A CIESE Realtime Data Project

Whichever Way the Wind Blows


In this lesson students will solve the problem: How can we tell which way the wind is blowing? Students will use the Engineering Design Process to create a wind sock, an open-ended sleeve attached to a stationary object that that will determine the direction of the wind.
Note : Go to The Museum of Science, Boston for a one page teacher tutorial on using the Engineering Design Process with children.


Students will be able to:

  • Predict which materials will make the best windsock.
  • Understand the movement of an object in relation to the wind direction
  • Use prior and new knowledge to design a windsock.
  • Compare the suitability of different designs.
  • Explain how a windsock shows the direction of the wind.
  • Create a windsock to gather data about wind direction.


  • String, ribbon, or yarn
  • Paper clips
  • Tape
  • Stapler
  • Fabric scraps
  • Tissue paper
  • Construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Paper puncher
  • Dowel/meter stick
  • Compass

Time: One hour for introduction, designing and constructing.

Preparation: Attach a 30-40cm length of string to the top of the dowel or stick. Fasten a paper clip to the other end. The students will attach their windsocks to the paper clip.



  • Have students generate a list of things that will move in the wind.
  • Introduce the problem: Wind socks are used at airports so pilots can easily see the strength and direction of the wind because wind direction affects weather. How can we find out the direction of the wind in our own schoolyard?


  • Explain that windsocks are constructed with two open ends, so that the large end of the sock will catch the wind and the small end will point away from the direction from which the wind is blowing.
    • Note: Winds are identified by the direction they are coming from. A north wind is blowing from the north .
  • Ask: What shape would be best for a windsock? How long should it be? What materials will blow with the wind?
  • Show students the stick with the string and paper clip attached. Ask: What would you use to attach your windsock to the paper clip? The students should come to the conclusion that windsock must have a length of material on the large end (string, yarn, ribbon, etc.) that can be attached to the paper clip, allowing the windsock to move freely.

Design and Create

  • Provide constraints:
    • Use only the materials provided.
    • The end that is attached to the stick must be wider than the other end.

    • There must be a means by which the windsock can be attached to the string on the stick.

  • Students work in groups to plan and sketch their ideas.
  • Students construct their windsocks.
  • If possible, have a fan available for students to test their designs as they work.

Try and Observe

  • Wait for a windy day to test the windsocks outside. Groups should take turns attaching their windsock to the stick and observing how the wind makes the windsock blow
  • Use the compass to record the direction of the wind.

Evaluation of Designs

  • Ask : Did your windsock move freely? In what direction was the wind blowing? How could you improve on your design?
  • If time allows have the students work on improving their designs.

Additional Resources

  • Wind Force Scale A wind that is blowing at less than one mile an hour is called "calm." What do you call a wind that is blowing faster than 73 miles an hour?
  • For Young Readers (K-2):  I Face the Wind by Vicki Cobb. The well-known science writer explains the properties and characteristics of wind in an easy-to-read format.