K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

wind turbines along a road

Wind turbines stand along a dirt road at the Darling National Demonstration Wind Farm in Cape Town, South Africa. (Image source. More about the photograph)


This lesson plan was made possible through the News 21 grant funded by the Carnegie and Knight Foundations.

Learn more

Related pages

  • Who has seen the wind? Harnessing alternative energy: In this lesson plan, students conduct a series of investigations in order to understand issues surrounding the production of energy from wind, informed by the video "Roping the Wind in Texas" on the Powering a Nation website. Activities include discussing a video about the siting of a wind farm in Texas; conducting calculations based on local wind data; and using Google Earth, windNavigator software, and hands-on investigations to assess the potential for producing wind energy in the students' local area.
  • Air is all around us: Air is everywhere. It cannot be seen, but it is all around us. This lesson helps students discover that air is everywhere.
  • Pollution plume: The students will simulate a plume to illustrate point source and non-point source pollution.

Related topics


Please read our disclaimer for lesson plans.


The text of this page is copyright ©2010. See terms of use. Images and other media may be licensed separately; see captions for more information and read the fine print.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you;
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

- Christina Rossetti

Energy is an essential ingredient of socioeconomic development and growth. Since wind is the indirect form of solar energy created by differential warming at the earth’s surface, it is a renewable and locally available source of energy. However, not all locations have sufficient frequency or consistency of wind to make the cost of harvesting the wind with wind turbines a reasonable solution. In addition, many regions that are attractive wind energy sites because of their geographic situation, like seashores and mountain ridges, are also valued for their unspoiled natural beauty. Wind turbines in these settings are frequently rejected because of the potential economic cost of reduced tourism and tourism related activities in those seaside or mountain communities.

This lesson gives students the opportunity to evaluate the factors that can lead to successful wind turbine sites while exploring the power of online tools to provide high-quality data and key information about alternative energy technologies. Basic physics calculations are used to assess potential wind power as well as economic and social factors that make some sites desirable wind turbine sites and others unacceptable sites.

The activities in this lesson rely quite heavily on internet-based mapping tools and are best undertaken in a computer lab or computer-facilitated classroom or in a setting where students can work in pairs on a computer. The bandwidth demands can be high, so several alternative computing setups are also suggested.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • learn how power is captured from the wind and used to generate electrical energy.
  • analyze the physical factors that contribute to wind energy and its use.
  • practice methods of assessing wind power potential.
  • learn how to apply circular graphing techniques by creating wind roses.
  • become familiar with Google Earth and similar geographically-based free internet software and how these tools can be used to evaluate wind power potential.

Teacher preparation

Time required

This lesson plan contains three independent but closely related activities:

  • The first can be completed in a 90-minute class/lab period and requires computer access.
  • The second can be completed in a 50-minute class period with a homework assignment that requires computer access.
  • The third is an assessment activity that can be completed in a 50-minute class period or as a homework assignment. During the third activity students should be permitted to explore outdoor portions of their campuses in order to select potential sites for campus wind turbines.

Alternately, all three activities could be completed in two 90-minute blocks.

Materials needed

Technology set-up

  • These activities require computers with internet access. In addition, the current version of Google Earth should be uploaded on these computers.
  • Free windNavigator accounts should be opened and ready for teacher demonstration and, if possible, also for students to use during the lesson. A free account with a password can be created in a matter of minutes. The account name and password can then be used to access to windNavigator at any time. Note: WindNavigator accounts now require a subscription fee. We are working to find a suitable replacement.
  • Important note: When a large number of students access windNavigator at the same time it has a tendency to freeze up. As a result, the optimal set-up for classroom use is to set aside a small number of windNavigator-dedicated computers that are available for students to use on a rotating basis in addition to computers set up for Google Earth explorations. Another option would be to schedule two or three student teams to use windNavigator at a time throughout the class period.
  • The optimal arrangement for the computer-based portion of these lessons is two students per computer with the possibility of a teacher-controlled display either overhead or on each computer to facilitate direction and problem solving with students. Teachers should consider pairing students who have computer experience with students who are less familiar with computer conventions.


