Pupils at Pendle Primary Academy Design, 3D Print and Make Wind Turbines

In the Summer term, Pendle Primary Academy participated in the first wave of the BAE Funded Inspiring Lancashire Primary 3D Printing Programme. As part of the 3 year programme, each year the school receives a full day CPD training in the use of the hardware and software and Primary curriculum applications followed by a half term loan of an Ultimaker 2+ Connect 3D Printer, enabling the school to run 3D printing projects with the students. During this time, Yr6 teacher and Computing lead Dr. Thomas Cousins introduced students to the technology and ran a wind turbine design project. In this blog, Dr. Cousins shares his experiences.

student with 3D printer and models

About the Project

The main aim of this project is to help the children understand the process of creating a prototype through to imagining the final product.  Initially the children are introduced to what a wind turbine is, through their Geography lessons they find out about the importance and sustainable energy, specifically in this case turning wind into electrical energy.  From this, a supplementary lesson is done in Science focusing on how electrical current is created through the motion of the wind turbine.

Armed with this knowledge, the project then focuses on Design and Technology elements by which the children will design, create and build their own working wind turbine.  To begin with the children, create a drawing on the basic principles of the wind turbine, this is often just a rough sketch and involves annotated and or audio comments around its dimensions and materials.  From this the children create a paper prototype using card and straws, forming the basis of their final product design.  Lastly, the children create a final piece which involves the use of stronger card/ cardboard and electrical components to try and get an LED to light up through wind power.

One of the main fallacies of this project, one that the children always comment on, is that the cardboard/ paper blades often bend of break easily once a wind force is applied to it.  This often results in the children only getting a limited number of attempts to get their LED to light up. For the past couple of years, we have introduced a CAD element to this project, whereby the children, equipped with the knowledge of what went wrong, use Tinkercad to design a more stable and functional wind turbine.  Usually this is where the project ends as the ability to produce the designs in 3D space is missing.

The original design

However, with the use of the 3D printer we were able to print out one of the children’s designs (this was chosen as a class based on the best design). The children found that while their design may look practical in Tinkercad, once it had been printed there were several flaws to what they have created, these included: inability of the blades to stick to the central piece; holes too small to allow the turbine to sit on; the main pole not thick enough to support the weight and the blades being too straight to allow them to move with the wind.

The redesigned wind turbine

From this the children were able to go back into Tinkercad and redesign their turbine, this example shows a final piece created by the same child whose original idea had failed.  Without the use of a 3D printer, this could not have been realised, with the children gaining an understanding of how CAD can be used to help create real objects, but those objects cannot exist independently of physics.

With the new completed 3D printed blade, the children were able to use them on their own turbines to allow for a more consistent and successful attempt at lighting up the LED.  In turn, this meant that the reflections and evaluations that the children made about their products were far more detailed and had real world implications.  The ability to change and adapt their designs and see actual physical results garnered more interest and conversation than would ever come from the failure of a paper model.

Personal Reflection

Having used several innovative technologies in school over the past several years, the children have become increasingly more engaged with such design and technology products.  The introduction of Tinkercad as a form of CAD within the primary curriculum several years ago has yielded fantastic results and allowed the children’s imagination to be set free from the mundane, tedious repetition of flat 2D drawings.  The missing piece of this puzzle has always been the introduction of CAM products within the curriculum.  Having that ability to realise something in 3D space is vital for young children, as sometimes ideas and concepts are quite abstract when presented in more traditional forms.  This project for example has run for a number of years in Year 6, but it has always seemed like it cuts off too early with a half-finished final product.  The introduction of the 3D printer has allowed the project to run that extra length, sparking both interest and real-world outcomes for the children.

Professionally participating in the Inspiring Lancashire Programme has allowed me to extend my knowledge base and further the subject of computing within the school.  I consider myself to have a rather solid foundational understanding of computing and technology, however, newer technologies such as the 3D printer, are hard to gain experience with without access.  Through the training and using it within the classroom, I have gained in confidence in both its use and implementing it as a tool for learning within my personal pedagogical approach.  This has also led me to explore other technologies that might be implemented within the primary curriculum to enhance the children’s experiences.

Since its introduction into the school environment, I haven’t been surprised in the interest shown by the children, as I expected that it would.  What I was surprised by however, was the amount of interest by other practitioners who would come out of their way to ask what we were doing, or how this technology worked.  This in turn began to turn to professional dialogues about how it could be used in certain year groups for certain topics or projects.  It is this dialogue that demonstrated the power of this technology and its necessity within the primary curriculum.

One of the main challenges I found in implementing this project was ensuring that the 3D printer did not become a gimmick, another piece of technology used to wow and impress.  While that is necessary to get some individuals on board, I was concerned that its real-world implication and use would be lost.  I went to great lengths to ensure that the children were aware of this, for the first coupled of weeks we ran some smaller projects, utilising both CAD and CAM to create some name tags.  From there we collectively as a class build some extra pieces to show how the technology can be implemented.  We were afforded a great opportunity to do this when the classroom door wedge broke one afternoon, a child suggested that we could just 3D print a new one.  We had a class discussion around how we might create one, from this I introduced the children to already existing files that others had created.  We chose an appropriate one for our room and then set the printer going.  By the end of the day we had a new door wedge that was fully functional.  Such an experience helped shape the children’s mind as to the value and importance of such technologies within the wider world.

CREATE Education would like to thank Dr. Thomas Cousins for sharing his experiences with us.

In The Classroom

Although developed for use with a Yr6 class, this project is suitable for both Upper KS2 and KS3 students.

Download the Wind Turbine Project Resources