Harnessing creativity

A contraption of red plastic spoons, tape and wooden tongue depressors is Sam Sagal's latest foray into sustainable energy.

The 11-year-old's science class at Ashland Middle School made wind turbines out of common household materials last week and then tested the devices using digital equipment and electric fans on Tuesday.

"Today too many people are using energy that makes the air dirtier and that is dirtying our world," Sam said as he tested his wind turbine. "This is the way of the future."

Sam's turbine was among the most efficient in the class, generating as much as .29 volts consistently. Other students made turbines using wooden dowels, cardboard, waxed paper, duct tape and hot glue.

Teacher Beth Oehler received a $650 grant from donorschoose.org, a website where teachers can request support for innovative projects, to buy electronic equipment for the wind turbine activity and to purchase a solar electricity kit for a future lesson on solar panels.

"Renewable energies such as wind and solar are the future and my students are just the ones to lead us in the direction of sustainable living," Oehler wrote in her grant application. "It is my belief that if my students are exposed to these alternative energy sources in a fun, experimental activity, they will make an immediate impact on our community as they convince their parents to invest in their future."

Oehler received the grant funding in late October and she plans to continue to use the supplies she purchased with future classes, she said. She hopes her sixth-grade science students will develop and support alternative energy concepts as adults.

"We live in an area that is dependent on cars for transportation, but the reality is that in their lifetime, my students will be faced with a shortage of oil to power gasoline engines," she wrote in the grant application. "Since they were born in 1999, the cost of a gallon of gas has already tripled. Fossil fuels that are now currently used to generate electricity will become more expensive and impractical."

The students also learned about engineering and design as they constructed their wind turbines, said student teacher Sarah Finstad, who is enrolled in Southern Oregon University's environmental education program.

"They get a kick out of it," she said. "It's problem-solving, it's creative and it's real world."

Students Ryan Brown and Rob Stallman, both 12, built an "old-fashioned Dutch windmill" with tilted blades using toothpicks, waxed paper, hot glue and tape. The turbine generated .20 volts, but on Tuesday they were tinkering with it to try to increase the amount of electricity it generated.

"Having four blades made it too slow and heavy," Rob said. "Three is the perfect amount."

Nearby, Leilani Sukles, 12, was testing her colorful turbine, made of Popsicle sticks, wooden skewers, paper, hot glue and duct tape.

"I worked on it over the weekend," she said, as the turbine registered .18 volts. "It was really fun because we got to design it ourselves."

Meanwhile, Sam was adjusting the six plastic spoon blades on his turbine.

"At first I started out with three spoons, but I thought I could do better," he said. "I'm getting really into this. Anything I can build, I like."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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