  • A brief review of global winds and the causes of local winds should be completed before beginning these activities. An excellent online tool for this review can be found at the Danish Wind Industry Association website’s “Guided Tour” pages beginning with “Where does wind energy come from?” This website works best with the Internet Explorer web browser.
  • A lab-based activity to introduce concepts important to understanding how wind energy is converted into electrical power can be downloaded from Vernier Software & Technology. The lab is called “Wind Power” and is lab #33 under the “Earth Science” drop-down menu.
  • A brief video introduction to how wind turbines work is another useful pre-activity. There are many of these on the internet, including the How Does Wind Power Work? An Animated Video.
  • For more background information on wind energy, see “Additional Resources” at the end of this lesson plan.
  • Before Activity Two, you’ll need to download wind data for your area so you can provide the information to students. For specific instructions, see the teacher preparation section for Activity Two.
  • Before Activity Three, you’ll need to find or create a clear map of your school’s campus with buildings shown, and have a copy for each student in the class. Alternately, you can ask the students to prepare their own maps either by drawing them by hand or using Google Maps or Google Earth or any other tools that they can find.


Activity one: Comparing potential wind resources in Texas and North Carolina

  1. Begin by brainstorming with students about what features or characteristics are likely to be important for areas considering wind power as a source of renewable electrical energy. Student ideas should be listed on a black (or white) board without much comment or evaluation from the teacher, although it might take some time and active coaxing to get the discussion started. Students will have a tendency to offer “wind” as a complete answer. Try to tease out what aspects of wind are important to harnessing wind energy. For example, just the presence of wind is not enough. The wind has to blow hard enough and frequently enough to make a wind turbine turn. Also, it is beneficial if the direction in which the wind blows is reasonably constant to make collection of energy from that wind more efficient.
  2. Once a reasonable list (although not necessarily a complete list) has been compiled, have the students watch the video “Roping the Wind in Texas” from the Powering a Nation website. Ask the students to take notes on what makes Roscoe, Texas a good wind generation site as they watch the video.
  3. After viewing the video, return to the list of factors on the board and add any additional items that students picked up from the video. Be sure to bring their attention to the economic factors that made wind power attractive in Roscoe. These incentives are absent from the locations considered to be good wind sites in North Carolina: In North Carolina, the coastal and mountain areas produce the best wind conditions for electrical energy generation, but these sites are coincidentally very popular tourism locations. Many believe the presence of wind turbines would detract from the natural beauty that attracts tourists to these areas.
  4. Direct students to open Google Earth and complete the steps in the student handout. The handout also has students use windNavigator to answer questions. Instructions for using windNavigator are provided on the handout.
  5. About five minutes before the end of the class period, re-open the brainstorming session and ask students to revise their original list on the board. Students should be asked to compare their findings for West Texas and North Carolina. In addition, the discussion should be directed to introduce the idea that wind direction and wind frequency are important to know when selecting wind power sites as a lead-in to the next lesson.

Activity two: The power in the wind


Wind as a source of energy is not sufficient to provide continuous electricity because even in the best location wind is variable. If there is no wind blowing, no energy can be generated. So, the amount of power that can be harvested from the wind will depend on wind frequency and wind direction (since wind turbines are most efficient when facing into the wind).

Wind roses are graphical devices that make the wind patterns “visible.” Arranging wind roses for different locations on a map helps students to see conditions that will contribute to good wind power-generating conditions.

The potential power of wind in a particular location can be calculated from the velocity of the wind and general information about surface disturbances like buildings and hills. Wind power increase as the cube of velocity. The height at of a wind turbine hub above the ground is important to evaluating potential wind power. The power of the wind increases non-linearly with height above the ground and can be calculated directly from measurement of wind speed at a different height above the ground, usually 2 or 10 meters for most weather stations.

