Saturday, November 27, 2004
Three ... two ... one ... liftoff.
A study in convection culminated in the launching of dozens of hot-air balloons at Steamboat Springs Middle School last week.
The small balloons, constructed by sixth-graders out of sheets of tissue paper held together with glue, dotted the cloudy Strawberry Park sky with bursts of bright colors early Monday morning.
The fourth annual balloon launch sought to provide students a fun and tangible way of applying their newfound knowledge of convection, a form of heat transfer based on the flow of air as determined by its temperature and density. In hot-air balloons, heated air rises up the middle of the balloon, displacing the surrounding cooler air and forcing it down the sides of the balloon, teacher Matt Tredway said. The up-and-down exchange, caused by the varying densities of the hot and cold air, creates the lift that allows balloons to take flight.
"When you fill up a balloon with cold air, it just falls over," student Liza Stout said while explaining the convection process. "When you fill it with hot air, it pushes against the cold air and makes it go up."
Convection is one of three forms of heat transfer that the school's sixth-graders have studied. They also learned about conduction and radiation.
"This one just lends itself so nicely to a bunch of experiments," Tredway said, noting the excitement of the 100-plus sixth-graders who roamed the school parking lot Monday.
All the school's sixth-grade students spent a couple of days constructing the balloons in small groups. Incorporating their favorite colors and coining creative names for their balloons, the groups tested the quality of their balloons before the launch by using a fan to check for leaks. After their crafts passed the tests, the groups of students eagerly stood in line as teachers Tredway, Matt Anderson, Bettiann Carroll and former teacher Winston Walker used propane grills to provide the heat source that allowed the balloons to take flight.
One by one, balloons with name such as "The Bubble," "The Sky Scraper," "Fluorescent Neon" and "Marvelous, Spectacular, Catastophic Beauty" floated into the cool winter air while their creators raced around the parking lot to catch them upon their descent.
For some students, the balloon launch was far more fun than the typical classroom lesson.
"It's so much fun," student Kaitie Breisch said. "You can be creative."
Friends Maria Hillenbrand, Skylar Weir, Camille Sachs and Brittany Ryan color-coordinated their outfits to match their pink and green balloon. They even came up with a cheer to coax their balloon to greater heights.
"I do believe our balloon will fly, I do, I do," the girls screamed in unison Monday.
For Walker, a longtime middle school teacher who retired last year but returned Monday to help with the launch, seeing students excited about learning was the biggest reward.
"When you see this many kids this excited this early in the morning, it's a good deal," Walker said.
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