The Power Race

After the huge success of British Science Week, a number of students were given the opportunity to take part in an additional STEM activity the following week which explored the energy generated by wind turbines.

On Tuesday 21st March, 40 Year 9 students took part in ‘The Power Race’ – a unique challenge where learners worked in teams of four to design and construct a working model of a wind turbine.

Each team was given access to a central supply of resources, including card, paper and plastic for blade construction, which they could choose from to help build their models. The turbine towers were built using rods and connectors from the K’Nex construction toy system. These items came with a fictional price attached which meant the students had to think carefully about the cost implications their designs would have on their future profits.

The teams were also issued with a fan to replicate the wind required to turn the blades, a multimeter to test power output and a wireless transmitter that sent their output readings to a central computer.

The unique wireless data system enabled the teams to compete in real-time with the live outputs being displayed on a screen at the front of the classroom. This allowed
students to see how many milliwatts of power they were generating and the efficiency of their designs, encouraging testing and modifications in order to compete with the other groups. This was particularly useful when refining their blade designs, highlighting the fact that a uniformed and streamlined design was the most effective.

The competition became fierce in the afternoon when the teams were each assigned countries and their
live results were represented on a map of Europe. Symbols on the screen indicated when students should decrease and increase the power of the fan, replicating real life changes in wind speed. At the end of each round of testing, the surplus energy created was offset against the
construction costs and fictional charges to customers to show each team’s profit.

Some teams found their profits were eroded by their heavier tower designs due to the increased cost of construction. Whereas students who had gone for a more lightweight option had fewer overheads to cover and were therefore able to make more profit.

Event organiser and Senior Science Technician Viki Foster commented:‘The Power Race helped students develop a range of skills including teamwork, design, problem solving and negotiation. I have run a number of STEM based activities for students in the school and this was definitely one of the best. The students enjoyed every aspect of the day, from the planning and building to the power race itself. They worked incredibly hard and never gave up, even when things were not going their way. It was great to see the competitive spirit in the teams but to see the students helping each other as well.’

The event was run by Director of UKSTEM Mike Cargill who added: ‘'It was a real pleasure working with Withernsea’s Year 9 students on the Power Race day. They completely entered into the spirit of the event and the progress they made on developing and refining their designs was great to witness.This was made even more pleasurable by their courteous attitudes.'