Monroe Zell and Miranda Walker, Harvard Elementary School sixth graders, observe how a change in blade angle affects the speed of their miniature wind turbine. They built it at Monday's summit.
For four fifth graders from Chase STEM Academy, building a wind turbine strong enough to lift a tiny bucket meant choosing the best materials, size, shape, and number of blades.
They settled on three half-circle-shaped pieces of cardboard attached to wooden skewers by hot glue.
"We think the wide base will catch the wind better," Richshawn Ticey explained.
The group agreed to use cardboard, he said, adding, "But I was thinking about using paper so the wind could move it faster."
Nearly 100 Toledo Public School students gathered at Toledo Technology Academy Monday for a Wind Energy Summit on how wind energy works, the factors to consider in choosing a site for a wind turbine, and the types of sites that would be appropriate.
The event, run largely by Toledo Technology Academy sophomores with help from Woodward High School students, involved students from Chase STEM, Harvard, and Ottawa River elementary schools whose teachers have taken part in the University of Toledo's LEADERS program for the past two years.
Austin Ward, a sophomore at Toledo Technology Academy, holds the glue gun for Richshawn Ticey, a Chase STEM student, as he attaches turbine blades to a skewer.
The idea, explained Charlene Czerniak, a UT professor of science education, is to train teachers to teach project-based science. Science traditionally has been experiment-based; the LEADERS program is focused on getting students involved in more long-term investigations.
"A teacher could take a question like, ‘How would we power the city or our neighborhood if we didn't have petroleum?' and then they could tie in chemical energy concepts through biomass, they could tie in geothermal in terms of geology, they could tie in solar energy in terms of teaching about the sun," Ms. Czerniak explained. "It's a way of taking a question and being able to pull your science concepts over a long-term investigation that kids would do."
Those involved with the LEADERS program, which was funded by a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, hope it will get children excited about science.
"There's a big difference between going in front of your class the first day and saying, ‘I'm going to teach you about alternative energy' versus asking the class, ‘How will we be able to power Toledo if petroleum runs out?'?" said Elizabeth Buckholtz, science support teacher with Toledo Public Schools.
"With project-based science, students are answering questions, and because they have an interesting question to answer they're automatically invested in the lesson," she said. "They really truly do want to understand why science works in the real world."
Italia Fernandez, a sixth grader at Harvard Elementary, helped her group build blades for a miniature wind turbine that would generate electricity. She said that to her, science is interesting.
Christian Fontenot, a Woodward High School senior, turns a turbine as elementary-student participants at the summit try to pick up papers from the floor without being struck by the turbine's blades. The exercise at Monday's event is to demonstrate potential hazards that wind turbines present to birds.
"I like learning about science and how technology works and how all thing work together," she said. "I like to study how we can use more efficient things, how we use wind to save electricity."
Ted Richardson, a science teacher at Toledo Technology Academy, said his own students helped design the activities for the elementary children and worked out which would be the better site to place a wind turbine — the former Jeep plant or an undeveloped area just south of Toledo Correctional Institution. They considered shadow flicker from the turning blades, impact on birds and bats, ice shedding, and, of course, the neighbors that would be affected.
"My kids pretty quickly came to a consensus," he said, adding that the two sites are not that different but his class chose the prison site. "They said they didn't care if the prisoners were bothered by shadow flicker."
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