KidWind Workshop

We received two Scale Up STEM grants from the state of Iowa this year — a First Lego League grant and a KidWind grant.

This past week I attended a workshop to learn about KidWind. When I arrived in downtown Sioux City, I parked at a parking meter. I knew I would have to move the car, but I had two hours, and I thought I would wait for our first scheduled break.

However, from the start of the workshop, we were so engaged that when the time came for the break we just kept working. When the time came for me to get a parking ticket, I finally ran out to my car to move it. I hated to miss a moment of building! The day raced by with exciting challenges and learning. First, we were given a random collection of materials and told to build something that would spin in the wind.

After we made something that would spin, we were challenged to have it lift a load. We were given a cup and string. Then we saw how many washers we could lift with our windmill.

Later in the day we made a windmill base out of PVC and we each designed blades, trying to find the design that would produce the most energy in the wind. We added a DC motor and were given a multimeter to measure voltage.

I was the first and last one to test my blades, with more than a dozen tests in between. I loved this project because it was so easy to change one variable and see what caused the energy output to go up or down. I started with the blades right out of the box and generated .28 volts of energy. I quickly got that up to .91 volts by trimming the blades and changing the angle. I added my name to the leader board. I kept tweaking, going from longer to shorter blades (to fit the size of the fan we used) and varying number of blades from two to four, and the angle from 10° to 40°. It was fascinating to see what happened with each change. My best score was 1.21 volts, which kept me competitive with my classmates.

What an awesome day! I was able to place an order for building supplies for my science students, which was all part of the grant.

In Iowa we are leaders in wind energy. Second only to Texas, and sometimes third to California. (We trade off the number two spot with California.) However, according to Joe, from KidWind, Iowa “kicks butt” in wind power capacity density. Iowa generates 29.9 kilowatts per square kilometer. Illinois is second at 19.1. Twenty percent of Iowa’s electricity comes from wind power.

Joe and Keith from KidWind

Some of our high school graduates have gone on to study in regional schools with world-class wind technology programs, so my junior high students are interested in and motivated to learn about wind energy. We can expect thousands of new jobs in wind technology in the next decade, so I look forward to being able to share my KidWind experiences with my students, as they may be future leaders in the field.

KidWind is an awesome organization! If you have received an Iowa grant, you already know that.

If you haven’t received a grant, check out the KidWind Monthly Giveaway in the Adopt-A-School program for your own opportunity for a grant with training for your s. They also sponsor monthly web competitions for the best student wind turbines.

More photos from KidWind training here.


Tree ID

Today in science the students worked to identify a tree, using the parts I brought to school from my camping trip in early August.

Here’s what we had to help us:

  • seeds
  • seed pods
  • a small seedling

That was a lot of information to help the students figure out the species, but not quite enough.

One student tried using this dichotomous key from Wisconsin, but he got stuck when he needed to identify the pith in the stem. David couldn’t get beyond this step because we didn’t have a stem. There was missing information, so the next time I saw the tree, I plucked off a stem and brought it to school.

Now we had a wealth of information:

  • the seeds, pods, and seedling we had earlier
  • the leaf arrangement on the compound leaf
  • the leaf arrangement on the stem
  • inside the stem (the pith)

Students got busy searching on Sweet Search for terms like “dichotomous key”, “deciduous tree” (once they figured out how to spell it — their teacher had been no help), and “native Iowa trees” (the only clue I had given them).

Mason found a great dichotomous key, from Iowa State University, which I was sure would help him figure it out, but as he went through the questions, he got stuck on. Then I joined him, and I got stuck too. We knew it was broadleaf and compound leaf, and we thought the leaves were arranged oppositely. That’s where we became stuck because after that all the trees mentioned had samaras, which are small winged seeds. Our tree definitely had no samaras.

What would you say? These are the examples we had. It seemed we had a bit of both.

This photo of alternate leaf placement is so different than the leaves we have. Maybe that’s another reason we thought that was the wrong way. In the meantime, other students had gone ahead down the alternate path, which ended up being a wise move. The students went on to choose between thorns and no thorns (ours has none), smooth or toothed leaf margins (smooth), singly or doubly compound (doubly compound).

Finally, with a click on the last doubly compounded link the tree came up, and it was definitely our tree, the one we have in our classroom — The Kentucky Coffee Tree. (Gymnocladus dioicus)

Here are more pictures of the mysterious tree that has now been identified!

Flickr Set with Mystery Tree Images

You can find these Mystery Tree images and more on Flickr. You can use them for a mystery tree activity, for none of them have been tagged with the real name of the tree.