PORTLAND — Relying on teamwork, along with elements of physics and engineering, students from five Maine school districts built model wind turbines and tested them against each other for the right to attend the national KidWind Challenge in Houston in late May.

Coming out on top were two teams of eighth-graders from King Middle School in Portland: Frankie Sparrow and Nabella Erskine, and Liam Fay-LeBlanc and Morris Tifiano.

In all, 28 teams from schools in Portland, Freeport, Topsham, York and Winslow competed at the Maine State KidWind Challenge held March 20 at Ocean Gateway on the Portland waterfront.

The event was organized by Gus Goodwin, who teaches technology and engineering design at King. He started the Maine edition of the KidWind Challenge several years ago and said the number of schools taking part in the annual competition has grown each year.

Polly Wilson, a King Middle science teacher, said the KidWind Challenge is now part of the Drawdown expeditionary learning unit at the school, which is designed to teach students about ways of reducing the current levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The broad goals behind the model turbine competition, according to the KidWind Challenge website, include getting “students excited about the promise and opportunities of renewable energy – specifically wind power – and its relationship to global climate change.”


The challenge is also designed to “get students – particularly girls and underrepresented populations – excited about careers in (STEM) fields related to renewable energy.”

Sparrow and Erskine said along with constructing their model wind turbine, teams at the KidWind Challenge were also judged on how well they documented the building process and what went into design decisions.

Ultimately the model turbines were scored on how much voltage they could produce. While other teams put more effort into making their turbines colorful and eye-catching, Sparrow and Erskine concentrated on how well their turbine actually functioned.

The two said they relied on each other’s strengths to come up with a winning model, with Erskine focusing much more on the documentation aspects and Sparrow focusing on the mechanics.

The girls admitted to not knowing much about how turbines work or why wind power is considered a good alternative energy source before participating in the KidWind Challenge, but now they’re excited about the possibilities of the technology.

“In science class we learned about air flow and why blade size and shape matters,” Sparrow said. The students were also asked to study both onshore and offshore wind turbines to learn the differences between the two.


Sparrow said she and Erskine were selected to participate after a school-based competition that included the entire eighth-grade class at King Middle. They were one of four teams chosen from the school.

Sparrow said she and Erskine learned a lot when initially testing their model against the other students at school, and for the statewide competition they changed their blade material from plastic to cardboard.

Erskine said the cardboard blades were lighter, which helped them spin faster and thereby create more energy.

Sparrow said she “really enjoyed” the wind turbine project, particularly knowing that it has real-world applications.

“This is something I will always remember,” she said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Nabella Erskine, left, and Frankie Sparrow, both eighth-graders at King Middle School in Portland, are one of the teams from Maine selected to represent the state at the national KidWind Challenge in Houston in late May.

Frankie Sparrow, from King Middle, says the cardboard design for the blades on the model wind turbine she built with fellow student Nabella Erskine made them spin faster and produce more energy.

Many students competing at the Maine edition of the KidWind Challenge made their model wind turbines colorful and eye-catching.

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