Teacher preparation

  • This lesson is designed to be delivered in a classroom with PowerPoint projection capabilities and internet connection for projection. The handout for this activity was created as a homework assignment assuming that students have access to computers and an internet connection. It should take about 40 minutes for students who are reasonably familiar with computer-based tools.
  • A spreadsheet for a hypothetical location’s wind data showing the necessary calculations in red and the wind rose that resulted from that data is provided (see “Materials Needed” above) as an example of a completed worksheet product to assist with grading and evaluation of the homework assignment.
  • Before beginning this activity, you’ll need to download wind rose data for your local area so you can provide students with the information. See instructions for downloading wind data below.

Activity two instructions

  1. Begin the second day by reviewing the students’ findings from Activity One:
    • Ask the students to summarize how geography, land use, and topography seemed to affect winds in Texas and in North Carolina.
    • Ask the students if the direction in which the winds are blowing could make a difference to the potential of Roscoe as a wind farm location. For example, if the wind blew mostly from the west and ran into the rising mountain ranges west of Roscoe, would that create high winds or lower winds in Roscoe?
    • What if the winds in North Carolina blew mostly from the south straight up the coast and along the eastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains? Would that make for better or worse wind energy conditions?
    • Teacher note: Flat low croplands covering wide expanses like West Texas seem to produce higher winds than hilly, forested areas like the North Carolina Piedmont, for example.
    • Ask students to speculate about how a built-up area like a city or a town is likely to affect the wind reaching a wind turbine.
  2. Ask the students what additional information they would need to test their hypotheses about the impacts of wind direction and wind frequency on the potential power in the wind. Students should be encouraged to consider wind direction and wind frequency as important parameters.
  3. Introduce the role of weather stations in the collection and archiving of wind and other important climatic data. Then show the ECONet Tower Tour video from CRONOS that details the methods used to collect weather data at weather stations in North Carolina. The video is just under 6 minutes long and shows several instruments that are not directly relevant to the collection of wind data. However, beginning at about 1 minute into the video the anemometer at 2 meters off the ground used to measure wind speed is shown, and then again at about 4:17 into the video the 10 meter anemometer is discussed.
  4. After viewing the video, ask students to explain why wind speed and wind direction are both measured at 2 meters and at 10 meters. Standard wind turbine heights are usually 50 meters to 80 meters off the ground.
  5. Show students the wind roses PowerPoint presentation to explain how wind roses are made and can be used to evaluate the wind power potential of a particular site.
  6. Using the relevant slides in the PowerPoint, explore the implications of the increase in wind power as the cube of wind speed, (also called wind velocity).
  7. How do wind surface obstructions like forests, hills, and buildings reduce the power of the wind? (See PowerPoint.)
  8. Wind power is also affected by the height of the wind turbine above the ground. At a height of about 1000 meters above ground, the wind will no longer be affected by the surface. (See PowerPoint.) WindNavigator maps can be set to several different turbine hub heights. Use WindNavigator to see the effect of wind turbine height on wind speeds.
  9. Hand out the Activity Two handout and have students complete the wind rose creation activity as a homework assignment.

Activity three: Wind power in my backyard


This activity is a self-directed evaluation of the students’ campus as a location for wind power. Students may work in small teams of two to three students. This activity can be completed either as a homework assignment or as an in-class assignment. Students should be able to move around freely outside on campus to complete the assignment. The assignment can also be used as an assessment tool for the topics covered in these lessons. The Activity Three student handout includes a rubric for assessment.

Teacher preparation

Before beginning this activity, either find or create a clear map of your campus with buildings shown, and make a copy for each student in the class. Alternately, you can ask the students to prepare their own maps either by drawing them by hand or using Google Maps or Google Earth or any other tools that they can find.

