Activity

Pinwheel

Summary
Students make a hand-held pinwheel. Use to discuss the forces that make it turn, or the energy we give it to make it turn.
Science content
Physics: Motion and Forces, Newton’s Laws, Gravity (K, 2, 6)
Materials
    Model 1 (simpler, but is blown from above):
  • square of cardboard, 15cm/5.5 inches square
  • small tube or pen cap
  • skewer
    Model 2 (more complex but can be blown from the side):
  • windmill template (see attachment) with small holes pre-made in the corners
  • 4 beads, about 2-5mm diameter
  • wire, 10cm long, about 0.5mm thickness
  • a pencil with an eraser end
  • duct tape (about 2x2cm)
Procedure

Model 1:
With a pair of scissors, push a hole through the centre of the card, or students can do it.
Cut from each corner towards the central hole, about 2/3 way in (leave a central area that is uncut to give it stability) - see photo.
Fold each corner upwards along the cut line (see photo), folding each segment in the same direction around the central hole.
Push a tube or pen cap through the central hole, then place on a skewer.
Blow from above to make the pinwheel turn. It may also turn from the side if the blades are angled appropriately.

Model 2:
Cut the windmill template (see attachment below) along the lines.
Twist the end of the wire into a loop, and add a bead against the loop (best done ahead of time with pliers).
Fold one corner of the paper template into the centre, push the wire through the hole at the corner, then fold over the next corner and push the pin through the hole on this corner. Continue with the last two corners, then add a bead to the wire before pushing the pin through the central dot.
Finally add two more beads (they keep the windmill spaced away from the pencil), and then push the wire through the base of the pencil erasor.
Wind the wire around the pencil, and cover with duct tape to secure.

Discuss in terms of force: our breath exerts a force on the pinwheel blades that make them move.
Discuss in terms of energy transfer: our breath is motion energy that it converted to the motion energy of the turning pinwheel.

Attached documents
Notes

Older grades looked at an example of Model 2 to figure out how to make their own.

Grades taught
Gr K
Gr 1
Gr 2
Gr 4
Gr 5
Gr 6
Teaching site
Gordon Elementary
Tyee Elementary