OHS teacher gets up to speed on wind energy

August 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

When it comes to renewable energy, Mikel Cobb thinks the answer is blowing in the wind.

The Onalaska High School tech-ed teacher hopes to add a wind energy unit for next year’s students, and he wants them to think critically.

Cobb was one of 14 Wisconsin teachers who studied wind energy in a blended-learning course this summer through the state’s K-12 Energy Education Program.

“I like to see the excitement of kids when they latch onto something,” Cobb said.

The Stevens Point-based training program offers special subject classes to teachers, run in collaboration between state utilities and the Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education.

This summer’s wind energy course taught Cobb how to build a miniature wind turbine and different styles of blades.

Cobb, 54, worked as a design engineer before going back to school to get his teaching degree. New to Onalaska for the 2013-14 school year, Cobb said he likes to teach problem solving “in all areas.”

“I would say I’m a generalist,” Cobb said. “I’m doing a little bit of everything.”

Designing wind turbine blades offers lessons in mechanics and aerodynamics, and other creative thinking skills that could be useful for students, Cobb said.

“A lot of skills that 21st century employers are looking for,” Cobb said.

Some blades are better for speed, some are better for torque. Using a couple wires attached to his turbine, Cobb can tell how much electricity is being produced. The model turbine usually produces about half a volt, Cobb said.

Like most forms of renewable energy, however, there are still plenty of unanswered questions when it comes to wind energy, Cobb said.

“Not everybody likes it,” Cobb said. “Ergo, critical thinking.”

Harnessing the wind for power brings with it a fair share of limitations, including finding places where a turbine can be effective, without upsetting neighbors. Some people like seeing the towering structures along the landscape and some people don’t, Cobb said.

“Would you want one in your back yard?” Cobb said.

Relying on wind energy means weighing pros and cons, including the political and social ramifications.

The class gave him enough background to teach lessons in wind energy, but Cobb hopes it’s enough to plant seeds and get students interested in another career possibility.

“I’m not an expert,” Cobb said. “Hopefully, with some research, the kids become the expert.”

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