Activity three instructions

  1. Begin the third activity by asking selected students to show their wind roses from Activity Two either by projecting them with a computer or drawing them on the board.
  2. If there are disagreements or errors between the wind roses discuss and resolve these.
  3. Explain that the next activity will be the students’ assessment of the school’s campus as a potential site for a wind turbine. It does not need to be a conventional wind turbine.
  4. Hand out the Activity Three handout, “Wind Power in My Backyard.” If students are completing this activity during class time, allow them to go outside if necessary. The handout has students create maps of the school campus and select four locations that have wind power potential. Students then create a table comparing the benefits of each potential site.


Use the completed student handouts and the Activity Three assignment to assess student understanding of the lessons.

Activity three rubric

This rubric appears on the student handout.

TaskPoints suggested
Map of campusUp to 20, depending on buildings on campus and complexity of school property.
Selection of four sitesUp to 10 points based on reasonableness of site for production of wind energy and ability to rank the sites according to likelihood of success.
Physical survey of each of the sitesUp to 5 points per site based on observation of topography, building alignment to wind rose for area, and quality of sketch and record.
Table of pros and consUp to 10 points based on ability of student to summarize key findings from site observation and connection with lessons on wind power.
Conclusion/recommendationUp to 10 points based on care and thoughtful judgment about wind power, cost, and impact on community.

Supplemental information

Instructions for downloading local wind data

  1. To download wind data from a particular area and weather station, or multiple weather stations, go to the North Carolina CRONOS Database website, available via the State Climate Office of North Carolina. (CRONOS stands for Climate Retrieval and Observations Network of the Southeast.)
  2. Enter the name of the city or county closest to your own school in the box in the center of the page.
  3. Not all weather stations collect wind data. When the list of weather stations in your area appears look under the column headed “Type” for “ECONET.” If the list of results for your area does not include an ECONET station, wind data for that location may still be available through CRONOS. To request data, call 919-515-3056 or 877-718-5544 (toll free). You can also fax (919-515-1441) or send an email. Data is available to educators at no additional cost. Alternately, a nearby location with an ECONET site can be substituted.
  4. When you find a weather station in your area that has wind data select “monthly” from the tab at the top of the detailed data listings.
  5. Scroll down to the monthly wind parameters section and fill in the boxes with the following information:
    Direction of average wind
    For “Min/Max/Avg,” select vector average (check box)
    For “Unit,” select compass
    Speed of average wind
    For “Min/Max/Avg,” select vector average (check box)
    For “Unit,” select m/s

    The other boxes should be left empty.

  6. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and in the “Output Option” box select Excel Spreadsheet. Then click on Retrieve Data.
  7. A spreadsheet with monthly wind speed and wind direction data should be created. Save this spreadsheet to your desktop.
  8. Distribute this spreadsheet to your students in electronic format, by placing the spreadsheet on computers in the computer lab, or in hard copy where students can use a calculator to complete the calculations. They will use this data to create a wind rose of for the region near your school using the student handout for Activity Two.

