Learning objective: to learn about turbines - what they are and how they accomplish work (generate energy); to analyze a problem and develop and test a solution, key skills for scientific and engineering careers. 

Materials Needed
  • Large paper cup 
  • Unsharpened pencil 
  • 4 large index cards 
  • Masking tape 
  • Washers in assorted sizes 

Printable PDF instructions can be downloaded here.


  • Class forms teams, and selects team names. 
  • Distribute materials to each team. 
  • Discuss what a turbine is: a large, bladed “windmill” that turns with the force of wind or water, and can do work—grinding grain, pumping water, or generating energy. 
  • Challenge the teams to construct their own turbines out of the materials at hand. 
  • When they have a test version ready, they can bring it up for a wind test. Blast it with the hair dryer and count how many turns it makes. Or, see if it can turn with enough force to lift a small weight. Tie a washer with a string on to the pencil to see if their turbine can lift it. 
  • Track results with a chart on the chalkboard. 
  • After testing, send them back to improve their design. 
  • When there are about 10 minutes left, select a few that are working well to demonstrate to the class and report on their findings.