Kansas Chapter supports the KidWind Challenge

Kansas Chapter supports the KidWind Challenge

By Dan Whisler


(L to R – Taryn Gillespie, Austin Myers, and Luke Schweizer)

With the increasing development of the wind energy industry and the push to involve students in more STEM-related classroom activities (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics), combining the two seems like an ideal opportunity for students in Kansas classrooms.  The good news is that is exactly what is happening in more and more Kansas schools!

Sterling High School was selected as one of the first schools to participate in the Kansas Wind for Schools program (2007-2008 school year).  As an Environmental Science teacher at Sterling, I’ve been working since then to develop a renewable energy curriculum complete with hands-on classroom activities.  Since completing the week-long KidWind Wind Senator training in Maine two years ago, I’ve hosted six different teacher workshops and helped over 100 Kansas teachers learn how to use these activities with students in their classrooms, too.

A couple of superb videos… one is a great promo vid and the second shows their experiment in action.

Going a step beyond the classroom activities, student teams are encouraged to share what they have learned and challenge themselves by competing in the Kansas KidWind Challenge.  Described by KidWind Director Michael Arquin as the “Pinewood Derby of wind energy competitions,” the mission behind the KidWind Challenge Events is to:

  1. Get students excited about the promise and opportunities of renewable energy—specifically wind power—and its relationship to global climate change.
  2. Foster opportunities for students to build, test, explore, and understand wind energy technology at a manageable scale.
  3. Get students—particularly girls and under-represented populations—excited about careers in STEM fields related to renewable energy.
  4. Build capacity of teachers, coaches, and other educators to better understand wind energy technology and development, as well as its promise and limitations.
  5. Connect students to mentors and role models in the renewable energy industry.

The Kansas KidWind Challenge was held on April 4, 2014, and hosted by Dr. Ruth Douglas Miller at Kansas State University. “Team Wind Advisory,” a team of three advanced environmental science students from Sterling High School won the Kansas KidWind Challenge and, thanks to the support of several sponsors, including the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club, these students experienced a trip they will always remember as they flew to Washington DC to compete in the first annual National KidWind Challenge!

Hosted at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in conjunction with the US Science & Engineering Festival, this national competition featured 38 teams of middle school and high school students from across the country.  Team Wind Advisory finished third in energy output for the high school division and in sixth place overall.

Thanks to an invitation from Mr. Ryan Freed, Director of the Kansas Energy Office, on Thursday, May 1, the “Team Wind Advisory” students traveled to Topeka where they had the honor of giving their presentation to Commissioners at the KCC meeting.   They also had the opportunity to meet Gov. Sam Brownback to express their support for continued wind energy development in Kansas.

The Kansas Energy Office is working to host an Energy Expo at the Kansas State Fair and has invited me to work with the students at SHS to assist, so if you attend the State Fair in September be sure to stop by to see the wind energy activities students across Kansas are  working on.

Thanks again to everyone in the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club for your support of these KidWind activities!

Editor’s note: Sterling High School Environmental Science teacher Dan Whisler was awarded a Sierra Club Environmental Grant for Kansas Primary and Secondary Educators in 2013. Additionally, the Kansas Chapter supported a team from Sterling High to attend this year’s National KidWind Challenge in Washington, D.C.

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