Desert View kids fly balloons

Robin Bullard, one of two volunteers from the Balloon Regatta Committee, helps fifth graders repair a balloon damaged after a flight, or needing an adjustment in design before another flight.

Blessed with as perfect an early November day could be, fifth grade students at Desert View Elementary flew their own paper balloons last Thursday and learned how hot air balloons fly.  

The Balloon Regatta Committee provided curriculum to fifth grade classrooms to teach the history and science of hot air ballooning. After a week of learning history and science, teams of fifth graders brought their home-made balloons to the playground.  

Children and their teachers met at the playground, where volunteers had already set up air heaters. Each heater consisted of a single large camping stove burner on which a section of metal chimney was attached to channel the hot air up to each balloon. The propane heaters would heat the air, and the hot air would flow up the chimney. Each pair of adults carefully filled each balloon with hot air until the balloon could drift into the sky.

Individual teams of students had previously designed and glued tissue paper together in the form of a balloon to hold the hot air. The balloons showcased the children’s creativity as they were allowed to pick colors, size and construction methods. Some balloons were puffier than others. Some were top-heavy.  Others got damaged during flight. It was a chance not only to be outside on a beautiful day, but to learn, by trial and error, what works and what doesn't.

Each student team would bring their balloon to the adult volunteers who would hold the envelope over the top of the chimney and fill it with heated air. Children stared wide-eyed as their balloon filled with hot air and puffed up. At the right moment, the students would count down: “5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1,” and the adults would let go. The balloons floated up above everyone and across the playground as the children excitedly chased their balloon and retrieved it for another flight. From time to time, balloons got damaged from various mishaps, requiring repairs. The “repair” table had everything needed to fix or tweak the design of the balloons: tape, glue and scraps of tissue paper. Once repaired, the students returned to let their balloon fly again. 

The event was a way to teach children about how a hot air balloon flies by actually making balloons fly before their eyes. Many children had never made their own hot air balloons and were delighted at being able to play without realizing they were actually learning.

The children learned that as air is heated it becomes lighter than the air around it and causes the balloon to rise in the air. They also learned how everything attached to the balloon, including glue and tape adds to the overall weight of the balloon making it more difficult to fly.

One thing for sure, everyone who participated had a great time and enjoyed getting outside on a beautiful, sunny autumn day and running around the playground.

When one volunteer asked one of the students if she was having fun, she said, “This is an awesome way to learn!”

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