The Windmill STREAM Project
A book-based learning unit created by KLSD's elementary librarians
Tristan held the hair dryer, Zoe steadied the windmill’s tower, Tilia and Michael connected the voltmeter to the windmill’s small motor with thin electrical wire and alligator clips. Soon, they were reporting how many millivolts their bright blue turbine was generating. “One hundred,” Tilia said, “Now it’s 106!”
The Windmill STREAM Project, created by Katonah-Lewisboro’s IMES three elementary school librarians last summer, is being implemented with all fourth graders. The project introduces students to a resilient teen inventor and offers each an opportunity to build a windmill that generates a measurable amount of electricity.
Working in teams towards a common goal
making electrical connections
A true story that inspires resilience and innovation
“We began by reading ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,’” said Increase Miler Elementary School’s Librarian Juli Hoffman. In the picture book, William Kamkwamba describes growing up in a drought-stricken region of Malawi and teaching himself how to build a windmill out of junkyard scraps—an initiative that eventually led to pumping water for crops.
Fourth graders also watched one of Kamkwamba’s TED talks. “The students loved hearing how his wind-powered inventions are helping improve people’s lives all over the world,” said Hoffman. They were inspired to create windmills, too.
They worked in groups, following a basic design. While Kamkwamba used a broken bicycle, an old shock absorber and blue gum trees, the students used paper towel rolls and other recyclables.
Learning how a windmill works
Steve Zoeller, the district’s staff developer for STEAM and sustainability, helped students understand how to convert the mechanical energy of the blade rotation to electrical energy, and measure the electricity generated with a voltmeter.
“After you test your windmill with the voltmeter, go back to your table and see if you can make changes that will improve your energy output,” said Hoffman. Many of the groups modified the angle of their windmill’s blades.
On round two, Zoe held the hair dryer, and Michael steadied the windmill’s tower. The numbers that Zoe and Tristan read on the voltmeter were exciting—137 … 156! “We knew it was going to work!” the students said.