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Bethel middle schoolers compete in a wind power challenge

May 02, 2023 Rachael McDonald, EWEB Communications

students and teacher in gym

Seventh graders in the Bethel School District put their handmade wind turbines to the test in a wind power challenge supported by EWEB grants last week .

Teacher Cathy Bechen coordinates the EWEB grant program for Bethel School District. She said this competition culminates the energy unit for middle schools in the district. She said learning how to build a wind turbine is just one aspect of the project.

“First of all, learning about renewable energy is really important in these kids’ lifetimes. They’re really going to need to do a lot of thinking about them, so this is a good start,” Bechen said. “It helps them to learn to work together, and be creative, and a lot of them have never done things like this.  So, they’re learning new skills and being successful. And it’s fun to see the kids come to this and look forward to it.”

For the final test, the two top teams from each seventh-grade classroom in the district brought their turbines to the gym at the Meadow View School in the Bethel neighborhood. The teams, who consisted of two to three students each and had fun names like TeamMoka and Twinkies. They were each interviewed about how they worked together on the project. EWEB commissioner Sonya Carlson and staff members Aaron Orlowski and Marciana Rosales volunteered to assist with the event.

Before teams tested their turbines to see how much energy they generate They could do a trial run to work out any kinks. The turbines look somewhat like you’d imagine, blades connected to a hub. For the test, performed by Dean Livelybrooks, physics professor at the University of Oregon, the turbines are attached to a stand and wires go into a mechanism that measures power over time.

“So we run it with the fan, we drive it with the fan,” he said.

The fan’s wind moves the blades.

“We run it for 60 seconds. We basically integrate, or sum up, the power over time and they produce a certain amount of energy at the end and that’s their score from this station,” said Livelybrook. “That’s their energy score, essentially.”

“Okay, so here we go,” said Livelybrook as he set the wind turbine in front of the fan. “We’re centered. Life is good. Let’s go ahead and fire that up.”

He tested each of the teams’ turbines. Design aspects like blade pitch and number of blades can affect the energy the turbines produce. Livelybrook said he’s helped with this competition for the last 15 years.

“My experience is that middle school students really respond to this, and I think this sort of activity targeted at that level, middle school level, helps keep students’ interest in science and engineering as they go through,” Livelybrook said.

The first-place prize went to a team named the Twinkies from Meadow View School, second place went to the Nothings from Meadow View, and there was a tie for third place: The Rats from Prairie Mountain, and the Boiz from Shasta.  

EWEB customers  help support the wind energy unit at Bethel and other science education programs through grant funding. EWEB education grants total $500,000 annually for Eugene, Bethel, Springfield, and McKenzie School Districts.