Youth explore wind energy

Youth can explore wind energy at 4-H Renewable Energy Camp and through other 4-H science programs.

Did you know the wind is one form of solar energy? Winds are caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere. When the molecules in our atmosphere heat up, they begin to move faster. The air mass containing the molecules rises as it expands and its density decreases. As the air mass rises, it leaves a space below it that is filled by the surrounding air. This movement of air masses is what we call wind. To learn more about the movement of molecules, read “Exploring our world: The energy of molecules” by Michigan State University Extension.

Wind energy is the term used to describe the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity. Mechanical power is the combination of the force on an object—the wind blowing—and the object's velocity—how fast the blades turn. Wind turbines and funnels convert the kinetic energy—the energy of movement—of the wind into mechanical power or electricity. A generator can convert the mechanical power into electricity.

You can help youth explore wind energy by challenging them to make a wind turbine. Provide each group of youth with a small Styrofoam ball, craft sticks, index cards, tape, pins and a round pencil or wooden dowel. Set up a testing area where youth can bring their turbines and test them in front of the fan. After the youth have experimented with a variety of blade designs and placements, challenge them to make a turbine that can lift the most pennies in a paper cup 1 foot off the ground.

Provide youth with a string, paper cup, paper clips and pennies. Then, allow them time to design their lift bucket and test their turbines. When time is up, ask each group one at a time to bring the bucket and turbine to the testing area and test which turbine can lift the most pennies. Be sure to allow time to discuss which blades and positions seemed to work best and why.

Wind energy is widely available across the United States and the more wind there is, the more power it generates. While wind energy is a free renewable resource, there is a higher initial investment than conventional fossil fuel generators. However, they are competitive because there are no fuel costs and there are minimal operating expenses. The major concern with wind energy is the wind does not always blow or the areas where it does blow consistently are remote, and there is a cost in transporting the energy to the grid.

For more opportunities for youth to explore wind energy or other alternative energies, check out the 4-H Renewable Energy Camp held each July through Michigan State University Extension. Other wind energy resources to use with youth are the curriculum “Power of the Wind,” available through the 4-H Mall, and the 2011 National Youth Science Experiment “Wired for Wind.”

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help to create a community excited about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM content are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success. To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2015 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

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