Students Confront Climate Change with Possible Solutions in 2023 Maine State KidWind Challenge

Twenty-one teams filled the Ocean Gateway in Portland as the Maine State KidWind Challenge returned following a three-year hiatus. “KidWind is a hands-on design celebration that engages students through the lens of wind and solar energy. Student teams design, construct and test small scale wind turbines and solar structures at events all over the world.” The national competition, which ballooned in size in 2009, has engaged over 40,000 students across 33 states. For this event, teams from five different Maine public schools brought turbines and presentations that they have been working on for weeks. They presented their materials to a panel of judges, and  their turbines were put to the test in a wind tunnel to see how much power they generate. The results are projected up for competitors to watch as an energy sensor measures the voltage and current output of the turbines.

Retired Portland teacher Gus Goodwin successfully rallied many of the teachers who had participated in the past. The event is one that Goodwin has been championing for years, feeling that it helps students confront climate change with possible solutions. “We’re talking about climate change, but it left the students with a sense of agency… a sense that they can do something,” he told Newscenter Maine. As with many in-person events around the state, the Maine State KidWind Challenge was not quite back to its 2019 participation levels. Winslow Junior High School teacher Ginny Brackett recounted March of 2020 to her current group of four teams when she left her classroom with partially completed turbines. Her students, who were then elementary students, were grateful for the opportunity.

The day opened with a Q&A with Taylor Ward from UMaine’s Advanced Structures & Composite Center and Steve Nolet, Senior Director of Innovation & Technology for TPI Composites, who manufacture wind blades. The students were also presented a keynote from Tagwongo Obomsawin, who shared her own journey from rural life in Western Maine to her current position as the Clean Energy Partnership Program Manager in the Governor’s Energy Office.

The top-ranking teams, “W Group” from Mt. Ararat Middle School and “West End Whales” from Portland and Casco Bay High School, will be invited to compete at the national KidWind event in May at the University of Colorado. The “NCL Wind Turbines” from Massabesic Middle School were the runners-up and “MTA 1” from Mt. Ararat won the Spirit Award.

Prior to the event, Mt. Ararat Middle School STEM teacher Sandy Bickford appeared on MLTI’s Teaching with Tech podcast episode and she highlighted the KidWind Challenge as her favorite project to work on with students. “It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of steps, it’s a lot of teaching, but… it’s relevant.”

The KidWind Challenge highlights many of the best qualities of STEAM learning. The teams of students who gathered at the Ocean Gateway exemplified the type of engagement in a project and resilience in problem-solving that many educators strive to introduce into their classrooms.