This summer libraries around the country will be hosting activities in keeping with this year’s theme kids’ reading theme: Make a Splash. As a teaching artist who presents children’s hands-on workshops in libraries and schools, I decided that this would be a great opportunity to present a program I developed a couple years ago that teaches kids about water power and shows them how to make their own waterwheels.
The one thing I was unable to do back then was build a working hydrogenerator. The instructions I found to make a classroom model from a plastic jug and spoons were apparently way to complicated for a novice like me. So I was very happy to see that Thames & Kosmos had come out with a new addition to their renewable energy series of kits on hydropower. I’ve heard a lot about Thames & Kosmos science kits, especially their chemistry sets, which are said to be the closest thing you can get nowadays to the really good sets of yore. The Hydropower: Renewable Energy Science Kit had instructions for building a sawmill, a hammer mill, and the hydrogenerator. Also included were a demonstration of a fountain using a soda bottle, which we did not test out.
Thames & Kosmos sent me a kit to review. I asked GeekTeen John, our resident Lego master builder, to put together the sawmill and the generator for me. He had no trouble with either. The models clearly show how the circular motion of the waterwheel can be translated to a back and forth sawing motion or multiplied through the use of gears to spin a turbine to make electricity.
I was less than thrilled with the waterwheel itself, which is assembled from thin clear plastic pieces you have to punch out from a pre-scored sheet. The pieces were hard to get out and fit together without tearing. I’m also not sure they will be very visible in a classroom setting. The “generator” itself is hidden within a plastic waterproof casing, so you can’t see what’s going on. (I suspect it’s just a small DC hobby motor inside.) However, the information booklet, while not extensive, does a good job of explaining how the different types of waterwheels work. And most importantly, the thing was capable of lighting an LED bulb.
I still hope to get my own homemade electric hydropower generator going by this summer. But if not, the Thames & Kosmos kit will serve to demonstrate how water power can be turned to electric power in a way kids can understand.
Wired: The Thames & Kosmos Hydropower kit shows how waterwheels were used in the past and how they produce clean electric energy today.
Tired: The thin plastic waterwheel was kind of flimsy, hard to punch out, and hard to see in a classroom setting.
Kathy Ceceri will be offering “Build Your Own Waterwheel” workshops for kids this summer at libraries around the Northeast.