These wind turbines didn’t generate the controversy usually found in Roanoke County surrounding wind energy.
But that could be because they were made of wooden dowels, paper clips, rubber bands, glue, Styrofoam – and created by fourth-graders.
Fort Lewis Elementary School students crafted small-scale, vertical-axis wind turbines Thursday as part of a Science, Technology, Engineering, Math lesson to learn about natural resources and different types of energy, including wind power.
The school sits in view of Poor Mountain, which has been at the center of the wind energy debate in the county.
A Chicago-based company, Invenergy, had plans to build 15 to 18 towering windmills on the mountain, but in May pushed its target date to 2015 because of the uncertainty surrounding federal incentives for wind energy.
Roanoke County approved regulations for large-scale wind energy systems in September 2011, but the process was long and controversial. Many residents near Poor Mountain had concerns about how a wind farm could affect their property values, spoil their views and create noise.
As recently as December officials were once again discussing wind energy. At that time they debated potentially sending the county’s wind energy systems ordinance back to the planning commission, but ultimately did not.
In Sherry Meredith’s fourth grade class Thursday there was no debate, just consensus.
“This is the coolest project I’ve ever done,” 10-year-old Nick Shell said, holding up his wind turbine where the styrofoam panels had been colorfully, and carefully, decorated.
He said he liked the project because he made something himself and could show it off.
Sitting nearby, his classmate Amarri Edwards, 10, agreed. He was also having fun and was eager to talk about his brightly colored turbine.
“You get to make stuff and help your friends,” he said.
It was a lesson in science, and teamwork, as students helped each other assemble the pieces of their turbines and aided each other in holding parts in place while they applied glue. They will later use the turbines in a series of experiments.
Students were led by Sarah Young, an instructor with the Michigan-based group All About Learning. Young said learning is easier for students when they’re having fun.
Before they started to assemble their turbines, she talked with them about different energy sources. The fourth-graders were able to quickly rattle off different types of energy, including wind.
“Does anyone know about wind energy,” Young asked.
“This picture is called a wind farm,” she said, gesturing to an image of large-scale wind turbines on an electronic whiteboard screen. “Have y’all ever seen anything like this before?”
Principal Cindy Klimaitis said educators want young students to think about energy and develop an interest. As fourth-graders, her students have studied natural resources and know the importance of conservation.
Lessons like the one Thursday drive home the concepts, she said, because students are doing a hands-on activity and take ownership of it.
“Instead of just giving students material to learn we need to give them a self-discovery process,” Klimaitis said. “We need to let children discover things, create things.”
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