I live in an area — near the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers in upstate New York — that was once booming with water-driven industry. Today hydroelectricity is still an important source of energy. In fact, in place of the old mills on the creek that lies on the other side of our street there’s a small hydroelectric generator.
The plastic cup waterwheel, right, is one of many designs I showed the students in the Solar, Wind and Water Power class I taught last summer. I just added the directions to Wired.com’s How to Wiki. Using only masking tape, styrofoam plates and pencils, it’s a perfect project for little kids who aren’t ready for hot glue guns or power tools.
I adapted the paper cup waterwheel from Wheels at Work: Building and Experimenting with Models of Machines by Bernie Zubowski, illustrated by Roy Doty. (I used to love Doty’s “Wordless Workshop” home improvement comics when I was a kid.) The wooden wheel is my version of this kit, and the small foam wheel in the center is based on directions for a fully-functioning mini-hydroelectric generator. I tried making the turbine but couldn’t get it to work. If you have better luck, let me know!
Kathy Ceceri is the author of Around the World Crafts: Great Activities for Kids who Like History, Math, Art, Science and More!