No Turbine Required: Wind Powers Education at Ellicott City School

Studying wind power is helping students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School better understand science, the environment, and the costs and benefits of wind turbines.

Is wind power a viable option to supply electricity to the campus of ?

Ask the students.

“I don’t know yet,” said Sammy Asuncion, 12. “I really haven’t collected too much data.”

One of the best answers a scientist could give.  

Thanks to a new curriculum developed by the University of Maryland Baltimore County/Shriver Center, all seventh grade students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) are learning to be better scientists–and engineers, and economists.

Students are learning basic physics concepts, building models and collecting data to determine whether the school, at 4801 Ilchester Rd., is in a location that has the right conditions for a productive turbine, and whether building one would be financially viable. 

This new Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculum is funded by a $50,000 grant from Constellation Energy and administered by UMBC and the Shriver Center. It’s a joint program with OLPH and Baltimore's Federal Hill Preparatory School.

Although it is focused on wind power, the program will ultimately give the students knowledge that they can apply beyond turbines.

“Making decisions based on facts and science,” said Dr. Lynn Sparling, “that’s the goal.”

Sparling, a physics professor at UMBC, is also the director of the program. “It’s a way to have them analyze data and apply it to a real problem.”

In class on Wednesday, the problem put to students was: What’s a way that we can make the slow speed of the wind turn the generator faster?

Trevor Mathias, one of two UMBC fellows that visit the OLPH class bi-weekly to work with the students, manually turned the blades on a model turbine, pointing out the different sized gears.

Kenny Shottings had the answer; the 13-year-old explained how gears of different sizes affect the speed at which the generator turns.

Shottings is no stranger to gears and building blocks. “I have a room full of Legos,” he explained.

Question-and-answer time was brief in Barbara Wissmann’s classroom, and students’ attention soon turned to the boxes on their desks, which were full of brightly colored building blocks and gears.

In small groups, they were put to the task of building either a working hand-drill or blender, helping them to further understand the concept of gears. Mathias and his partner, Nathan Scavilla, worked the room, helping students who needed it and going deeper into explanation with students who had the concepts down.

As Matt Hess, 13, and Haley Stipes, 12, fidgeted with some ill-fitting blocks, Hess said that he enjoyed the new program. “It’s better than regular class,” he said. “A lot more fun,” Stipes chipped in.

“Especially with the guys here,” Hess added.

“The kids can’t wait to get to class,” Wissmann said. “They’re learning, working and cooperating” with smiles on, she noted. “It’s surprising sometimes, too,” she said, motioning to one of her students, “the ones who are taking on leadership roles.”

In addition to hands-on engineering, students are collecting wind strength and energy-use data, with help, in part from Weather Bug. A donated data collection station is mounted on the building, making the school a Weather Bug station (you can check the weather at OLPH online).

Students also brought home energy meters to measure how much electricity different appliances use, and how much they’re costing their households.

All of this information will help them build a comprehensive picture of energy use, which will help them determine whether a turbine makes sense for their school.

At the same time, said Wissmann, “it’s engendering in them an interest in math and science, and it’s helping them look ahead to how they can change the future.”

Mary Gregorini April 01, 2011 at 09:46 AM
What a great initiative to widen the horizons of young, curious minds!
Lisa Ryan April 01, 2011 at 01:39 PM
What an interesting article! Thank you OLPH, Constellation Energy, UMBC and the Shriver Center for providing our children with a fabulous education!
Brooks Whiteford April 02, 2011 at 02:09 PM
It is fantastic that OLPH is incorporating programs like these into it's curriculum!
Christine Twele April 03, 2011 at 06:35 PM
Love the partnership with UMBC and the opportunity for our kids to be involved in such an interesting project.


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