‘Windmill Challenge’ Teaches Students about Engineering, Water

This year's 4-H Ag Innovators Experience challenge addresses renewable energy, water availability and farming.
  • Regional 4-H program will kick off March 17 on Ohio State’s Columbus campus.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A group of elementary and middle school students from Circleville City Schools will help kick off this year’s 4-H Ag Innovators Experience by taking on the “Water Windmill Challenge,” March 17 at the Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center on The Ohio State University’s Columbus campus.

Developed by Ohio 4-H specialist Bob Horton, the challenge was selected by the National 4-H Council and Monsanto to be the 2015 4-H Ag Innovators Experience for eight Midwestern states. Approximately 10,000 students — mostly 4-H members but also nonmembers — will take part in the challenge, including some 1,200 Ohio youth.

“Water availability and agriculture was the topic of choice this year,” said Horton, a professor in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, which runs Ohio 4-H through its outreach arm, Ohio State University Extension.

“Farms can’t rely on Mother Nature to provide all the water they need. So students will learn about using a wind-generating system that can power a water pump, which can provide water for crops and livestock during times of drought.”

The challenge, Horton said, consists of creating a structure that can support the windmill system. Working in small teams, students will use everyday materials such as pegboards, craft sticks, wire ties and dowel rods to build and test the power generator.

“Students don’t know it, but this activity takes them through an engineering cycle,” Horton said. “There are lots of possibilities of how to meet the challenge. When their structure fails, students quickly want to reinvent it. They really get engaged and are very creative.

“In the process, they also learn valuable problem-solving and team-building skills.”

The activity, which lasts 90 minutes, is designed for students in grades three through eight, with teenage 4-H’ers serving as facilitators. The challenge will be used at 4-H camps and as part of afterschool programs, Horton said.

“But any classroom teacher who wants to use this activity can request it from 4-H,” he said.

The 4-H Ag Innovators Experience began last year with the goal of developing critical workforce skills in young people and to show that agriculture can be relevant and fun. The 2014 activity — called the “Fish Farm Challenge” — was also developed by Horton.

In 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology predicted that over the next decade, U.S. industries will need one million more STEM graduates than the nation will have.

In response to this need, OSU Extension created in 2013 the STEM Pathways signature program to spark enthusiasm in young people about science, technology, engineering and math.

“The underpinning of 4-H is learning by doing,” Horton said. “These challenges follow a play-based approach that supplements what goes on in the classroom. The passion for a career involves enjoyment, fun and play.”

The kick-off event will take place from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The 4-H Center is located at 2201 Fred Taylor Drive, Columbus.

For more information, contact Horton at 614-247-8150 or horton.2@osu.edu.


CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Bob Horton