Blowin' in the Wind

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In this environmental engineering activity, learners build windmills using everyday items. The first challenge is to build windmills that spin when placed in front of a fan. The second challenge is to get the windmills to lift a cup filled with weights.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
2 to 4 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 12-in or larger electric fan(s)
  • plastic or wooden spool
  • 12-in. long wooden dowel (diameter needs to fit through spool)
  • 6-in. piece of PEX tubing or empty cardboard milk carton
  • 4-8 index cards (4 in. x 6 in.)
  • 4 wooden skewers
  • Styrofoam ball (2 in. diameter) or squares cut from Styrofoam blocks
  • 6 T-pins
  • duct tape or sticky tack
  • 18 in. piece of clear tape
  • scissors
  • safety glasses
  • paper and pencil
  • protractor (optional)
  • 4 ft. length of string
  • paper or plastic cup
  • 15 steel nuts or washers, for weights


  • Engineering and Technology
    • Engineering
      • Environmental Engineering
      • Mechanical Engineering
    • Technology
  • Physical Sciences
    • Energy
      • Work and Machines
    • Motion and Forces
      • Machines
      • Gravity
      • Momentum and Velocity
      • Rotation Motion
    • States of Matter
      • Solids
      • Gases
  • Mathematics
    • Geometry
      • Plane Geometry
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Impacts of Technology
      • Technology and the Environment
    • The Design Process
      • Research and Development
      • Invention and Innovation
      • Problem Solving
      • Troubleshooting and Maintenance

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities

Culture, ethnicity, and gender

  • Girls

    • Explicity developed for this group
    • Acknowledges this group's contributions to STEM
    • Highlights STEM opportunities for this group
    • Identifies role models or mentors in STEM fields from this group
    • Uses inclusive images of people from this group


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, Twin Cities Public Television, Inc., 2010

Funding Sources:

  • National Science Foundation, 0813519
  • ExxonMobil