MacGyver Windmills

Time Required
1 class period
Students are tasked with constructing a simple windmill to lift weights out of basic materials.


Students will use a limited amount of materials to design and build functioning windmill models. They will use these models to convert wind into mechanical energy in order to lift weights. Using the scientific method, they will conduct trials, change variables, and work to improve the performance of their windmills.

Next Generation Science Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • PS2.A Forces and Motion
  • PS2.B Types of Interactions
  • PS3.A Definitions of Energy
  • PS3.B Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer
  • PS3.C Relationship Between Energy and Forces
  • ETS1.A Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem
  • ETS1.B Developing Possible Solutions
  • ETS1.C Optimizing the Design Solution

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Energy and Matter
  • Patterns

Learning Objectives

At the end of the lesson students will be able to

  • Know the fundamental parts of a wind turbine
  • Be able to use the engineering design process and the scientific method to isolate and adjust variables while designing and testing wind wheels
  • Understand energy conversions and transfers, and how a wind turbine converts moving air into electrical energy
  • Design a Wind Wheel for the firefly wind turbine that can light up an LED


  • Blades
    • Index cards
  • Hubs
    • Foam cylinder
    • Cork
  • Driveshafts
    • Skewers
    • Straws
    • Cardboard tubes
    • Dowels
  • Attachments
    • T-pins
  • Weightlifting
    • String
    • Cup
    • Washer
    • Spool
  • Classroom materials to share
    • 20"x20" standard box fans
    • Ruler
    • Tape
    • Scissors
    • Alternative blade material such as paper plates, scrap cardboard, lawn signs, pie pans, etc. Anything that catches the wind will work!