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Fox Lane Eighth Graders Create and Launch Hot Air Balloons

FLMS Hot Air Balloon Launch

On a beautiful cloudless morning, Fox Lane Middle School eighth graders gathered outside at the center of campus holding delicate tissue-paper balloons. Students erupted into cheers as they watched their teachers fill the balloons with hot air and launch them into the sky one by one. They cheered on each balloon, urging it to go higher or farther. The largest balloon built this year was fourteen feet tall and made it all the way to the main entrance.

As Madeline Sorial and Natalie Hoyt waited for their balloon’s turn to launch, they hoped theirs would float to a decent height. While building their balloon, the girls made a small measurement mistake, which resulted in them changing their balloon’s size.

“It was a little bit of a mess up, but we think it will work,” Madeline said. “We’re really hoping it will go higher and that the change will make it less dense. That should help it rise.”

Natalie noted that the girls had to use a heavier glue when their glue sticks ran out.

“The glue might weigh the balloon down,” she said. “So, honestly, we don't really know what's going to happen. We're just hoping for the best!”

This type of critical thinking and creativity is exactly the sort of experience the eighth grade science teachers hoped to foster.

“This project is designed to give students a real-world example of how the effects of heat on matter can cause heated matter to become less dense than the matter surrounding it, and rise,” said science teacher Christopher Grove. “It is related to hot-air balloon design and flight obviously, but it also relates to much bigger issues in the world such as the movement of continents, oceans, and weather patterns globally and locally. It also gives students an opportunity to engineer something that has a real-world function versus taking a test with the only outcome being a right or wrong answer on paper.”

To create their balloons, students used nothing more than tissue paper and glue. They had to measure strips of paper and create panels that ultimately formed a balloon.

“Students consistently struggle most with the process of measuring and cutting the balloons,” said science teacher Gregory Capone. “They have difficulty understanding how they can create a three-dimensional shape out of a two-dimensional piece of tissue paper. They don’t understand until they put the last piece on and we inflate the balloon. In that moment they seem amazed and, in most cases, very excited.”

Madeline and Natalie noted how much of a challenge the building process was.

“We’re not very fond of tissue paper,” Madeline said with a grin.

“It's very easy to rip,” Natalie added. “But it was better than a test.”

The girls also noted that the measurements were a challenge.

“Little imperfections in measuring one panel kind of mess up all of the measurements,” Madeline said. “If one piece is a little bit bigger than another, you have to trim the lining.”

Lukas Stelter and Tate Morrow struggled with measurements with their design too.

“We had some mistakes while making it and we had to reglue ours a few times,” Lukas said. “We were trimming the balloon, and we actually cut through it, so we had to remake it.”

This real-world engineering experience of trying and adjusting and trying again is exactly what their science teachers wanted them to learn through.

“The most important part of this building project from our perspective is the opportunity for students to experience an engineering event,” science teacher Michele Curran said. “Experimental design and engineering opportunities are something we strive to give students in eighth grade. Usually, this project is their first opportunity for this, and helps ease them into the next unit where they will build a series of rockets from two-liter soda bottles.”

hot air balloon floating above campus