Camp Hydro: Building a Wilderness Water Wheel
This project starts with a fantasy story. Imagine you're camping,
out in the wilderness somewhere. Like anyone heading out into the woods
to take a break from the hectic pace of our modern technological
society, you've brought your cellphone with you. Unfortunately, you
forgot that there are no power outlets in the wildnerness, and you don't
have any way to charge your phone's battery. Fortunately, there's a
stream near your campsite, and you have the supplies you'll need to
build an improvised electric-generating water wheel! Maybe if you get
it built quickly enough, you won't have to get down to the real business
of enjoying nature.
What you're actually going to be doing, for this project, is
designing the water wheel for a small hydroelectric generation system.
Since the STEM Explorer isn't really in the middle of nowhere, you'll be
doing this in a parametric CAD system called
Onshape, and we'll be manufacturing
your design with one of our 3D printers. When this is done, we'll test
your design out in our fake "stream" and see how much electricity it
This project is designed to meet Michigan's HS-PS3-3 and HS-ETS1-2
science and engineering standards, and many of ISTE's Student standards.
For more information, you can read our
standards summary document,
document, and the ISTE's
The best design won't just have to be good at generating electricity.
It's also important to have a water wheel that's durable (so it lasts
a long time) and that uses as little material as possible (so it's
not too expensive to make). You'll also need to be able to work with
your teammates, and understand your test results well enough to explain
them to others. You can see the full rubric that your teacher will use
to grade your project here.
Step by Step
- The STEM Explorer team will deliver an introductory lecture
first, to get you started with the project. We'll try to come to
your school in-person to kick off the project if that's
possible, but if not we'll try to do a live lecture with
videoconferencing technology, or in the worst case ask you to
- Next, you'll need to learn some fundamentals about energy;
the STEM Explorer team will provide your teacher some lesson
plans on this subject, explaining exactly the stuff you need to
be successful in this project.
- By the second week of the project, you should be ready to
start learning parametric CAD modelling with Onshape. We've
tutorials for you to watch, and the STEM Explorer team will
of course be available to help you.
- Before you start modelling in Onshape, you should do some
brainstorming with your team first. We recommend you draw some
ideas on paper first, so you know what you need to model in
Onshape. Your teacher may want to collect these drawings.
- Now, you should finally be ready to create your water wheel
in Onshape. Your whole team should participate here, so you have
the best possible chance of completing what you want. The STEM
Explorer staff will be available to help you out if you get
- Once you've finished your model, you should make a snapshot
of it and submit it to the STEM Explorer team. We will then
manufacture everyone's water wheels with our 3D printers; this
part could take a long time, because we'll usually have a
lot of things to print.
- Finally, we'll get your designs tested to see how well they
work. Depending on what's possible, we may come to your school
to try them out, let you watch us test them live over
videoconference, or record video of the tests and send them to
you along with the test data. How you'll wrap up your project
after you have your test results is up to your teacher.