The Association for Science Education
  1. Home
  2. Resources
  3. ASPIRES: Teaching about science careers
  4. ASPIRES Case Study 2: Wind Power Challenge (Years 6 to 9)

ASPIRES Case Study 2: Wind Power Challenge (Years 6 to 9)

Windpower ASPIRES - SustainableDevelopment

Promoting STEM Careers with Wind Power Challenge Years 6 to 9

Teacher: Rebecca Norman ( City of London School (a high-attaining independent boys’ school for students aged 10-18)

Overview: A project based on Practical Action’s wind power challenge run over  three  lunchtimes promoting careers in engineering, design and sustainable energy to approximately 20 KS3 students. Working as a team, students are asked to design a wind turbine capable of lifting a weight off the floor to desk height. The winning team is the group whose turbine is capable of lifting the highest load.

Type of lesson:  STEM Society activity

Why did you do this?

CLS students’ ideas of “scientific careers” were very limited. When questioned, students explained they thought the majority of scientists worked alone on abstract projects with little relation to the real world.

Through this enjoyable activity I hoped to challenge the pre-existing perceptions of my students, helping them to realise the diverse skills required in scientific careers and to widen their horizons in terms of scientific careers.


Summary of Activity

Session 1: Design and Build

  • The activity is introduced with a brief discussion on the use of wind power throughout history – discussing grinding grain, pumping water, the “Age of Sail” and modern day production of electricity.
  • Students are given copies of the “Wind Turbine Poster” from Practical Action to allow them to discuss different designs, focusing on the different shapes of blades. Students are asked to explain why they think different designs exist. Ideas are shared with the group and discussed with Wind Power Challenge PowerPoint. 
  • Context for why this type of sustainable energy is required is given – Kyoto agreement and progress since then towards reducing CO2 levels are discussed. 
  • Students are shown a brief clip about an Energy Analyst and are asked to consider what skills someone in this career would require. 
  • Students are posed with the challenge of designing a wind turbine capable of lifting a weight from the ground to desk height using only the allowed materials in groups of 4. (See slides 1 & 4 of PowerPoint). A possible design is shown to provide inspiration (slide 5). 
  • Students design and construct a wind turbine. 

Session 2: Evaluate and Redesign 

  • Students are reminded they must complete their design in this session. They are encouraged to evaluate their initial design once it is complete and to make any necessary changes.
  • Students continue working on their wind turbine. 
  • Teacher circulates offering guidance and asking students about the skills they are using to complete this challenge. 

Session 3: Judging and Plenary 

  • An initial discussion asks students to decide how the judging can be done fairly. Ideas are shared and test conditions are finalised. Consider factors such as power of hair dryer and distance from wind turbine. 
  • Each group’s design is tested individually making note of the weight it is capable of lifting. 
  • A prize is awarded to the best design.
  • Viewing the wind turbines students are asked to decide why some designs were more successful than others. Ideas are shared with the group. Factors such as the number of blades, the shape of the blades, and the method of attachment are discussed. 
  • Students are asked what skills they think scientists must have to be involved in the design of wind turbines. Ideas are shared with the group. If communication and creativity are not mentioned the students should be asked if they think these skills are necessary. 

Timing: Three 30 – 40 minute sessions run during the school lunch hour. 


Materials:  Hair dryer, scissors, card, sellotape, masking tape, pencils, paper/plastic cups, string, weights.

Costs:  Minimal – could include a chocolate prize! 

Additional teacher information: Teacher Instructions (PDF) 

External links:

Practical Action - Wind Power Challenge

Video of a wind turbine exploding 

Energy analyst video

Practical Action - STEM Careers

Student work:

          Wind Power Fig 1                                   








Figure 1. Wind turbine design in progress

Wind Power Fig 2









Figure 2. A completed wind turbine 

  Wind Power Fig 3








Figure 3. An alternative wind turbine design 

Learning and Other Outcomes/Evaluation

  • All students gained an understanding of some different scientific careers ranging from politicians to designers to engineers. They gained specific insight into the role of an “Energy Analyst”.
  • All students gained some appreciation of the multitude of different skills involved in scientific careers, expanding their preconceived notions from adjectives such as “clever” to include adjectives like “creative”.
  • Students reinforced their understanding of energy and forces using this activity. More of a focus could be put on this learning objective if the project was embedded within a scheme of work, rather than a STEM Soc. activity.

Curriculum Links

  • Unit 7I. Energy resources
  • Unit 7K. Forces and their effects
  • Unit 9I. Energy and electricity

Integrating Careers Information into the Lessons 

Session 1: The focus of this lesson is the initial design of the wind turbine. As students work in groups they will begin to notice which skills they are employing to ensure the success of their design. Teacher prompts could ask them to consider leadership, communication, creativity, team working, listening, patience and perseverance. 

This task also encourages students to consider many different people who work in careers related to wind power and science including politicians, designers and analysts. Students are introduced to an Energy Analyst who puts a human face on a different scientific career. 

Session 2: Teacher prompting should see students gaining further understanding of the skills required in different scientific careers. As they are directly using these skills themselves it should emphasize the point! 

Session 3: This lesson is essential in encouraging students to develop a sense of what skills they used during the task to ensure success and to apply this to scientific careers in general. Careful teacher guidance is required here to steer students towards a range of skills.

Top Tips 

  • A sustainable chocolate prize is highly motivating! 
  • Lower ability groups would require more support with their initial design – mixed ability teams would be very helpful, as would an older student acting as an “energy consultant”. 
  • Teacher circulation is essential to encourage students to make the connection between the skills they are using and the skills real scientists have to employ in their careers.

Related documents

Zip Folder - ASPIRES Case Study 2: Wind Power Challenge (Years 6 to 9)


All the associated lesson plans, worksheets, pdfs, powerpoints (ppts) and links for this case study resource. This is a free ASE download.