TAME Engineering Adventure: Wind Turbine State Challenge


Welcome to TAME Engineering Adventures!  Our goal is to help you challenge your students with hands-on learning. 

Wind it up! This Engineering Adventure is to design and build the rotor for a wind turbine. We're offering a classroom adaptation of the Engineering Design Challenge from the 32nd Annual TAME State STEM Competition sponsored by Boeing and hosted by CPS Energy at La Villita Assembly Building in downtown San Antonio, Texas on April 8th, 2017.

It's a great way to get your TAME Club members to start thinking like engineers in preparation for our STEM Competitions.

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Introduction: How to think like an engineer

This handy graphic, courtesy of TAME's partner Boeing, is worth referring to throughout the year. The emphasis of each Design Challenge is not on winning, but on the collaborative design process. Every challenge is an opportunity for students to practice both individual and collaborative problem-solving and to reflect on how they might improve for the next time.  

(Click to enlarge)
How does a wind turbine work? For a warm-up, we suggest this great 2-minute video from National Geographic, Energy 101: Wind Turbines
Next, ask students to imagine what it would feel like to build a wind turbine. Ask students to list all the things they imagine they need to do in order to make that happen. What problems do they think might come up, and how do they plan to prevent or solve them once they happen? What limitations do they think they would have to face? 

“I decided I wasn’t going to let people’s limits be my limits,” says Jessica Kilroy, one of 4400 wind turbine technicians in America today. In this 5-minute video, The Wind Climber, part of Great Big Story’s Planet Earth series, Kilroy talks about the challenges she had to face to do what she loves today—climbing and repairing wind turbines. “I decided to go so much further past what I even thought my own limits were.”



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Competition Adventure: Wind It Up! 2017 State Engineering Design Challenge


During the 1980s, Boeing engineers built the largest wind turbines in history and constructed the first “wind farm”. Many of the ideas developed in those projects are used today in developing wind turbines and wind farms across the world.

A wind turbine is a device that converts the wind's kinetic energy into electrical power. There are three components to a traditional wind turbine. The rotor, which includes the blades for converting wind energy to low speed rotational energy. The generator, which includes the electrical generator, the control electronics, and components for converting the low speed incoming rotation to high speed rotation suitable for generating electricity. The structural support which includes the tower and rotor yaw mechanism. The yaw mechanism ensures that the wind turbine rotor is always facing the wind.

Aerodynamic modeling is used to determine the optimum tower height, control systems, number of blades and blade shape.

Project Overview: You have 60 minutes to design, test, build, and demonstrate the rotor for a wind turbine. Your team will use the materials provided to design and build one or more blades that can be attached to the turbine hub. The hub will be connected to the generator and the turbine will be powered by a fan placed near the unit. When the blades turn in the wind, the turbine hub spins and the generator produces electricity. A multimeter* will be used to measure the electric current generated at different fan speeds.

*The multimeter is optional.

The PowerPoint presentation and Student Team Instructions (see downloads) were used at the 2017 State Competition, and they will lead you through the Design Challenge from concept to scoring.  You can decide whether you want to follow the guidelines to the letter, or simplify for your classroom.  

Primary objectives: Efficiency. You want to build a wind turbine that produces the most energy while using fewer materials.

Suggested time: 60 minutes

Suggested scoring:
The following formulas can be used to score the performance of each wind turbine:

Performance Score = (4 * Final Low Speed + 3 * Final Medium Speed + 2 * Final High Speed) 

See PowerPoint under downloads for scoring sheet and additional scoring categories. 


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Suggested materials: 
Club Sponsors, feel free to simplify by using materials on hand. In many cases the competitors did not use all the materials, so it is likely you can run this competition with what you have in your classroom.

Materials per team:


4 sheets of paper
4 pieces of cardstock
2 sheets of chip board
2 Styrofoam cups
6 dowels
4 rubber bands
6 binder clips
Masking tape
1 paper clip
Curling ribbon
1 gallon zip bag



Turbine hub (example here)
2 tickets to the testing station



1 pair of scissors
1 pencil
Design challenge instructions
Team number sign



Multi-speed box fan (example here)
Micrometer (optional, example here)
PVC Hub Mount can be made from PVC (the recommended distance from center of hub to table top is 15.5 inches)



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Team member roles:


Since one goal of TAME's competitions is to help students envision a future in a STEM career,  all team members are assigned roles, just like a real engineering team. Each person is expected to complete their assigned "deliverable" during the competition. Feedback from participants over the years suggests that this helps students speak up in their role even if they do not know their teammates. Students who use professional titles during the Engineering Design Challenge seem to take more pride in their work and be more likely to identify with a future in STEM. 

SYSTEM ENGINEER will verify that the team-designed wind turbine has a name, team members have specific roles, and documentation is complete. She/he will make sure that the turbine is tested at least once before time is called.
DESIGN ENGINEER will lead the overall design and is responsible for including the design drawing(s) in the documentation. She/he will lead the team in developing a strategy to maximize points earned.

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER will attach the team-designed wind turbine to the generator shaft at the testing station and later at the judging station. She/he will verify that the turbine is well constructed and properly attached to the generator shaft.

MATERIALS ENGINEER will review all the supplies provided and lead the team in selecting the appropriate materials for blade design keeping in mind that the more items that are returned, the more points are earned. She/he will return unused materials when time is called.
SALES ENGINEER will lead the team in developing the presentation to the judges and will make the presentation. She/he will include a comparison between the team’s wind turbine and the sample wind-turbine information and design strategy.

