Learn with Hanford Mills

Self-Directed Waterwheel Experiment




Better understand the power of water and use creative problem solving to construct a waterwheel to harness hydropower.


Students will construct a working waterwheel.


  • Copies of directions for all students
    • Each experiment kit requires:

    • 10 wooden popsicle sticks
    • 3 plastic or paper plates (plastic is better)
    • 12 plastic or paper cups
    • 2 pencils
    • 3 rubber bands
    • Staples & stapler
    • 2 pieces construction paper
    • 1 brown paper bag
    • Scotch tape
    • Glue


  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes
  • Class Time: Flexible, to be determined by teacher.


  • Print copies of the directions (see above) for each group to receive one. Note that there are six copies of the directions on the template, and you will need to cut each printout accordingly.
  • Place all of the experiment materials into the appropriate number of supply bags. Each group will receive one bag. Staple the directions to the bag.
  • Divide students into small groups of 2 or 3 in the class prior to the waterwheel activity.
  • Ask each group to take one of the supply bags.
    • Briefly discuss the visit to Hanford Mills as a class.
      Questions to ask:

    • What did you learn there?
    • What powered the Mill?
    • Give the students class time to complete their waterwheel.
    • When finished, test each waterwheel in a sink.
    • Engage the class in a discussion about each wheel, why it worked or did not, and how it could be made more efficient.
      Questions to ask:

    • What simple machines are used in a waterwheel?
    • What is the rate of flow? (Ask them to deconstruct the term if they need to)
    • How does rate of flow affect the waterwheel?
    • Cumulative question: How do waterwheels work?
  • OPTIONAL: Ask students to attach something to the shaft on their waterwheel, to see if the wheel will move another object.


  • The waterwheel
  • Participation in class discussion (listening and speaking).

NYS Learning Standards:

  • ELA Standard 1
  • Math, Science, & Technology Standard 1
  • Math, Science, & Technology Standard 4

Vocabulary & Spelling Words:

Bucket – n. a vane or blade of a waterwheel, water turbine, or the like.

Flutter Wheel – n. a waterwheel at the bottom of a chute, turned by the falling water.

Overshot Wheel – n. a waterwheel in which the water enters the buckets near the top of the wheel.

Pelton Wheel – n. a high-pressure water turbine in which one or more jets of water are directed against the buckets of the wheel.

Pitchback Wheel – n. a waterwheel in which the water hits the buckets near the bottom of the wheel.

Water Turbine – n. a horizontal wheel with vanes or blades enclosed in a box or case and driven by the momentum or the force of water.

Waterwheel – n. a wheel turned by the weight or momentum of water and used to operate machinery.