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Review + STEM Activity: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Leo, one of our favorite young readers, stopped by the blog today. He’s in 4th grade and loves Legos, playing outside, and reading. Right now, he’s respecting the quarantine request, but his days aren’t so bad. They begin with recess and end with a field trip. This post is about what he does in between. This week, he read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and completed a STEM activity related to the book.

Book Overview

Born in Malawi, William Kamkwamba lived in a country overwhelmed by drought and hunger. But he loved learning about science. He read about windmills and dreamed of building one that would benefit his village. Only 2 percent of the nation had running water and electricity. His neighbors called him crazy, but William held fast to his goal. With a small pile of old science books, some scrap metal, tractor pieces, and bicycle parts, he worked doggedly to create an invention that would change the lives of everyone he knew.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is based on a true story about one boy, his incredible invention, and inspiring look at overcoming obstacles. His story proves that one person really can change everything.

If you have a younger reader at home who is anxious to do the project, please note that a picture book version exists. Here’s a YouTube reading of that story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDXAf_p5FjU

In Leo’s Words

Q: What is this book about?

A: William Kamkwamba built a windmill. He couldn’t go to school because his family didn’t have money. He built a windmill from junk and brought electricity to his house. Then he helped his whole community get electricity.

Q: What three important things did you learn about?

A: First, I learned about famine. Second, I learned how he built the windmill. Third, I learned he became famous for it.

Q: Who should read this book?

A: Leo thinks this would be a good book for a person of any age to read. “I wish I could have been there when the windmill was complete,” he said, “because it would have been cool to see it.”

“Whatever you want to do, if you do it with all your heart, it will happen.”

–William Kamkwamba

Book-Inspired STEM Activity

After reading the book, Leo studied how windmills generate electricity. Then he made a windmill of his own out of recycled items from home. The activity calls for 1 (1/2 gallon) OJ carton, 2-3 Styrofoam balls, some masking tape, a roll of string, 1 (3 oz.) paper cup, 1 (12″ x 1/4″) dowel, and 1 (3/8″) washer. For more information and directions on how to do this activity at your house, please watch the following YouTube Video.
Hands On: Engineering is Elementary Windmill assembly video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oeCfR78u9ao

Above: Leo makes and attaches the blades.

In case you need substitution ideas for materials, here are other things that could be used in a pinch:

MaterialSubstitution
OJ ContainerOatmeal canister, soda can box, Bota box
Wooden dowelKabob skewers, knitting needles, straw
Styrofoam ballsPlaydoh (too heavy and soft, but clay might work), Leo ended up using masking tape and pipe cleaners after a lot of trial and error
WashersOmitted from windmill design.  Used coins as weights for cups
StringYarn, ribbon
Paper cupPlastic cup, small box, make a cup out of foil
TapeMasking, scotch, painters, duct, etc
Water (to weigh down the base of the windmill)Unopened can of soda, soup, bag of rice

In addition to this activity, several other videos may be of interest.

  1. The 2007 TED Talk: Kamkwamba describes in the book: https://www.ted.com/talks/william_kamkwamba_how_i_built_a_windmill?language=en
  2. 2017 TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KMfunb5Klk
  3. Trailer for The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind on Netflix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPkr9HmglG0
  4. Watch the full 4 lesson unit in a real classroom: search “EiE catching the wind designing windmills” on the EiE – Museum of Science Boston’s youtube channel. https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=EiE+catching+the+wind+designing+windmills

For more STEM-inspired ideas, please check out Iowa STEM’s #TeachableMoment webpage: https://iowastem.gov/teachablemoment.

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