The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Growth Mindset at its best

Cover of the book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind


This book is growth mindset at its best, with themes like:
    • Failure means you're learning
    • Grit pushes you forward
    • Desperation generates creativity
    • Reduce, recycle, reuse
    • Where there's a will, there's a way

The book?  The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer.

Growing up in Malawi
Growing up in Masitala, on the outskirts of Wimbe, Malawi, William lived in a small village with his parents and six sisters, surrounded by aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Like most families in Malawi, his father was a farmer, growing maize.

When drought hit his country when William was thirteen, Malawi began to starve.  William and his family cut their meals from three a day to two, and then to one.  Without crops to sell, there was no money to send him to school, so he had to stop going.

Fortunately, there was a small library in Wimbe, and William read every book he could get his hands on.  Two, in particular, captivated him: Explaining Physics and Integrated Science.  Written in English, he had to translate words to make sense of what he was reading.  What he read helped him form an idea.  He would build a windmill.

Being made fun of
Are you familiar with the story of Noah's Ark and how all his neighbors made fun of him for building a huge ship in the middle of his land?  That was William.  Even his parents weren't sure about what he was doing.  Certainly, the neighbors didn't, and many of them found ways to poke fun at his invention.  Until it worked.

William would go to the scrapyard and root around, finding bits and pieces that he could cobble together to make, first a small windmill that provided electricity for his radio, then for lights for his house, and ultimately, to pump water out of the well.

Electric Wind
By the time that happened, neighbors were aware that something big was happening, and the media had caught on to this boy who was creating "electric wind."
A windmill in a field at sunset
William describes in loving detail, all of the ways he tried to make things work, and students will get lessons on batteries, magnets, and other devices that are important for making and storing electricity.  I'll be honest. I skimmed over some of those parts, but I imagine students who are into science, and hands-on tinkering, may find themselves eager to try out some of his ideas.

William's desire to give back to his community is commendable, and to date, he has helped his family and neighbors achieve schooling they wouldn't have been able to afford.

The young adult version is good for students from 6th grade and up.

Ways to Use it in Your Classroom
  • Are you looking for a study guide to help your students read this book?  Click on the cover to take a closer look.  The study guide lets students develop the background information they need about Malawi and windmills to deepen their comprehension.  
  • Use the book as a whole-class read-aloud.  Or break your students up into smaller groups/lit circles, using the study guide to help monitor their understanding.
  • Let students read it individually or with a partner
  • There are hands-on extension projects at the end of the study guide that students can use to show their understanding
  • Create a STEM challenge using electricity
  • Create a STEM challenge to create windmills - you can find many windmill challenges on TeachersPayTeachers or some free ones by simply searching online.

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