Additional resources

Offers a number of activities that would work well as pre-activities for this lesson, as well as a collection of useful introductory PowerPoints. Note that many activities require equipment that can purchased as a kit or made from commonly available parts. Considerable advance planning is required. For example, once a simple wind turbine has been assembled from a kit or from scratch, the site provides a detailed series of helpful hands-on activities using Vernier probes.
American Wind Energy Association Newsroom
Up-to-date information about wind energy endeavors in the United States. Be sure to read “Wind Energy Basics” and “Wind Energy Potential — Top 20 States,” linked from the “Wind Energy Press Kit.”
Wind Energy Resource Atlas of the United States
This online publication of the Renewable Resource Data Center provides a thorough assessment of wind resources across the U.S.
Wind Powering America: Wind Energy for Schools
The Wind for Schools project aims to raise awareness in rural America about the benefits of wind energy while educating students about wind power.
Wind data and information from the U.S. Energy Information Administration
This government website provides raw wind data, as well as links to a map of wind power resource potential in the U.S., a spreadsheet of land cover characteristics, and a database of incentives promoting renewable energy.
North Carolina Wind Energy: Why Wind Power for North Carolina?
A listing of the advantages of adopting wind power in North Carolina.
Wind Energy: How it Works
This website explains how wind energy works and discusses the generation capacity of a wind turbine.
Meteogroup weather calculator
This site enables you to calculate temperature, wind speed, humidity, air pressure, and wind chill for any city or zip code.
Bryan Mealer & William Kamkwanba, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope, William Morrow Publishing, September 2009.
This book relates how an enterprising teenager in Malawi builds a windmill from scraps he finds around his village and brings electricity, and a future, to his family.
G.M. Joselin Herbert, S. Iniyan, E. Sreevalsan, S. Rajapandian, “A review of wind energy technologies.” Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 11, no. 6, (2007) 1117-1145.
This journal article reviews site selection models for wind energy sites as well as design issues and economic assessments.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Science & Technical Subjects

        • Grades 11-12
          • 11-12.LS.3 Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.
          • 11-12.LS.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
        • Grades 9-10
          • 9-10.LS.3 Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.
          • 9-10.LS.7 Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Science (2010)
      • Earth and Environmental Science

        • EEn.2.8 Evaluate human behaviors in terms of how likely they are to ensure the ability to live sustainably on Earth. EEn.2.8.1 Evaluate alternative energy technologies for use in North Carolina. EEn.2.8.2 Critique conventional and sustainable agriculture and...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Science (2005)

Grade 9–12 — AP Earth and Environmental Science

  • Goal 1: The learner will develop abilities necessary to do and understand scientific inquiry.
    • Objective 1.01: Identify questions and problems in the earth and environmental sciences that can be answered through scientific investigations.
    • Objective 1.02: Design and conduct scientific investigations to answer questions related to earth and environmental science.
      • Create testable hypotheses.
      • Identify variables.
      • Use a control or comparison group when appropriate.
      • Select and use appropriate measurement tools.
      • Observe and measure real phenomena.
      • Collect and record data.
      • Organize data into charts and graphs.
      • Analyze and interpret data.
      • Communicate findings.
    • Objective 1.03: Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence to:
      • Explain observations.
      • Make inferences and predictions from data and observations.
      • Explain the relationship between evidence and explanation.
      • Communicate results, including suggested ways to improve experiments and proposed questions for further study.
    • Goal 4: The learner will build an understanding of the distribution, ownership, use and degradation of renewable and nonrenewable resources.
      • Objective 4.05: Analyze and compare conventional and alternative energy sources.
        • Coal.
        • Natural gas.
        • Oil.
        • Nuclear power.
        • Solar energy.
        • Biomass.
        • Energy from the Earth's forces: Wind, Water, Geothermal, Tidal.
        • Energy conservation.
        • Identify facility parts (Coal, Nuclear).
        • Monthly/annual costs.

    Grade 9–12 — Earth/Environmental Science

    • Goal 1: The learner will develop abilities necessary to do and understand scientific inquiry in the earth and environmental sciences.
      • Objective 1.01: Identify questions and problems in the earth and environmental sciences that can be answered through scientific investigations.
      • Objective 1.02: Design and conduct scientific investigations to answer questions related to earth and environmental science.
        • Create testable hypotheses
        • Identify variables.
        • Use a control or comparison group when appropriate.
        • Select and use appropriate measurement tools.
        • Collect and record data.
        • Organize data into charts and graphs.
        • Analyze and interpret data.
        • Communicate findings.
    • Goal 2: The learner will build an understanding of lithospheric materials, tectonic processes, and the human and environmental impacts of natural and human-induced changes in the lithosphere.
      • Objective 2.07: Analyze the sources and impacts of society's use of energy.
        • Renewable and non-renewable sources.
        • The impact of human choices on Earth and its systems.