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Taking Flight: GBMS students test hot air balloons
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Working in groups, students explore physics concepts in relation to the forces of flight. Mother nature cooperated for some students, providing blue skies, but sent others indoors to test their balloons.

Students at Great Bend Middle School applied recently learned physics concepts to the process of designing, building and testing hot air balloons in Mrs. Proffitt’s enrichment classes in April. Students looked at the history of transportation through the ages, and flight in particular. The objective was to experience the forces at work on an apparatus meant for flight, to problem solve and work cooperatively to engineer solutions.

The hot air balloon unit took three weeks of class time, meeting every other day. The classes examined full-size commercial hot air balloons, the parts and composition, and the physics behind why they are able to fly. Before building their balloons, students created a digital diagram of a commercial hot air balloon and identified the forces that act upon a balloon in flight. Working in groups of three to five students, they were given step-by-step instructions and materials to complete the build. 

“My students worked through challenging moments as seams that they thought were secure allowed for air to escape and lines that weren’t cut straight failed to line up,” said Proffitt, “but I was proud of their perseverance and in the end every team had at least one successful launch, despite weather conditions that were not conducive to flight!”