Education

SLO students launch hot-air balloons as part of STEAM lessons

Students cheer during the countdown for a rocket launch Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at Bishop's Peak Elementary School in San Luis Obispo. The launch fizzled, however, and the event was postponed.
Students cheer during the countdown for a rocket launch Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at Bishop's Peak Elementary School in San Luis Obispo. The launch fizzled, however, and the event was postponed. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Colorful hot-air balloons made of tissue paper and glue rose over the campus of Bishop’s Peak Elementary School in San Luis Obispo early Wednesday morning.

A group of students clustered around a stovepipe as sixth-grade teacher Kevin Hill and Principal Dan Block filled each balloon and released it into the air. The children watched the balloons float into the sky and then raced across the playground to retrieve them.

“At first it was pretty hard, but it was very much worth it because we got to do this,” said fifth-grader Jay V. Price, clutching a black, red and gray balloon that didn’t fly quite as high as he’d hoped.

“It was very fun because I learned how to work as a team and I learned how to make a hot-air balloon, which I never thought I would be able to do,” he added. “Even though there may be some flaws, it’s still worth it — I got it in the air.”

Price and his peers were wrapping up a five-week course to engineer a hot-air balloon, which culminated with Wednesday’s launch. Students used math to measure and design the balloons’ panels, and also used communication, problem solving and teamwork.

All third- through sixth-grade students participated in 12 different five-week classes aimed at integrating more STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — into the curriculum, Block said.

The special classes, all held on Fridays, included hands-on math, science and engineering lessons, including an egg drop and a rocket launch, as well as painting, movie making and theater.

The new program aligns with one of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s goals to incorporate more STEAM classes into the curriculum, Block said.

“We always did elements of STEAM,” Block said. “But I think that by narrowing our staff’s focus on it and clearly articulating it, the kids have a better understanding of what STEAM is. There’s a buzz that these STEAM classes are going on.”

Shortly after the hot-air balloon launch, a rocket launch had to be scrubbed due to a malfunction with the rocket’s ignition systems. Third-grade teacher Marifrances Williams promised her students they would hold the launch another day.

The students also learned about propulsion by launching homemade rockets using diet soda and Mentos, as well as film canisters and Alka-Seltzer tablets, Williams said.

In fourth-grade teacher Erin Wynns’ course, students studied Vincent van Gogh and replicated two of his paintings, “The Starry Night” and “The Mulberry Tree.”

“Through doing this lesson, you really see the excitement, just that joy of learning for learning’s sake,” Wynns said. “For a lot of kids, too, it’s probably an opportunity to explore something new that they might not be exposed to otherwise.”

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