KidWind Project Pivots During Pandemic, Renewed for Third Year

Mid-semester, Education and Engineering majors adapted their collaborative, interdisciplinary engineering design project with the Bristol Warren Regional School District, taking their experiential, hands-on project virtual for 12 fourth-grade classes.

This story is part of a series highlighting RWU's innovative, student-centered approaches to education, with classes online for the remainder of the semester

By Anna Cohen
Bristol Warren fourth grade teacher Jessica Silva demonstrates a wind turbine for her students using Google Hangouts.

If you were building a wind turbine, what design decisions would you make?

The size, shape, and pitch angle of the blades changes the effectiveness of the turbine, so every decision must be made with research and precision.

This spring, fourth graders in the Bristol Warren school district took on this engineering design challenge, thanks to KidWind lessons planned by RWU Education and Engineering majors.

The KidWind Project faced logistical challenges in its second year as the experiential, hands-on project became virtual due to the mid-semester adoption of distance education. Thanks to the dedication of RWU faculty and students and Bristol Warren teachers, this collaborative project was able to continue to serve fourth graders through interactive virtual demonstrations and was recently renewed for a third year of programming. 

The KidWind project is led by Associate Professor of Science Education Li-Ling Yang and Assistant Professor of Engineering Maija Benitz, with the support of RWU's Community Partnerships Center, grants from The Hassenfeld Community Projects Fund and The RWU Foundation to Promote Scholarship & Teaching, and a gift from TPI Composites in Warren, R.I. Students in Yang’s EDU 342: Teaching Inquiry Science in Elementary School and and Bentiz’s ENGR 340: Sustainable Energy classes work together to design and implement a five-lesson unit on engineering design and wind energy for 12 fourth-grade classes in the Bristol Warren Regional School District. 

“We started this project responding to a pressing need of the school district,” said Yang. Since Rhode Island adopted the Next Generation Science Standards in 2016, teachers have been required to integrate engineering into their curriculum.

"This project benefits both RWU students and the students in the Bristol Warren school district. My students are developing their expertise in creating developmentally appropriate science lessons for elementary students, and Benitz’s students are learning about wind energy,”said Yang. 

RWU students implement a KidWind lesson in a Bristol Warren fourth-grade classroom prior to social distancing.

After a successful KidWind program in the spring of 2019, the Assistant Superintendent of the Bristol Warren school district asked Benitz and Yang if they were interested in continuing to provide the KidWind experience for fourth-grade students and teachers.

"The district asked us to continue. That tells us how beneficial the project is. If the project can be sustainable, it will bring a lasting impact for their students and teachers," Yang said.

Benitz and Yang, and their students, began another season of the KidWind project at the beginning of this semester. The first two lessons went as planned. RWU students worked in teams of two engineering and two education majors to design lessons and implement them in fourth-grade classes. 

RWU students test KidWind model wind turbine kits. 

Due to social distancing measures, RWU students were not able to implement the final three lessons in person, or to host all 12 classes together at RWU’s Bristol Campus for a celebration filled with hands-on projects. Instead, they created detailed lesson plans for fourth-grade teachers to implement remotely. 

“We still can deliver a lot of value to the local school district even if we aren’t able to be physically in the classroom,” said Benitz. 

Jessica Silva, a fourth grade teacher in the Bristol Warren school district, is using the lesson plans along with a KidWind turbine kit to teach her students remotely. Her students meet learning objectives by communicating their turbine blade designs to Silva, who builds them from cardboard and tests them live for her class through Google Hangouts. Her students record data and improve their designs, learning the engineering design process through this experiential activity. 

A wind turbine made by Jessica Silva and her fourth-grade students, implementing RWU student-made lesson plans using remote education methods and a KidWind turbine kit. 

“The students still really enjoy watching the demonstrations happen. The science curriculum we have is not as hands-on as the KidWind project. To have something that the students see they are contributing to building and creating, and being able to design it to make it better, is really fun for them,” said Silva. 

Working collaboratively to create detailed lesson plans helped RWU students practice skills that will benefit them in their careers. 

“We have this passion to get this information relayed to the students, so we had to deal with time management and use collaboration to get it done,” said Mechanical Engineering major Raquel Santos, a junior. “It’s been a great experience to collaborate with the community. I recently had an interview and mentioned the KidWind experience and it was definitely beneficial.”

RWU students included worksheets for fourth-grade students to practice their engineering design and scientific method skills in the lesson plans for the KidWind unit. 

“This project has really helped me be able to communicate across audiences,” said  Engineering major Haley Geithner, a senior. “I knew the science and engineering behind all this, but having to explain the concepts of the engineering design process and energy has been a great learning experience. I can apply that when I have a job and have to explain things in a way that makes sense for everybody.”  

This community partnership benefits all the parties involved. Yang has received several emails from fourth-grade teachers thanking the RWU community for continuing to provide lesson plans for distance learning. The KidWind project has secured funding to continue next spring, and Benitz and Yang intend to provide this opportunity for students and teachers in the years to come. 

“We hope that curriculum will serve as many fourth graders as possible,” said Benitz. 

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