Fostering STEM literacy through a tabletop wind turbine environmental science laboratory activity

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Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences


Increasingly, national education policy is focusing on improving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) literacy by using energy as a subject matter. In particular, The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS 2014) identified energy as an issue that collectively relates the principles of science, technology, engineering, and math for students. Learning about energy, especially alternative energy, is much broader than STEM as it also connects a current issue to environmental impacts, the economy, and society—the three pillars of sustainability. In this paper, we present a hands-on laboratory activity developed for an introductory environmental science course that uses tabletop wind turbines designed to improve students’ STEM and energy literacy and to introduce them to the science and technology of wind energy and basic land use considerations of siting wind farms. In this lab, students conceptualize and calculate the basic physical properties of wind energy potential and production by measuring velocities and calculating optimal energy production through various modifications to turbine placement and blade manipulation. Students construct mini-wind farms with multiple turbines and manipulate the footprint and height to achieve the greatest energy production on the smallest footprint thus incorporating land use considerations. This lab engages students, most of whom are not STEM majors; supports their ability to solve a real, hands-on integrated STEM problem; and increases their understanding and ability to communicate about the scientific and technical aspects of energy, in particular wind energy.