Local kids excel in KidWinds Virginia Challenge bubbling with curiosity, and problem-solving

By Andrea Gaines

Diane Painter is a member of an organization called VSTE – Virginia Society for Technology in Education, and a member of Makersmiths organization.  She was recently nominated as a 2021 Outstanding Educator by Repowering Schools for her innovative approach to education.

Painter helps lead an effort called KidWind, an official “Makerspace STEM Initiative.”

 Makerspaces, including Makersmiths in Leesburg and Purcellville, are places where invention “enthusiasts” and entrepreneurs, including children, can exercise their creative muscles – learning, playing, and making.

Sometimes this involves crafting a prototype of something, or nailing down the design of a new product.

Makersmiths refer to themselves as a movement, and their tools of the trade include shared spaces and workrooms with CNC mills (tools and software for wood and metal-working), 3D printers, laser cutters, storage space, and more. 

L to R: Katie Choi with Diane Painter, Connor Ellis, Ralph Pugh, Soren Ogelman, Caleb Nicholson.

In the most recent “KidWind Challenge,” concluded in May of this year, local Makersmiths including Kaleb Nicholson, Conner Ellis, Soren Ogilman, Katie Choi, and Sofi Johnson walked away with first, second, and third place wins in the KidWind-Virginia Middle School Solar Project Challenge – making renewable energy look, not just doable, but doable by mere babes-in-the-woods. A new look at wind turbines? No problem.

Said Painter, “As a retired K-12 teacher and member of a community Makerspace called Makersmiths, I volunteer as an educational liaison, working with families seeking opportunities for their children to become involved in STEM activities.”  During the 2018-2019 school year, Painter noted, Makersmiths including herself sponsored the two KidWind teams, one built wind turbines and the other solar projects.  

This is very cool stuff

Leave it to kids to simplify what sounds like a rather complex task.

These two videos will give you a flavor for their inspiring personalities and beautiful, youthful, and infectious attitude towards life: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1rCoeUV-jBMOKeVc30WegnjHOCrSf2Asf/view, and https://drive.google.com/file/d/1h0GQQyPG9M-J68QyyB6CbTsFmqMmWdLZ/view.

In the recent KidWind’s challenge, their wind turbine team (Ellis and Ogilman) persevered through the COVID crisis to be awarded the Wind Geek Award during the KidWind-VA 2021 Competition.

This is serious, very cool scientific stuff, documented extremely carefully at every step.

Said Painter: “Our documentation explains that we began development of our wind turbine by learning about gears. A retired electrical engineer helped us understand how adding a gearbox to the wind turbine would improve our wind turbine’s performance.

“Then we learned to use an online gear design program and the laser cutter to make gears.

“Next, we researched blade designs and drew blades that we wanted to make. Soren made his blades from cardboard, but Connor worked with his grandfather to create his blades from wood. We tested out our blades in a wind tunnel we built at Makersmiths. “Then we learned Tinkercad [an app for 3D design, electronics, and coding] to design blades that could be 3D printed or laser cut …

“After testing our blades again with the gearbox that Soren created, we determined that Soren’s blades out performed Connor’s wooden blades when the gearbox was used …”

Outstanding and innovative learning opportunities

A June 2021 Repowering Schools post on the LinkedIn blog says it all about the enthusiasm with which this effort is received by both parents and kids:  “ … [Your] continued desire to spark the creativity and imagination of our youth for deeper learning is so inspiring.

“I love the problem-based learning that is occurring and the problem-solving of real world, authentic problems while they are developing a passion for projects that can impact them for a lifetime, but can also impact the global world.

“It can all start in Makersmiths where the ‘making’ can make a big difference. You are inspirational. I love how you share your passion for learning.”

Recognizing excellence

Supporters, families, and friends held an event for the winners on June 23 in Round Hill’s Stoneleigh community.

Four of the five kids recognized by Makersmiths were in attendance. Ralph Pugh – an engineer and Makersmiths volunteer was in attendance, too, along with KidWinds folks.

To learn more about the national KidWind.org, go to www.kidwind.org.

Posted in , ,


Any name-calling and profanity will be taken off. The webmaster reserves the right to remove any offensive posts.

1 Comment

  1. Bob Ohneiser Esq. on July 20, 2021 at 7:19 am

    Congratulations! Last year we saw how science and problem solving could help the earth escape a pandemic and apparently each of you are well on your way toward being significant contributors to the well being of the earth in the future. The “content of your character” and work ethic is evident and we honor that.