do it yourself: Wind-Powered Pinwheel
Design and construct a wind-powered pinwheel using paper and a pencil in this STEAM-inspired DIY project! Through this project, kids will learn about how wind turbines are powered and think about the future of clean energy. This project is inspired by our Solar Structures workshop in The Rosso Family Foundation Innovators LAB sponsored by Solar Turbines.
Tip: For working with early learners (ages 3-5), adult support will most likely be needed for piercing the pushpin through the paper and pencil eraser, and all cutting and folding. Encourage your child to decorate, help crease the folds and count the corners together!
Solar Turbines has been an industry leader and innovator in San Diego for over 95 years. Serving at the forefront of the global energy transition, Solar provides sustainable energy solutions that power hospitals, universities, government facilities and businesses around the world. Using best-in-class expertise in engineering and advanced manufacturing, Solar has a reputation for creating high-quality products and services.
guidelines + materials
AGE: 6+ (with adult support)
TIMEFRAME: 15 minutes per pinwheel
- Pencil with an eraser top
- Markers/crayons/colored pencils (optional)
What is a wind turbine?
A wind turbine is a machine that converts kinetic energy from the wind into electricity. Wind turns the propeller-like blades of the turbine around a rotor, which spins a generator and creates electricity.
1. Make the paper square. This will work for any type of paper (computer, construction, etc.). Position the paper so it is portrait (tall) and fold down one top corner to meet the opposite edge, forming a triangle. Cut off excess paper below the triangle. Tip: If you want to decorate your pinwheel, this is the best time. Be sure to decorate both sides of the paper for a fun reveal!
2. Fold paper a second time. Repeat the above step: open up the folded paper, take the corner of the paper that is already folded and bring it to the opposite corner of the paper and crease. This should create an X through your square paper.
3. Cut partway along the lines. Use your thumb to mark from the center of where you should cut. Then cut partway along the X. Make sure not to cut completely across to prevent the pinwheel from falling apart.
4. Create the top of the pinwheel. Once you have cut partway on your square, bring every other corner to the center. Make sure the corners all overlap in the center – this will maintain the pinwheel shape. Do not fold the paper as you want it to remain curved – this will allow the wind to “catch” and ensure it will spin properly.
5. Stick the pushpin through the center. Once you have overlapped every other corner, you will stick the push pin through the center. Rotate the pin in the paper to widen the hole. Then stick the pushpin into the rubber eraser side of the pencil. Adult supervision is recommended on this step to ensure safety.
6. Attach wind turbine to pencil. To create the handle of the wind turbine, attach the top half of the pinwheel to the eraser of the pencil. Stick the end of the pushpin through the eraser. If the pushpin sticks out of the eraser, have an adult use pliers to bend it back.
7. Test out in the wind! Give your pinwheel a good test by taking it outside and testing it in the wind. If there is no wind, you can always test it in front of a fan or blow on it to see how much wind power you can create!