Kids learn best when they are having fun.
That’s what makes hands-on learning opportunities, like science and engineering challenges, so valuable in the classroom and at home.
You are probably familiar with the growing push for STEM activities for kids.
These challenges allow kids to get creative, test out their ideas, and learn while having fun.
This Water Wheel STEM Activity is a fun, hands-on way for kids to explore the power of water.
Water wheels are often referred to as water mills. Long ago the power of water was used in mills to help grind flour and for other tasks.
Water wheels can also be used to generate electricity.
This paper plate STEM activity allows kids to explore how water wheels work.
For more water powered STEM fun, challenge your child to make a rubber band boat.
Water Wheel STEM Activity
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Carefully use the tip of your wood skewer to poke a hole through the center of each paper plate.
Turn one paper plate over so the bottom faces up.
Arrange your 6 plastic cups in a circle around the bottom of the plate. The bottom of the cups should all face the hole you placed in the plate’s center, with the cup’s tops touching the edge of the plate’s inner ring. Try to keep the cups evenly spaced.
Secure each cup in place with a thin strip of duct tape. You can make your water wheel even more fun by using colorful duct tape, like we did.
Thread the skewer through the hole in the plate. Then thread the other plate onto the skewer, next to the cups, so that both plate bottoms touch the cups.
Use a small piece of tape to secure each of the cups to the second plate.
Once your cups are secure, your paper plate water wheel is ready to test out.
Take it to an empty bathtub or kitchen sink. (As an alternative, you could hold the water wheel over a large 5 gallon bucket and have someone pour water over the wheel using an empty milk jug or pitcher.)
Turn on the water so it is running gently. Hold the ends of the skewer with both hands and place the wheel under the faucet.
The wheel should spin as the water hits the cups.
How Water Wheels Work
In this version, the plastic cups are acting like the buckets you see on real water wheels.
Because it is moving, the water has kinetic energy. You are using that energy to get the water wheel to spin.
As the water fills the bucket at the top of the wheel, the gravity and the weight of the water in the bucket causes the wheel to rotate around the axis (your wood skewer). As the water in the top bucket moves and begins to spill below, the following cups fill with water.
The cycle continues as long as there is water filling the top cup.
Extensions for this Paper Plate STEM Activity:
- What happens if you turn the water on faster?
- How could you change the water wheel’s design if you wanted it to work with water being directed at it sideways instead of having the water hitting it from above?
- Can you build a new water wheel that uses paddles instead of cups to work?
This paper plate water wheel STEM activity is fun to engineer and will teach kids about the power of water, as well as kinetic energy.
It would also pair nicely with a history lesson to demonstrate how water mills once worked.
You can find this activity, and over 50 more, in my book, Awesome Engineering Activities for Kids.
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