MacGyver Wind Lift Design Challenge: Introduction

MacGyver Wind Lift STEM Design Challenge

Using knowledge of how wind energy works, your class will work in small groups to design blades powering a device to lift a cup of pennies. Through implementing the engineering process, students design, build, test and improve turbine blades. Students will have the opportunity to compete in online or in-person events at the completion of their project. 3rd-6th grade students are invited to participate. 

The MacGyver Wind Lift Design Challenge is offered at no-cost to schools. 


New for 2021-2022: Enough supplies will be sent for students to work in small groups. If more than one teacher per building would like to participate, please register together. Limit two teachers per school. 

Quick Look

Grade Levels: 3-6

Time Required: Estimated 2-5 class periods, but variable by grade

Recommended Group Size: 2-3 students

Concept Areas: Renewable Energy, Forces & Motion, Scientific Method, Engineering Design Process

Participant Benefits & Expectations

The MacGyver Wind Lift kit will be sent to you at no cost to your school/district with the following expectations:

  • You use the kit with your class or STEM/science club during the 2021-2022 school year.
  • You complete a post-project teacher evaluation documenting how you used the resources with your students. The evaluation will require project photos and videos.
  • After implementing the challenge and completing the teacher evaluation, you will receive a $25 Amazon gift card.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:


  • Describe wind as a renewable energy source and understand how a wind turbine works.
  • Use the scientific method to isolate and adjust variables. 
  • Utilize the engineering design process.
  • Work as a team to construct a windmill that lifts weight. 

Materials List

Basic Class Kit Contents:

  • Hub-1″ pool nooddle
  • Drive Shaft-dowel, straw
  • Blade Attachments-skewers
  • Weight Lifter-spool, cup, string


Kit includes supplies for 50 lifts (100-150 students). OEP recommends students work in groups of 2-3.

Materials Not Provided:

  • Fan
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Additional blade building supplies  (Examples: plastic bottles, tag board, Styrofoam, paper plates, disposable cups)
  • Hole Punch
  • Pennies (weight to lift)
  • Meter stick

Why is it called a MacGyver Wind Lift?

MacGyver is a fictional TV character with an extraordinary knack for unconventional problem solving and an extensive bank of scientific knowledge. He would improvise to solve a problem with whatever items he might have in his pockets. MacGyver has become a common term in pop culture and means “to make or repair something in an improvised or inventive way, making use of whatever items are at hand.” That is what you will be doing, designing a wind turbine to lift as many pennies as possible using materials from your classroom, home or recycling container.

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