TEST ENGINEER is responsible for testing the turbine during the build phase, recording the current generated during this test. She/he will also ensure that the turbine starts rotating in the first 20 seconds of testing, turning the blades gently, if necessary. Only the test engineer may touch the turbine in the first 20 seconds of testing and judging.
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Downloading the free materials:

Ready to tackle the challenge? Download the 2017 Engineering Design Challenge materials using the buttons  below to introduce students to this challenge.

Download the PowerPoint Presentation (PDF)
Download the Student Team Instructions (PDF)
Download the Judge Instructions (PDF)

Download the Scoring Sheet (Excel file)



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Post-challenge reflection:

These activities are a great chance for students to observe the joys and frustrations of collaborative design.  Once the competition is over, ask your students to reflect on their experience.  Was it easy to work with a team? What was easy and what was hard? What would each student do differently the next time?  What would they do the same?  


Bonus reading:

Check out this classic TED talk: How I Built a Windmill"When he was just 14 years old, Malawian inventor William Kamkwamba built his family an electricity-generating windmill from spare parts, working from rough plans he found in a library book."  
To power his family's home, young William Kamkwamba built an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap — starting him on a journey detailed in the book and film "The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind."
boywhoharnessedthewind williamkamkwamba boywhoharnessedthewind williamkamkwamba2 movingwindmills williamkamkwamba


Hint: share Kamkwamba's design with students after they have designed their own prototypes:

(click to enlarge)

movingwindmills williamkamkwamba infographic

Source: "Building the First Windmill," from Moving Windmills.


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Texas Essential Knowledge & Skills (TEKS) for this Adventure

Middle School TEKS Tie-Ins:

Middle School Math

6th Grade Math

  • Apply qualitative and quantitative reasoning to solve prediction and comparison of real-world problems involving ratios and rates
  • Generate ratios, fractions, and decimals with the measurements of the wind turbine during the construction and design
  • Represent data graphically with dot plots, stem-and-leaf plots, histograms, or box plots to evaluate results of the wind turbine’s performance

7th Grade Math

  • Solve mathematical and real-world problems involving similar shape and scale drawings of the wind turbine
  • Compare data represented in bar graphs, dot plots, and circle graphs and can use to compare different designs of the wind turbine

8th Grade Math

  • Create graph and plots to understand the relationships of data gathered about the wind turbine
  • Use previous knowledge of surface area to make connections to the formulas and determine solutions for problems involving rectangular prisms, triangular prisms, and cylinders associated with structures of the wind turbine

Middle School Science

6th Grade Science

  • Investigate the relationship between force and motion of the wind turbine using a variety of means, including calculations and measurements
  • Measure and graph changes in motion when testing the wind turbine 
  • Discuss the history and future of energy transformation, such as windmills and hydroelectric dams

7th Grade Science

  • Identify advantages and limitations of different designs such as size, scale, properties, and materials
  • Introduce and comprehend the physical and chemical changes of matter and energy

8th Grade Science

  • Demonstrate and calculate how unbalanced forces affect the speed or direction of the wind turbine’s motion
  • Practice appropriate use of resources, including disposal, reuse, and recycling of the material used 
  • Investigate and understand the differences of speed, velocity, and acceleration 
  • Experience the presence of Newton’s three laws of motion within the motions of the wind turbine


High School TEKS Tie-Ins:


High School Math


  • Consider the associations and causation between the design of the wind turbine and the results of the performance
  • Solve mathematic and scientific formulas, and other literal equations; refer to the “Performance Score” formula


  • Have students sketch the top, side and front views and use those views to find the surface area of the wind turbine
  • Help identify two-dimensional shapes of different cross sections of the three-dimensional shapes of the wind turbine


High School Science


  • Students can collect data and make measurements with precision and record data using International System (SI) units
  • Organize, analyze, evaluate, make inferences, and predict trends from data; and communicate valid conclusions
  • Exposure to energy and its forms, including kinetic, potential, chemical, and thermal energies present within the wind turbine

Physics/Integrated Physics and Chemistry

  • Students can collect data and make measurements with precision and record data using International System (SI) units
  • Organize, analyze, evaluate, make inferences, and predict trends from data; and communicate valid conclusions
  • Describe and calculate the wind turbine’s motion in terms of position, displacement, speed, and acceleration
  • Assess the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration, noting the relationship is independent of the nature of the force
  • Students can develop and interpret free-body force diagrams of their wind turbines

Earth & Space Science

  • Discuss the optimal locations for wind turbines in different geographical areas, such as near mountains, cliffs, canyons, ocean bluffs, and offshore turbines in order to apply Fluid Earth concepts:
    • investigate how the atmosphere is heated from Earth's surface due to absorption of solar energy, which is re-radiated as thermal energy and trapped by selective absorbers; and

    • explain how thermal energy transfer between the ocean and atmosphere drives surface currents, thermohaline currents, and evaporation that influence climate and weather.

Source: Texas Education Agency, Chapter 111 & 112, Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills


Looking for more? 

Many of these ideas come from our curated idea boards on Pinterest. If you liked these, you'll love our Engineering: Activities for All Ages board!

With more than 6,000 pins organized into over 50 different boards, TAME's Pinterest presence is specially curated to help teachers, parents, and students of all ages get excited about STEM. 

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