by: SUSAN MATHENY/MADRAS PIONEER - Culver senior Tuck Williams pulls out a wooden dam and hands it to sophomore Keely Dobkins, which sets the student-constructed paddlewheel generator in motion at Cove State park.With the lifting of a wooden dam, Culver senior Tuck Williams released a flow of water, which set in motion a paddlewheel hydroelectric generator created by Culver students to help power campground facilities at Cove State Park.

The paddlewheel’s dedication June 5, was the culmination of a year-long effort by Culver High School’s Science Technology Engineering and Math class, which uses real-life, hands-on projects to teach those concepts.

Starting last October, STEM class instructor Dale Crawford took the students on a field trip to the Crooked River Campground at Cove Park, to see ways the park conserves and uses energy.

“They showed us some energy-efficient resources,” Williams said, noting the class was looking for a group project and liked the solar panels on the park restrooms.

Chad Bethers of Elite Electric, who is a consultant for the class, said, “The students wanted to do an energy project, and I suggested a paddlewheel. I helped them design how it would look, but they did all the work.”

Williams said his favorite part of the project was “being able to work as a class and see what we could do. Everybody made models, did math to figure out the size of the pulleys, drilled holes for the bolts and carried (the paddlewheel) down here.”

Water flowing from an irrigation ditch turns the paddlewheel, which uses gears and pulleys to run a generator that creates power for the park’s electrical grid.

In the beginning, students studied various systems in class and experimented with different small-scale models, including a bicycle-powered generator.

Once work on the paddlewheel began, they put their earth science, math, and technology skills to work to understand the importance of water depth.

“They calculated how much water we had in the ditch and the water flow,” Crawford said, noting, “This is a tailings ditch (unused irrigation water) which later becomes a waterfall in the park canyon. The kids did all but the electrical work. They poured the concrete and built everything.”

Sophomore Keely Dobkins said what she enjoyed was, “getting to do hands-on activities. I don’t usually build stuff, so working with the tools was fun.”

Senior Kyle Macias said the STEM class taught them to work as a team. “Working in a group is hard, but it taught us communication skills and how to work together,” he observed.

Sophomore Tiffany Belvoir agreed. “We learned that one person can make or break the outcome of a situation. We utilized everyone’s strengths and improved upon their weaknesses,” she said, adding, “I hope the class is offered again because it’s given us all the opportunity to face a real-world situation, and I’d love to take STEM again.”

The class worked in partnership with Oregon State Parks, Portland General Electric, Elite Electric, and the career development wing of the High Desert Education Service District on the project.

Depending on the amount of waterflow, Crawford said the paddlewheel should produce between 500 to 2,500 watts of power, possibly enough to power a couple of houses.

“This will be a great attraction for the parks,” he said, noting eventually people will be able to check the paddlewheel by computer or smart phone to see how much power it is generating.

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