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Science Education

College of the Sciences

Local Students Get a Head Start in KidWind Projects

As society becomes ever more tech-oriented, parents, educators and employers are realizing the importance of exposing students to science technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) classes as soon as possible. The Kidwind Project is just one of the many programs hoping to jump start that process.

Local fourth and fifth graders gathered in a Central Washington University classroom to learn about the physics of wind turbines and how they operate. Arthur Morken, a CWU professor for science teaching, led the class as students eagerly examined an array of mock wings, fans and PVC pipes.

Morken explained to students that renewable energy is the wind beneath the turbine blades and depending on the direction of the wind and its strength will determine how much energy is generated.

Students held up fans at different angles and pitches to test this theory. Other students took readings via the mock turbine motor to see what pitches of the blades affected the energy output.

According to Morken, wind power is one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world. In fact, driving by any windfarm, a wind turbine can easily cost a million dollars to build. What Morken says people overlook is the many processes and personnel that are needed to build such a complex machine.

“The point of the local wind farm sponsoring this is when farms originally went in, they had no technicians to actually maintain and support it,” Morken said. “The whole industry took off really quick… whether people agree or don't agree with renewable energy isn't the point. It's whether or not we can fit the demand that our country is going to have for another 300,000, technicians, workers, manufacturers, engineers.”

Morken points to something as simple as a bottle of shampoo you might find in your bathroom.

“That’s a whole team of people in different engineering processes,” Morken said. “That product needs to start with a chemical engineer to process where it goes to an industrial engineer and then to a mechanical engineer that makes the machines that make it and then there’s a production engineer that controls how it's done and so on.”

Morken said a whole team of people is needed to make any product someone might casually see in a store, but what’s behind that project is a whole a lot of jobs that are currently experiencing a shortage of trained personnel.

Morken said the KidWind class at CWU is normally teachers only who later bring what they learned back to the classroom, but lately educators have been shifting gears to use the time for teachers and students.

According to Morken, giving students more opportunities to brainstorm and problem solve increases how creative and complex their project will be and is a key component to thinking critically, especially in STEM field.

“They go through what is the problem, brainstorming solutions for building something, and then testing and evaluating it, and then go back to the top again,” Morken said.

Morken hopes that by providing students with more than one opportunity to work on the wind turbine project he can help to stimulate a love for the sciences that doesn't have to happen in one sitting.

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