The prevailing Windigos

The Windigos wind energy team from Farnsworth 5-8 school is currently raising funds for a trip to Anaheim, California, to compete in the National Renewable Energy KidWind Challenge at the American Wind Energy Association’s conference at the end of the month.

The turbine the students designed ended up generating five watts of electricity, the most at the local St. Paul competition.

Farnsworth team invited to national wind turbine competition


The Windigos, the wind energy team at Farnsworth 5-8 school, has been invited for the second year in a row to the National Renewable Energy KidWind Challenge at the American Wind Energy Association’s conference. 

This year’s competition will take place in Anaheim, California, May 24 and 25, and the team is scrambling to raise funds to go. The KidWind Project was started by native St. Paulite Michael Arquin.

The competition is straightforward. Each team receives one generator, the equalizing factor of the competition, and is tasked to create a turbine model. The team designs blades to maximize the amount of electricity created by the generator and a structure to hold the generator, similar to how a real wind turbine works. 

The winning team is the one that generates the most electricity.

In addition, there is a research component where students research the pros and cons of wind energy and look at other issues related to the topic. They present their findings and are interviewed by judges.

David Barrett, the teacher at Farnsworth Aerospace Upper Campus who leads the after-school group, said the kids got a bit more complex this year, creating a gearbox, which gives the set-up a mechanical advantage.

They first competed in a St. Paul Public School competition on April 15 after working on the turbine since mid-February.

“We did very well at that tournament,” Barrett said. “We created the most electricity and our kids had a lot of great background information.”

Their turbine created about 5 watts of electricity. Because of their strong finish, they were once again invited to the national competition.

If the team raises enough money — it needs about $9,400 — the group will leave for Anaheim on May 23. 

“We’re raising money like mad,” Barrett said. 

Donations to the team can be made directly at Team members will also be bagging groceries at local grocery stores.


Hands-on learning

The team consists of 10 students from fifth through eighth grades.

“We have a racially diverse and gender diverse team and we are so proud of how we represent the world as it is,” Barrett said.

Last year the team was invited to the same competition — the 2016 event was held in New Orleans. While they didn’t do well mechanically at last years national competition, as their device was damaged in transit, they came out on top in the intellectual interview aspect.

Derek Johnson, an eighth grader on the team, said he enjoys the hands-on experience of building the turbine. He said that learning in the classroom is more difficult for him, so being able to apply concepts in real ways helps him understand them.

He said for this year’s design he taught himself about fluid dynamics, explaining the way air moves around turbine blades is similar to how water moves around an obstacle.

“What I most enjoy about working on this project is working with classmates and getting their perspective,” Johnson said. This year some of the high school students from Johnson High School volunteered their time to mentor the kids on the team.

“I’m very thankful for their support,” Johnson said.

The kids are now making last-minute adjustments to their turbine before the national competition, Johnson said, including using ball bearings to reduce friction, which will make it easier to create more energy.

Barrett said he’s proud of the work the kids have put into the project and how they’ve been pushed.

“[The competition] makes them work hard intellectually,” he said, “but they’re pretty smart.”


Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.








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