade designs, saving the files to a USB drive or emailing them to the BCL Instructor for printing on the laser cutter. A naming convention should be created that includes the class, period, group name, and number of blades to be cut.

The Classroom Teacher leads the cleanup/reset routine (1 minutes)



Day 3


Quick Summary: Students continue to use the engineering design process to design wind turbine blades than can accomplish the three challenges


55 minutes

Computers with internet

USB Drives

Laser Cutter

Wind Turbine Stations

Process (Detailed):

Students attach laser cut blade designs to dowel rods and connect to turbine to attempt challenges. Students use the engineering design process to iterate their designs towards accomplishing all three challenges.

The Classroom teacher circulates to provide content connections to activity as observed.

The Brilliant Career Lab Instructor mans the laser cutter for rapid blade prototyping.



Day 4

Evaluate– presentation, contest, test out project

Quick Summary:

Students demonstrate their blade design solutions to solve the three challenges


55 minutes

Computers with internet

USB Drives

Laser Cutter

Wind Turbine Stations

A copy of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba

Process (Detailed):

Student groups continue to iterate turbine blade design, creation and setup in order to complete the three challenges. Groups who complete all three challenges should then retool their blades to determine the maximum amount of volts and washers they can lift. A leader board can be kept for the class. (45 minutes)

The Classroom Teacher should be confirming challenge completion and providing connections between the activity and future curricular content. (Many teachers will use this opportunity for formal assessment)

The BCL Instructor will continue providing fabrication support via the laser cutter to student groups for their turbine blades.

At the end of class the BCL instructor will recap the week with emphasis on careers in mechanical engineering and renewable resources. The BCL instructor will mention the book “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” by William Kamkwamba as a real world example of a boy who created wind turbines to give electricity to his small Malawian village. (8 minutes)

The Classroom Teacher leads the cleanup/reset routine. (3 minutes, perhaps longer for the final class of the day)



  • (HS-PS2-5): Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that an electric current can produce a magnetic field and that a changing magnetic field can produce an electric current.
  • (HS-PS3-3): Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.
  • (Fab-Safety.1): I can safely conduct myself in a Fab Lab and observe operations under instructor guidance.
  • (Fab-Modeling.1): I can arrange and manipulate simple geometric elements, 2D shapes, and 3D solids using a variety of technologies.
  • (Fab-Fabrication.1): I can follow instructor guided steps that link a software to a machine to produce a simple physical artifact.
  • (Fab-Design.1): I can be responsible for various activities throughout a design process within a group under instructor guidance.
  • (Fab-Design.2): I can participate in design reviews with prepared presentation materials as well as give and receive feedback from peers.

Lesson Feedback

2 Reviews

  1. SCOPES-DF March 8, 2019
    • Brian Purvis May 30, 2019
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