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Alternative Energy

This module’s essential challenge focuses on building and optimizing wind turbines. Students engage in a series of investigations to determine how wind turbines work. After investigating the concepts of energy transformation and the speed and force of objects, students engage in a design challenge in which they build and optimize wind turbine blades to produce the greatest energy output.

Through this module, students build an understanding of the idea that energy can be converted from one form into another. Students also build an initial understanding of forces, motion, and air that can be built on in later grade levels. As students engage in the engineering design process, they develop a deep conceptual understanding of the work of scientists and engineers.

NGSS addressed by this module:
3-5-ETS1-2   3-5-ETS1-3   4-PS3-1   4-PS3-4

Grade Band: 4-5

Watch the Video

Engineering Design in the Classroom: Alternative Energy

Download the Lessons

Entire Unit: Alternative Energy
DAYS 1–10: Alternative Energy Teacher Handbook Download

DAYS 1-4: How a Wind Turbine Harnesses the Wind
Students investigate the science ideas behind what makes a pinwheel spin, why a pinwheel or wind turbine spins faster or slower, how the wind can be converted into electrical energy through a wind turbine, and how to optimize wind turbine blades to generate the most electrical output. Students engage in the design challenge of designing, testing, and refining a wind turbine to convert wind energy into electrical energy. Through the design process, students test and compare multiple solutions, build on science ideas to inform design characteristics, and relate the speed of an object to the energy of that object. Download

DAYS 5 & 6: How Wind Energy Converts to Electrical Energy
Students continue to explore the idea that mechanical energy from the wind can be converted into electrical energy. Students build on this understanding by examining the parts of a simple motor with a specific focus on using the motor to generate electromagnetism; generators in wind turbines utilize a similar process. Students participate in a mini-design competition to see whose design (battery, nail, and a connected wire coil) can generate the most electromagnetic energy and pick up the most metal paper clips. Download

DAYS 7-10: Design a Wind Turbine Blade
Students optimize their design by testing, collecting data, and making design decisions that will be justified in their final oral presentations. Download


The materials created by this collaboration were taught by the authoring teachers in Puget Sound and Houston and in 2015, a second group of teachers taught the lessons and provided feedback to improve the modules. As part of a second iteration of the modules, the senior science editor at Teaching Channel worked with Achieve to integrate the teachers’ feedback while more closely aligning the modules to The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) call for significant shifts in the way science is taught and learned. In 2016, a panel of science experts from around the country convened for a two day training with Achieve to learn how to incorporate the Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuiP) Rubric for Science. As part of the iterative process of improvement, the expert reviewers then completed an EQuIP Rubric for each module. Teaching Channel's senior science editor combined the reviewers input to create a third iteration of the modules that promotes a close alignment to standards while honoring the original expertise of the authoring teachers and engineers.

Centennial Education Partner Resources

"What drew me to the project was actually the STEM component. It was an opportunity where I could teach and actually create the curriculum with two engineers... My students gained knowledge on how to rebuild, how to redesign, how to revamp, how to re-guide [their] thinking."

Tiffani Slaughter
5th Grade Teacher, Houston,

Partners at the Institute for Science and Math Education at the University of Washington and Educate Texas were instrumental in teacher recruitment and the necessary training for this initiative.